The other day I received an e-mail giving me the link to this entry and this analysis by James J. Heaney, an anti-abortion computer programmer with an amateur interest in statistics. Being into stats, Heaney had the wherewithal (read, computer software and know-how) to do what I wished I could do--download the raw data from the NSFG 2006-2010 and analyze it himself.
Heaney's analysis is written in a sometimes humorous, sometimes self-deprecating style which I must admit helps to brighten the way for me when reading through lots of statistics. But despite the self-deprecation, Heaney has done yeomanly number-crunching work and has shown a lot of the background information that went into his work, which should raise confidence in his care and honesty. I invite interested readers to delve into his paper and mull it for themselves.
Some interesting outcomes:
*Heaney was able to duplicate the Guttmacher Institute's number of 98% of Catholic non-virgins from the 2006-2008 CDC study who have ever used any form of non-NFP contraception in their lives, even once. This, by duplicating results independently, answers the questions I raised here based on some rather unhelpful charts in the CDC's own report. Evidently there was sufficient overlap between those who had ever used NFP (which was listed by the CDC as just another "method of contraception") and those who had at some time used non-NFP methods that there really were 98% of self-identified Catholic women (non-virgins ages 15-44) who had ever used some non-NFP method in their lives.
*Heaney used data from the entire 2006-2010 study and found some very interesting things about Catholic women's current behavior--by far the more interesting statistic. (From his Table 3-2.) Approximately 55.3 of all self-identified Catholic women, ages 15-44, based on the NSFG numbers, are presently using non-NFP contraception of some kind, unambiguously. These percentages are from a group including virgins, sexually inactive women, etc.--that is, all the women studied in that age group. About 39.3 of all self-identified Catholic women (both practicing and less serious), ages 15-44, are unambiguously not using any non-NFP form of contraception. This includes women who are pregnant, virgins, not sexually active though not virgins, using NFP, and so forth. The remaining numbers that we need to add up to 100% are 1.7% of Catholic women in this age category who are taking birth control pills but, when listing all of their reasons (multiple reasons could be given) gave only medical reasons, and 3.7% of these Catholic women who have been sterilized or whose husbands have been sterilized but who wish this could be reversed. My own inclination would be to give the benefit of the doubt to the honesty of the former and categorize them as not using contraception, which would mean 41% not using contraception. I would probably incline somewhat toward categorizing the latter as "using contraception" though against their will, if that is meaningful. Others will, understandably enough, categorize them as not using contraception. That is a question of analysis and moral theology that I have no real interest in discussing. Even if you were to add both of these categories into the "contraception" figure, we have a grand total of 60.7% Catholic women in the age category presently using contraception, which doesn't really sound all that exciting, does it? At least not, I suspect, for the purposes for which the administration would like to use such a figure. A phrase like "overwhelming majority" doesn't spring to mind when contemplating that figure.
*Heaney also did some interesting spread sheets that broke out the data by Mass attendance. By my calculations from his table 3-5, the number parallel to the 60.7% above falls to 56.1% among Catholic women who attend Mass once a week and down to 47% among Catholic women who attend Mass more than once a week. (This, remember, is taking the most pessimistic-for-Catholics view of--which is to say including in this number--both sexually active women taking the pill for what they report as purely medical reasons and women who have been or whose husbands have been sterilized contraceptively but wish they could reverse. Heaney breaks out those figures so that readers can make their own decisions.)
Now, I admit that it's always been difficult for me to see what the point was supposed to be in Guttmacher's original argument. But let's suppose that the point was something to the effect that Roman Catholic sexual standards are so crazy and so much against normal human beings' sexual natures that virtually no one, even among the people who claim to be Roman Catholics, follows them. Sort of a very-slightly-dressed-up bandwagon argument.
What we see from this more detailed evaluation of the data is that, though there are plenty of self-identified Catholic women who are not obeying the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception, there are also plenty who are taking it quite seriously indeed and evidently find that do-able. And that number, not surprisingly, is greater still among those who do other things, not onerous in themselves, like going to church once or even a couple of times a week.
This is a fairly realistic appraisal and one that makes it much harder to cast Catholic teaching as simply insane and unlivable and to imply that the vast majority of Catholic women are likely to have a use for the contraception mandated by the Obama administration.
There's plenty more interesting stuff in Heaney's analysis, so check it out in more detail. Kudos to James J. Heaney.