It may be surprising to learn that despite a ban on birth control, that the Catholic Church is losing the battle with its female followers. According to a new report from the Guttermacher Institute, a nonprofit sexual and reproductive health research organization, about 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use contraceptives. This leaves a mere 2 percent among the most pious who rely on natural family planning, as mandated by the practice of Catholicism.
The findings support a decade-long trend tracked by Catholics for Choice, and the current numbers are almost identical to those from the 2002 NSFG, which found that 97 percent of Catholic women were using birth control.
The report is based on the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), and includes data regarding contraceptive use on more than 7,000 women of reproductive age, from 15 to 44 years. The focus of the analysis was on women who identified themselves as being Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Evangelical Protestant and included information regarding attendance at religious services and various aspects of religious activity.
Findings revealed that 69 percent of sexually active women among all denominations were activey using highly effective birth control methods. Among those surveyed, 68 percent of Catholic women reported using sterilization, birth control pills, or an IUD. In addition, these numbers are only slightly less than those for women who identified as being Evangelicals or Mainline Protestants.
According to lead author of the study, Rachel Jones, the majority of sexually active women who do not wish to become pregnant practice contraception through the use of highly effective methods such as the pill, the intrauterine device (IUD), and sterilization. She noted, “This is true for Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, and it is true for Catholics, despite the Catholic hierarchy’s strenuous opposition to contraception.”
Other findings of the report were that among women surveyed, 25 percent described themselves as Catholic, 25 percent identified as evangelical, and 22 percent were of Mainline Protestant faith. Among Catholic women, 30 percent attend services weekly, compared to 50 percent of evangelicals, and 24 percent of Mainline Protestants. In addition, 46 percent of Catholic women reported their religion as being very important to their daily lives, compared to 77 percent of evangelicals, and 44 percent of Mainline Protestants.
A total of 99 percent of all women surveyed have used artificial contraception as some point in their lives, in addition to the aforementioned 98 percent of Catholic women. Among married Catholic women, only 3 percent rely on natural family planning, while 72 percent use highly effective methods, including 40 percent who use sterilization.
The report confirms that the prevention of pregnancy is as commonly practiced by women of the Catholic faith as it is among women of many protestant religions, although the use of contraceptive methods is banned by the Catholic Church. According to Jones, “In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible.”
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