Washington Post: Two Pinocchios for ’99 percent of women have used birth control’ claim

planned parenthood

In light of a #ThxBirthControl trend on social media, in which some pro-lifers have also participated, the abortion lobby — including Planned Parenthood — has once again touted the dubious claim that 99 percent of women have used birth control.


Washington Post screenshot

Washington Post fact checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee recently investigated this claim. As she explains, the #ThxBirthControl hashtag is “part of an ongoing effort by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to publicly support birth control and all that it makes possible for individuals and society,” including “the ability to plan, prevent, and space pregnancies.”

After some evaluation, Lee gave the 99 percent claim two Pinocchios, which means there are “[s]ignificant omissions and/or exaggerations…” and that the claim is “[s]imilar to half true.”

The claim came about following a 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, which interviewed 12,279 women from 2006 to 2010 about their contraceptive methods used from 1982-2010. Lee remarks on the study:

Researchers found 88.2 percent of women aged 15 to 44 had used contraception (some women use contraceptive hormones for health benefits unrelated to pregnancy). Of the women they interviewed, aged 15 to 44, 86.6 percent had had vaginal intercourse. They were counted as “sexually experienced.” Among the “sexually experienced” population of women aged 15 to 44, 99 percent had used one contraceptive method at some point in their lifetime.

That means the study shows that 88.2 percent of all women aged 15 to 44 who were interviewed, whether or not they had intercourse, have used contraception. That’s not the same as the claim used by advocates that “99 percent of women” overall have used birth control.

Image via Facebook.

Image via Facebook.

The bigger problem is what this particular study actually qualified as birth control. The study authors included not only hormonal oral contraceptives, condoms, and IUDs, but also the withdrawal method and periodic abstinence. “In other words,” writes Lee, “a woman may have had sex only once, or she may have had a partner who only used a condom once, and she would be placed in the 99-percent category.” Lee also points out, “A woman may have had sex once and used the withdrawal method, and she would be counted in the same category as the woman who has sex regularly and takes birth control pills or has an IUD.”

Since it’s likely that most people, when they think of birth control, think of an artificial method, it certainly seems misleading to classify withdrawal and abstinence as “birth control.”

And yet, this claim persists, even from Planned Parenthood. Ali Slocum, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, excused Planned Parenthood’s promotion of the bogus statistic by pointing out the Department of Health and Human Services also lists these other methods as “birth control” methods. Planned Parenthood’s own birth control figures have been called into question before, and its birth control services have decreased over the years.

From all the tweets in celebration of birth control, one could be forgiven for thinking that 99 percent of women might use the pill, an IUD, or condoms. But that’s not how the Guttmacher Institute broke it down in a 2011 study:

31 percent of women used the pill or other hormonal contraceptive, 5 percent used an IUD, and 14 percent used condoms. Another 33 percent relied on either female or male sterilization, while 17 percent used natural family planning, other methods or no method. The figures were based on 2006 to 2008 NSFG interviews, so it’s similar to the data in the CDC report.

More people were included in the NFP, other, or no method categories than those who used IUDs or condoms. (And many users of NFP would certainly beg to differ that it should be classified as “birth control.”)

Ye Hee Lee is right to note that the 99 percent claim is “an easy talking point, but it’s still a problematic one.” It appears that since the publication of Lee’s fact-checking, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky has deleted its November 16 tweet promoting the statistic.

Pushing this false statistic is indeed problematic, considering the organizations promoting a misleading narrative may be doing so to sway public opinion and garner support for their funding campaigns.

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