February 16, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An oft-repeated claim from a White House official about the rate of contraceptive use among Catholics has touched off a firestorm of controversy, with some contending that the statistic is not only irrelevant to the legitimacy of the HHS birth control mandate, but also grossly inaccurate.

Critics of the statistic point out that the study on which it is based was conducted by the research organization founded by Planned Parenthood, and that the study was explicitly designed to include only women who were most likely to use contraception – and excluded those most likely to follow Catholic teaching on the issue.

At issue is a statement posted on the White House blog earlier this month by Cecilia Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, defending the Health and Human Service mandate which requires employers to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs on their employee’s health plans.

“According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, most women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception,” Munoz wrote. 

Catholic teaching forbids the use of contraception, but permits couples to space children using natural family planning if necessary.

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Munoz’s claim has been repeated au nauseam in press reports and by pro-abortion organizations, and was defended on the left-leaning site PolitiFact.org, which rated the statement “mostly true.”

The site took Munoz to task for neglecting to mention that the study only included sexually active women, but claimed that this was “not a large clarification,” since “most women in the study, including 70 percent of unmarried Catholic women, were sexually experienced.”

Neither Munoz nor Politifact mentioned that the organization that conducted the study, the Guttmacher Institute, is the research institute founded by Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

The statistic’s source, in fact, has rarely been cited by any of the major media outlets that have reported on it, noted Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, a Washington DC reporter and Lutheran author of “Losing Our Religion.”

“That’s not even OK for opinion pieces, much less news articles,” she wrote in a post on GetReligion.org, a website dedicated to exposing media misinformation about religion.

But this is far from being the only missing piece of information, says Hemingway, who calls the White House’s claim a “damned lie.”

Even using the study’s own numbers, the figure should be 87%, since the 98% figure includes those who reported using “no method” of contraception, whereas the remaining 2% consists of those who report using Natural Family Planning.

However, contends Hemingway and other critics of the study, the actual figure is probably even lower than that, since, she says, “the study was designed to find only women who would be most likely to use contraception.”

Hemingway cites an analysis by writer Lydia McGrew, who observes that the study was designed to measure contraceptive use exclusively among women who would have some reason to use contraception.

Because of this, it included only women of child-bearing age, and excluded those who were celibate, pregnant, post-partum, or trying to get pregnant.

McGrew points out that unmarried Catholic women who are faithful to the Church’s teachings are disproportionately more likely to be celibate, and married Catholic women faithful to the Church’s teachings are disproportionately more likely to be pregnant, post-partum, trying to get pregnant, or simply not trying to avoid pregnancy.

For those who are trying to paint a picture that Catholic women do not follow the teaching of their church on contraception, “these statistics are bogus,” she says.

However, she also points out, at the end of the day, the statistic is actually irrelevant.

“If a bunch of Quakers turn out to have gun licenses, employees of an expressly Quaker organization are not therefore entitled to have their fees paid to a shooting range or their ammo provided at no cost through an employer plan,” writes McGrew.

She adds: “There is this commonsense notion that organizations that are explicitly identified as religious are allowed to uphold the actual doctrinal and behavioral standards of their respective religious bodies. Whether the rank and file membership of that religious body follow those standards in daily life should be irrelevant.”