Contraception Isn’t Controversial. Let’s Stop Saying It Is

The vast majority of women who identify as Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and of other faiths have sex and use contraception at some point in their lives. Contraception is not controversial to real-life people. It only is when men in the far right repeat this ad nauseum. Let's stop repeating after them.

This article was amended at 10:31 am, Thursday, April 14th, to fix several typos.

Is contraception controversial?

If rote repetition is an effective form of indoctrination, then it would have to be said that the anti-choice community has successfully brainwashed many in Congress, the Administration and in the media because many of them robotically repeat something that is not true…the notion that contraceptive use is controversial or that birth control per se is controversial.

Last week, for example, my own Congressman, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) talked about “agreeing to disagree about these controversial issues” in a face-off with Congressman Mike Pence on ABC News.  He was referring to the services–contraceptive delivery, cancer screenings, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections–that would have been defunded had the Administration bowed to the demands of the GOP on the rider to decimate Planned Parenthood. Others in the news media and in Congress variously and erroneously conflated primary reproductive health care services (again contraceptive delivery and cancer screenings) with abortion care, and then referred to the issues at stake in the budget debate–once again, contraception, cancer screenings, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections–as “controversial issues.” 

But the fact is that none of this is controversial to the broader American public because the majority of people in this country use contraception at some point in their lives.

“The debate over contraception has long been settled in real-life America,” write Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke of the Guttmacher Institute.  “At some point in her life, virtually every woman in the United States uses at least one contraceptive method. Likewise, contraceptive services are recognized by government bodies, professional health care organizations and a wide range of other experts as a vital component of preventive and public health care.”

New data out today in fact show that the vast majority of women, irrespective of religious affiliation, use modern contraception.

According to Guttmacher: “While much has been made about the increasingly secular nature of contemporary U.S. society, the majority of women of reproductive age (15–44) have a religious affiliation, attend religious services at least once a month and indicate that religion is very important in their daily lives.”

Eighty-three percent of women report a religious affiliation, among which 48 percent identify as Protestant (53 percent of which identify as Evangelical and 47 percent as Mainline Protestant); 25 percent are Catholic and 11 percent identify with another religion (e.g., Buddhism, Islam, Judaism).  The report includes data on regularity of attendance at religious services and other characteristics of women surveyed.

The report reveals high rates of contraceptive use among all groups.  First, the data show that, while this varies considerably depending on age, intensity of religious affiliation and other factors, sexual experience among never-married women of all religious affiliations is common: Four in 10 adolescents ages 15 to 19 and eight in 10 (never-married) young adults ages 20 to 24 have had sex. Among those ages 20 to 24, Evangelicals are slightly less likely to have had sex than are Catholics or Mainline Protestants.  But they still have it.

And most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant—whether unmarried, currently married or previously married—use contraception.

According to the report, the large majority “use highly effective methods. This is true for women of all religious denominations, including Catholics, despite the [Catholic] Church’s formal opposition to contraceptive methods other than natural family planning.”

Among all women who have had sex, 99 percent have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same, 98 percent among sexually experienced Catholic women. 

The report concludes:

The overwhelming majority of sexually active women of all denominations who do not want to become pregnant are using a contraceptive method. Moreover, 69 percent are using highly effective methods: sterilization (33 percent), the pill or another hormonal method (31 percent), or the IUD (5 percent).

Again, birth control is not controversial except to talking heads on Fox News, those in the mainstream and progressive media who have not done their homework, and (male) Congresspeople who apparently are uncomfortable with the subject themselves and/or think that somehow by conceding this notion to the far right they are buying political points.  They are not.

When the vast majority of one half of a population of over 300 million people is availing itself of a personal medical benefit, it is more aptly described as mundane or widespread, not controversial. The riders may have been controversial: It was and is controversial to propose gutting all our environmental and health protections, social safety nets, legal aid to the poor and nutritional programs for poor children, for example.  But nutritional programs and environmental safeguards, birth control and legal aid to the poor are not controversial unless, of course, your campaign or your “grassroots group” is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch Brothers empire. Family planning services and reproductive health care are not controversial except insofar as members of the far right, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and the rest of the anti-choice industry want to make them out to be, when given a microphone and the space for a few soundbites.

Nor, given the widespread reliance on it, is abortion controversial, as one in three women in the United States have an abortion at some point in their lives and women who are Catholic and Protestant have abortions at the same rate as the rest of the country.

What the far right depends on is stigmatization and marginalization to make these appear controversial as a means of gaining political ground for a powerful minority, and they are well-aided by the media and Congressmen who don’t do their homework and don’t speak for women.  For real, live women in real-life America, these things are about as controversial as what to eat for dinner.

Let’s put it to rest, folks.  Contraception is not controversial.  Stop saying it is.