According to two researchers from Marquette University school of Nursing, American Catholics might not be who we think they are. While it is well known that the Catholic church allows natural family planning as the only method of birth control, only 3 percent of Catholic women appear to use this method. "In comparison," the authors state, "the percentage of Catholic women who were currently using some form of contraception in 1988 was 73% compared with 70% in 1995. On a percent basis, more Catholic women are using some form of contraception than women as a whole"
The Catholic church’s position on birth control (as differentiated from contraception) has been attacked from many quarters; now, it appears, the main threat may be from the inside. The Catholic concept behind natural family planning is fundamentally different than that of contraception, one that is based in family development and spacing, rather than the ability to limit or eliminate fertility, but this seems to be lost on most American Catholics: "The number one method of contraception among Catholics in terms of raw numbers was oral contraception (OC), i.e., ‘the pill’ in 1988...about 3.8 million women." Male condom usage came in second, at 2.6 million Catholics, and sterilization was third, with a half million men and 1.6 million women being sterilized.
Figures from 1995 show a marked change in contraceptive usage-and not for the better: "Sterilization was by far the most frequent method of contraception reported by Catholic women in the 1995 survey. Over 40% of the total of Catholic respondents reported the use of sterilization, which represents over 4.8 million Catholic women between the ages of 14 and 45. Of this total, about 3.5 million were female sterilization and about 1.4 million women reported a male partner being sterilized. Therefore, the rate of sterilization among Catholics doubled from 1988 to 1995."
"The Pill" ranked second, in the 1995 results, being used by 2.8 million women, and condom usage was third at 2.5 million.
All in all, some 68% of Catholic women between 15 and 44 years of age in the United States are using methods prohibited by their church. The authors state: "This is not new or surprising, but what is new is that most Catholic women are now using an essentially permanent method of contraception, i.e., sterilization."
The Marquette researchers conclude, "Women who are sterilized are probably not going to be very open to the Church’s teaching on contraception nor be open to hearing about natural family planning. Those Catholic men and women who are 35 years and older-that is, the so-called baby boom generation-are essentially a ‘lost generation’ when it comes to understanding and living with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and contraception. This generation of Catholic men and women also have experienced unprecedented rates of divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, abortions, and sexually transmitted disease."
Perhaps that American Catholics are who we think they are, but because of their practices, we just can’t tell them apart from anyone else.
(Source: Richard Fehring and Andrea Matovina Schmidt, "Trends in Contraceptive Use Among Catholics in the United States: 1988-1995," Linacre Quarterly, May 2001, 170-185.)