I’m annoyed again about the ‘99% use birth control’ statistics

I’m harping here, a little bit, but I think it’s important to be precise. And this time, I have better thoughts about why.

Michael Cohen, of the Guardian, published a piece yesterday on why it’s important to view the birth control debates and increasing encroaching laws on abortion as a women’s rights issue, or a civil rights issue. In general, it’s a very well-thought out, interesting, timely, and important piece. But he uses the 99% statistic about women using birth control in the US, and he uses it in a way that conflates types of birth control and eliminates an avenue for talking about issues of access:

Since the 1965 supreme court decision, Griswold v Connecticut, which fully legalised birth control, the use of contraception has been widely-settled law. Today, approximately 99% of American women use some form of birth control.

My blog post from a few weeks ago on the subject is here, but I also wrote to Michael, quoting my own blog post as quoted in the email:

“I dug a little deeper into the original Vital Health Statistics report. In fact, 82.3% of women interviewed aged 15-44 who had ever had sex had used the Pill at some point in their lives. 93% had used condoms, more than 22% had tried Depo shots, 10% had tried the patch, and only 7.4% had an IUD (down from 18.4% 30 years ago–which is pretty interesting in and of itself).”

These are still really big numbers, but if you say that 99% of women use birth control, and imply that they are using the kinds of birth control covered in Griswold v Connecticut, you downplay the fact that many women do not have access to birth control—due to cost, education, state laws, or other reasons—which is also a significant part of this debate.

Women want to have control over when they conceive. That much is clear, regardless of what Nikki Haley says. But many don’t have access to it, a point that gets lost when we say that practically all women are using it.

Furthermore, women have worked hard to protect the right to control when they conceive, and with whom. There are still structural barriers to exercising that right. And while the 99% statistic is appealing, it’s not right and it’s not helpful.


Author: ekfletch

I am an independent researcher on issues of gender, labor, violence, education, and children.

One thought on “I’m annoyed again about the ‘99% use birth control’ statistics”

  1. You make a good point, but if you add together the 82% that have used the Pill, plus all those who have used condoms or whatever as well, you get higher and higher. The 1% represents those who have literally NEVER used any birth control of any kind, and that figure is rather slim.

    Though you do make a good point about access to inexpensive contraception; declaring that 99% have used it is different from 99% consistently or currently using it, and you’re right to declare that this makes it sound like it’s easy to get.

    In retaliation, there is an upcoming sex strike over this issue: http://www.noaccesssexstrike.org/

    We’ll see how many people value trampling women’s rights more than they value hooking up with them.

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