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By James B. Nelson July 18, 2014

Susan Happ says at some point in their lives 99 percent of women use contraception

The U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial "Hobby Lobby" decision in June 2014 involved contraception and the insurance coverage that companies are required to provide to employees under the Affordable Care Act.

In a 5-4 decision, the court agreed with arguments made by Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores. Attorneys for the owners had argued they should not be forced to provide certain kinds of contraception that they feel violate their religious freedom.

The decision was criticized by Democrats, who argued it allows some companies to make a health care decision for their female employees -- including which forms of birth control are covered. For instance, under the decision, the pill is okay, but intrauterine devices and the morning-after pill can be turned down.

Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, a Democrat running in the Aug. 12, 2014 primary for attorney general, laid out her concerns about the ruling in broad terms.

"Giving corporations, executives and bosses the ability to make decisions about women’s health care is deeply regrettable," she said in a June 30, 2014 news release. "At some point in their lives, 99 percent of women use birth control. This decision seems to ignore that fact and side with corporations over women."

Others have cited a similar figure, including President Barack Obama on Feb. 10, 2012 when he unveiled a compromise on birth control coverage in his health care bill that aimed to address concerns raised by the Catholic Church.

"Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives –- 99 percent," Obama said at a White House briefing.

Is Happ right that virtually all women rely on birth control at some point in their lives?

When asked for backup, Happ’s campaign directed us to a Feb. 14, 2013 report, "Contraceptive methods women have ever used: United States, 1982-2010," published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That report was based on interviews with 12,279 women between 2006 and 2010. Each woman was asked a series of questions about whether she or a partner had ever used each of more than 20 methods of contraception.

The goal of the report was to prepare national estimates on the use of contraception in the United States. Its conclusions were pretty straightforward:

"Virtually all women of reproductive age in 2006–2010 who had ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method at some point in their lifetime (99 percent, or 53 million women aged 15–44)."

The report said 88 percent of the women in that group have used "a highly effective, reversible method such as birth control pills, an injectable method, a contraceptive patch, or an intrauterine device."

It added that the most common methods used were the male condom (93 percent), the pill (82 percent), withdrawal (60 percent), and the injectable Depo-Provera (23 percent).

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The report also said that the use of contraception had increased from 94.8 percent of sexually experienced women in 1982, to 98.2 percent in 1995 and 99.1 percent in 2006-2010.

So the report is pretty clear when it comes to widespread use of contraception among sexually active women considered to be of reproductive age.

But Happ’s claim was broader than that. She did not limit it to an age group, or qualify it as sexually active women, which the report did.

That means there are some problems with her claim.

For instance, the report says that only 86.6 percent of the women surveyed ever had sex with a male, meaning 13.4 percent never did.

Similar trends were found in previous CDC surveys. A 2005 report said that about 8.4 percent of the women included in a 2002 survey said they had never had sex with a man. That survey was of 7,643 women between the ages of 15 and 44.

When Obama made his 2012 statement, Cybercast News Service noted that the 2010 CDC report found 13.9 percent of women surveyed never had sexual intercourse, a figure that’s in line with the more recent study cited by Happ.

So how many women are we talking about?

According to the 2012 Census , the United States had about 92 million women between the ages of 15 and 44, so the number of women who never had sex is just over 12 million women.

It is also worth noting that the CDC report says says 93 percent of women reported using condoms, and 60 percent reported using withdrawal as a birth control method. Those figures help  drive the conclusion that virtually all women use birth control at some point in their lives.

Neither, of course, is provided by prescription -- the context in which Happ made her claim. So, that also serves to skew the numbers behind the point she is making.

Our rating

Happ said "at some point in their lives, 99% of women use birth control."

It’s clear she was arguing that contraception use is widespread, and important for women who run the risk of getting pregnant.

But in making the statement, Happ used an overly broad brush, applying what is true for a subset (sexually active women between 15 and 44) and applying it to a larger group (all women).

We rate her claim Half True.

Our Sources

Press Release, Susan Happ campaign, June 30, 2014

Email, Josh Lease, spokesman, Susan Happ campaign, June 30, 2014

The New York Times, "Supreme Court rejects contraceptives mandate for some corporations," June 30, 2014

The New York Times, "How Hobby Lobby ruling could limit access to birth control," June 30, 2014

"Sexual behavior and selected health measures men and women 15-44 years of age, United States, 2002," U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sept. 15, 2005

"Contraceptive methods women have ever used: United States, 1982-2010," , U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Feb. 14, 2013.

"FAQ: The Obama Administration’s compromise on contraception benefits," Kaiser Health News, Feb. 11, 2012

"Congressional Republicans vow to overturn contraception rule," Kaiser Health News, Feb. 9, 2012

"House, Senate GOP leaders attack Obama birth control rule," Roll Call, Feb. 8, 2012

Cybercast News Service, "Obama refuted by CDC report: not true 99 % had ever used contraceptives; 13.9% have never had sex," March 19, 2012

"Use of contraception in the United States: 1982-2008," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August, 2010

"Age and sex composition in the United States: 2012," United States Census

Transcript, President Barack Obama news briefing, Feb. 10, 2012

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