Religion Reporter Spreads False "98%" Figure on Catholic Birth Control, Puts "Religious Freedom" in Scare Quotes

Reporter Laurie Goodstein portrayed Obama’s “compromise” on his requirement that religion institutions provide contraception coverage as causing conflict within the Catholic church that could damage it politically, in Wednesday’s lead National section story,  “Obama Shift On Providing Contraception Splits Critics.”

Goodstein, the paper’s religion reporter, hasn’t shown much patience with religious concerns in her coverage of Obama's contraceptive mandate; in her Saturday update she put “religious freedom” in quotation marks while writing dismissively on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rejection of Obama’s purported compromise.

And in a front-page story February 10 she passed on popular but bad statistic, without even citing a source, falsely claiming “Studies have shown that 98 percent of Catholic women have used artificial contraception at some time in their lives.”

Sarah Kliff at The Washington Post applied some actual journalistic skepticism and concluded the study, from the Guttmacher Insitute, “does not find that 98 percent of all Catholic women have used contraceptives.” Kliff quoted critic Lydia McGrew: “The survey was limited to women between excluded any women who were a) not sexually active, where that is defined as having had sexual intercourse in the past three months (there go all the nuns), b) postpartum, c) pregnant, or d) trying to get pregnant!”

Goodstein wrote Wednesday:

The near-unified front led by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to oppose a mandate for employers to cover birth control has now crumbled amid the compromise plan that the Obama administration offered last week to accommodate religious institutions.

The leaders of several large Catholic organizations that work directly on poverty, health care and education have welcomed the president’s plan as a workable compromise that has the potential to protect religious freedom while allowing employees who request it to have contraceptives covered by their insurance plans.

The bishops, however, have continued to voice strong objections to the White House plan. And they have taken it one step further, arguing that individual Catholics who own businesses should not have to provide birth control to their employees in their health insurance coverage.

The uproar threatens to embroil the Catholic church in a bitter election-year political battle while deepening internal rifts within the church. On the one side are traditionalists who believe in upholding Catholic doctrine to the letter, and on the other, modernists who believe the church must respond to changing times and a pluralistic society.

Goodstein concluded with two quotes from the Catholic left in support of Obama-care’s broader mission:

Sister Anne Curtis, a member of the leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, a religious order with 3,800 members based in Silver Spring, Md., said, “Our hope is to work out this one aspect of this health care legislation so that health care can be made available for all.”

Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association,  said: “My special interest is that in 2014, the 32 or so million people who do not now have health insurance will get access to health care. It’s a huge impact on the lives of many people in this country. I’ve been in health care for 40 years; I know they’re suffering.”