Letter to the Editor: Refuting Marcotte

This Letter to the Editor responds to a recent column by RH Reality Check contributing writer Amanda Marcotte.  RH Reality Check welcomes letters to the editor and articles written continuing debates and discussions published by us.  We are soon to launch a redesigned site in which a separate section for LTEs and other categories will be included.

Dear Editor:

Amanda’s Marcotte’s piece “Refuting Powers: Many Obstacles to Contraceptive Access”  claimed that I wrote in a recent column that “contraception…may in fact cause abortion.”  This is quite a doozy.

I not only never said this, but in fact said the opposite. In referring to a study that found an increase in the abortion rate as contraceptive use rose, I wrote:  “This doesn’t mean that access to contraception causes more abortion—though some believe that—but that it doesn’t necessarily reduce it.” 

Marcotte also claimed on your site that, “Kirsten Powers would have you believe everyone who struggles with work schedules, child care or transportation, or funding is just stupid and lazy.”

I’m curious on what basis she makes this claim?  If you read my column, you will see that I never touch on this issue even tangentially and I can assure you I hold no such view.  Amanda Marcotte made this up from whole cloth.  This should be concerning to you, especially considering your stated journalistic standards.

I always welcome feedback and criticism on my columns, but I do ask that it somehow relates to what I actually wrote. 

Thank you for your time.

Kirsten Powers

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  • dadumdumdada

    While you may not have said that “contraception…may cause abortion,” you certainly implied it. In your piece, you stated that the rate of abortions in Spain effectively doubled at the same time that the rate of contraceptive use doubled. In the U.S., you say that “54 percent of women who had an abortion had used a contraception method” whereas “not one fraction of 1 percent said that they got pregnant because they lacked access to contraception.” (How this last statistic can be argued as Planned Partenthood being unnecessary, rather than a success story for them, is a bit mind-boggling.) The implication is that more contraception use means more sex, which means more chances to become pregnant. What is left unsaid, unimplied even, is that some males don’t like to use contraception devices, and fight not to. This all falls into the mind-set that the risk of pregnancy is a woman’s problem, and that men get-off, no pun intended, scott-free.


    As to the statement that you don’t understand how Ms. Marcotte can think, from reading your piece, that “Kristin Powers would have you believe that everyone who struggles with work schedules, child care or transportation, or funding is just stupid and lazy,” I refer to the statement you made in your original piece, that “Some described having unprotected sex, but all that can be said about them is that they are irresponsible, not that they lacked access to contraception.” Again, it’s the woman’s fault, either that she couldn’t find the time to access contraception, due to working multiple jobs, or balancing a career and child-rearing, or having to spend an inordinate amount of time travelling to and from their job(s), or simply not being able to afford it, and is, therefore, in your words, “irresponsible.”


    Personally, I’d much rather be funding Planned Parenthood than, say, KBR, or any of the other war-profiteers. I’d much rather fund something that people can use and access to enrich their lives, than spend it on wars, the only purpose of which is to take lives. I’d much rather fund Planned Parenthood, the benefits of which benefit working-class and poor people, than give tax breaks to corporations that are reporting record profits.  

  • amyc2

    I think the problem is that the author didn’t actually do any real “research”. All she did was cite a condensed fact sheet that itself was citing other, more extensive papers that should have been investigated as well.

    According to the fact sheet:


    • Forty-six percent of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. Of these women, 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32% had had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had had unexpected sex and 1% had been forced to have sex.[8]

     See that little [8] down after the paragraph? If you follow that citation you’ll see it cites a study, which contains more information than the condensed fact sheet. If she would have simply read the actual paper she would have found this: (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3429402.html) Note bolded/underlined text.

    Reasons for Contraceptive Nonuse

    The most common category of reasons for contraceptive nonuse was the perception that a woman was at low risk of becoming pregnant (cited by 33% of nonusers, including 6% who thought that they or their partner was sterile—Table 3, page 298). Concerns about contraceptive methods were cited by 32% of nonusers and included mainly problems with methods in the past (20%) and fear of side effects from methods (13%). A substantial proportion of women said they had had unexpected sex (27%), with 1% indicating that unwanted sex was a reason for nonuse. Slightly more than one in five women had been ambivalent about contraception. Twelve percent of nonusers had encountered problems accessing contraception, such as financial barriers, and 10% indicated their partner’s preferences as a reason for nonuse. The least common reasons that nonusers reported reflected ambivalence about becoming pregnant (5%) and fear that their parents would learn they were sexually active (2%). One-third of nonusers indicated multiple categories of reasons for not having used a method. The most common overlap was between perceived low risk of pregnancy and not expecting to have sex (9% of all nonusers—not shown).

    In Powers’ article, she says: 

    “Not one fraction of 1 percent said they got pregnant because they lacked access to contraception. Some described having unexpected sex, but all that can be said about them is that they are irresponsible, not that they felt they lacked access to contraception.”

    Not one fraction of 1%? 12% is more than 1% I think, in fact that’s quite a large percentage of women obtaining abortions who stated difficulty accessing birth control as reason for not using it. I imagine if those 12% had been able to access birth control, some of them would have prevented conceiving, therefore preventing an abortion. 


  • ack

    Great point, amyc2. I also think that this stat is important:

     10% indicated their partner’s preferences as a reason for nonuse


    To me, this indicates a power disparity in negotiating contraception use. If he says, “But having sex with a condom is like taking a shower with a raincoat,” she should be able to vocalize her boundaries and have them respected. We have failed miserably in educating people to talk about sex. We need to equip people with tools to successfully negotiate contraceptive methods, while recognizing that some people are in no position to negotiate. It’s hard enough to talk about contraception in relationships that don’t involve coercion, threats, or violence. When those behaviors are present, it’s nearly impossible.


    Both qualititave and quantitative research has shown an association between birth control sabotage and abuse. (Check out http://www.endabuse.org for more information.) Tactics like destroying or disposing of contraceptives, impeding condom use, or threating physical harm if the victim uses contraceptives are common in abusive relationships.

  • amyc2

    Absolutely! I mostly only singled out the one about access to refute what the author of the original post was saying, but this is absolutely important! I was raised on ab-only education and if it weren’t for growing up in an internet age (I’m in my early twenties) I would have probably ended up pregnant. I was raised to not have sex till I was married, and therefore was told absolutely nothing about condoms, the pill, etc. If my parents had found out I was having sex–woooh…it would have been bad. They would have forbidden me from seeing my boyfriend…which is funny because they would have prevented me from marrying the man I’ve been with for years now…just because in their eyes, if he was having sex with me before marraige, he was a “bad boy”. Ha ha. So glad I followed my own heart and luckily found Planned parenthood and made responsible choices. 


    But not everyone has the internet…nor does everyone have their first sexual experience with the “right one”–not that I knew then. What if he had refused to use a condom? And I didn’t know any better because of my lack of education? It’s just nuts that people expect us to wait for marriage (and as a very young married person, I often point out in protests/debates that I didn’t magically become immune to pregnancy when I got married, I’m not sure what getting married has to do with avoiding pregnancy, but I know that what they really think is that since I’m married I should be popping kids out every year…). 


    No sex ed leads to even more problems. It is harder to stand up for yourself and require birth control, condoms, etc. when you haven’t heard anything about them.


    We have so far to go…but we can’t stop. I keep reminding myself that. 

  • ack

    I figured you were going after Powers’ points, not ignoring the other information. I just wanted to make sure that the “partner preference” piece was highlighted. It’s beyond troubling to think that there are men and boys who are intentionally taking advantage of ignorance about contraceptive use, or are using threats and acts of violence to prevent use and promote pregnancy, but it’s strongly supported by peer-reviewed research. 





    While a significant portion of women experience active birth control sabatoge, most condom/contraceptive failure is absolutely due to user error. Which, of course, is also directly related to lack of education; I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stressed to friends, classmates, and training participants to store your condoms somewhere other than your wallet or your car! We live in AZ, and if our receipts get bleached on our car seats in July, what do you think is happening to the latex in our condoms?


    Indeed, we have a long way to go.

  • ack

    Ms. Powers Makary,


    The discussion section of the study in Spain clearly outlines some potential explanations. Increased reporting, lack of education on proper use of contraception, and immigration issues are all presented as confounding variables.



    The findings of this study show an increase in the contraceptive use and utilization of abortion. There are several reasons for this apparent disparity. One is the increase in notifications to the register, thanks to the improvement in its coverage and to the transformation of clandestine abortions and abortions performed abroad into recorded ones.


    I’m also curious as to why you feel the need to defend a point in an article which you acknowledged was completely invalidated by the fact that you were comparing 10 year old US statistics to themselves.

  • beenthere72

    I had an ex that refused to use condoms (the Mormon Tongan dude).   I didn’t have insurance at the time (and was unaware of Planned Parenthood) so I was using every drugstore female contraceptive I could get my hands on.    Some of those disolving inserts are wicked gross.   Luckily I never got pregnant.  


    He also had the potential to be abusive, even admitted it to me, but I moved away from him before he ever got the chance to hit me. 

  • progo35

    Amanda M. wouldn’t know the truth if it bit her. It is practically her job to fabricate inferences from statements that she considers malleable enough to lead her audience in a certain direction. To put it another way, Francis Kissling is someone I respect, because she shows respect for those who do not share her views and seems to have an honest concern for women. Amanda Marcott is someone I view as being a left-wing Ann Coulter, someone I do not respect.

  • amyc2

    Did you even read any of this? She specifically said that NO women responded saying that limited access to birth control was a reason they were not using contraceptives at the time of conception. Using the information SHE cited I easily could find where it gave ALL the results including that 12% of those not using birth control had difficulty accessing it. She cited the exact same thing I read, but only read the secondary source instead of going to the actual study and reading it. I think I learned to not use secondary sources whenever possible in my first day of Sociological Research Methods…

  • ack

    I’m sure she’s quite busy, but this site published a LTE from her, several people responded, and she ignores us? Even Jill Stanek shows up when we’re talking about something she wrote or said, and that’s not even in response to something she specifically wrote to the site.

  • crowepps

    According to her Facebook page, this is her fourth day at the 25th annual South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin.  She references seeing lots of great bands.  It sounds to me like she’s on vacation!  I hope she has fun.


    The questions and comments will still be here when she gets back.

  • ack

    I actually meant Powers, not Marcotte. :) But now that I think about it, it would make much more sense for Powers to respond after Amanda has a chance.

  • progo35

    For all those criticizing powers for not dialoguing on her piece, I don’t see AM saying anything…

  • crowepps

    I don’t think it’s fair to criticize anybody for not immediately responding to posts.  We have no idea what’s going on in their lives. 

  • progo35


    My point is that Marcotte’s caustic, intolerant tone has made me disregard pretty much anything she says. It’s like listening to Ann Coulter-facts mixed with a heaping portion of ideology all thrown in the blender of rhetorical vitriol = distorted facts.  I will wait to say more after the two of them respond to the article.

  • arekushieru

    My point is that Marcotte’s caustic, intolerant tone has made me disregard pretty much anything she says.

    Good for you.  But most people tend to disregard anything we say, even when using a polite, tolerant tone.  And it’s probably one we’ve discarded in favor of adoption of the other since that’s what we generally get from anti-choicers, themselves. 

    Um, what do you think your support for the idea of ableism in the face of any facts given to you is?  Ideology mixed with rhetoric.  Does that mean you’re giving us distorted facts?  Not necessarily, since no one can escape from ideology.  And what you label vitriol isn’t necessarily to anyone else.   

  • progo35

    “Good for you.  But most people tend to disregard anything we say, even when using a polite, tolerant tone.  And it’s probably one we’ve discarded in favor of adoption of the other since that’s what we generally get from anti-choicers, themselves.”


    You and Amanda Marcotte are sharing the same body???

  • arekushieru

    Uh, no.  It may seem that way since that’s the general reception we get from anti-choicers.  Unsurprising that you don’t understand that.  But, just in case this was in reference to the fact that you said you wouldn’t respond unless Amanda came on here to clarify her points, for one thing, if you hadn’t noticed, this IS a public forum, others ARE ‘allowed’ to respond as they see fit and, secondly, if you hadn’t responded, there would have BEEN no such implication, in the FIRST place.