As the calls to defund Planned Parenthood reach a fever pitch, we once again find ourselves retreading old ground regarding the organization’s services, particularly how much abortion it actually provides as compared with other care.
At the outset, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it doesn’t matter. Legal abortion is a health-care service. It is a medical procedure. And if Planned Parenthood performs 100 percent of the abortions in this country, or if 100 percent of Planned Parenthood’s business is abortion, it means that they are filling a need. They are respecting people’s choice to terminate their pregnancies.
But let’s move on.
For years, Planned Parenthood has maintained that only 3 percent of its services are abortion-related. And for years, anti-choicers have complained that the 3 percent figure is inaccurate. Back in 2011, as Republicans threatened to shut down the government over defunding the organization (sound familiar?), former Arizona Sen. John Kyl (R) gave a speech on the Senate floor in which he claimed that abortion was “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”
Kyl was rightfully excoriated for this statement—including by Politifact, which fact-checked it and found it false—so much so that he later issued a statement saying that it was “not intended to be a factual statement.”
It’s four years later, and as we once again inch toward a government shutdown over Republicans’ insistence that Planned Parenthood be defunded, anti-choice politicians are still making the same kinds of false claims. Except this time, they’re using information from a dubious report by the anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony List to bolster their arguments.
In Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 annual report, which SBA List reviewed, Planned Parenthood notes that 3 percent of its services are abortion, while 34 percent is contraception, 42 percent is STI testing and treatment, 9 percent is cancer screenings and 11 percent is “other women’s health services.”
SBA List took a look at these numbers and somehow concluded that 94 percent of Planned Parenthood’s “pregnancy services” are abortion.
If you’re thinking “that doesn’t make sense,” you’re not alone—it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
SBA List compared the number of abortions Planned Parenthood provided (327,653) to the number of what it calls “prenatal services” (18,684) and adoption referrals (1,880) and wound up with 94 percent. But this is not an accurate snapshot of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. It’s not even an accurate snapshot using SBA List’s own methodology.
For example, SBA List ignores the 1.13 million pregnancy tests that Planned Parenthood provides, which should certainly count as pregnancy services. The 94 percent figure also does not account for the fact that Planned Parenthood refers pregnant women to outside providers. Such referrals should count as “pregnancy services,” the same way adoption referrals are, but are not included.
This may sound like a lot of math mumbo-jumbo, but the point is, in order to reach that 94 percent figure, SBA List ignored that care in addition to all of the other health-care services that Planned Parenthood provides—contraception, STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, Pap smears—because those aren’t what SBA List categorizes as “pregnancy services.”
SBA List’s percentage is a statistical sleight of hand, and likely purposefully so.
Because what happens next is that SBA List promotes the 94 percent figure, which politicians then pick up and report without qualification: 94 percent of pregnancy services has become 94 percent of all services.
And that’s what happened over the weekend. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) appeared on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper to incorrectly claim that 94 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion, while Democratic National Committee Vice Chairwoman Donna Brazile pushed back on the falsehood:
BLACKBURN: Ninety-four percent of their business, 94 percent—94 percent is abortion services, their own numbers—327,600 were abortion services.
BRAZILE: Ninety-seven percent is for non-abortion services. We’ll do the fact-check, congresswoman. We’ll do the fact-check—
BLACKBURN: Absolutely, let’s do the fact check. Go to their website. Their main business—they are America’s biggest abortion provider. Biggest abortion provider. Eighteen hundred adoption services and 300 [INAUDIBLE]
BRAZILE: Have you visited the Planned Parenthood site? I have. And I visited poor neighborhoods. I visited where women cannot have access to life [INAUDIBLE] services.
JAKE TAPPER: Let’s put a button on that, agree to disagree, and we’ll come back.
In response to criticism that Jake Tapper allowed Blackburn to get away with a patently false claim, CNN host Jake Tapper tweeted to me, “It’s more complicated than that,” and linked to the Washington Post’s latest attempt at getting to the bottom of the 3 percent vs. 94 percent debacle.
But here’s the thing: It’s not that complicated. It’s simple math.
Blackburn claimed that 94 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion services, and cited a number: 327,600.
As the Washington Post points out (citing Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 annual report), the correct number is 327,653. The Washington Post also notes that Planned Parenthood provides 10.6 million services to 2.7 million clients. (Also based on Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 annual report.)
Now, I’m not a math expert, but 327,653 is not even close to 94 percent of 10.6 million.
Not even close.
But what about that 3 percent figure? (Which, in fact, is what 327,653 is of 10.6 million.) Is it misleading? Only if you don’t like abortion.
Anti-choicers complain that other services should not carry as much weight as abortion. As reported by the Washington Times, Anna Paprocki, staff counsel at Americans United for Life, believes that abortions and pregnancy tests shouldn’t be measured the same way:
Something like a pregnancy test is given equal weight to an abortion. Are all these services of equal weight? When Planned Parenthood says [abortion] is 3 percent of its services, that really doesn’t tell us what it means to its bottom line, what it means in terms of staff time.
But what would Paprocki have Planned Parenthood do? Count an abortion as two services in order to jack up that 3 percent figure to 6 percent? Or maybe one abortion should be the equivalent of five Pap tests. Would that satisfy anti-choice politicians and activists?
How much should Planned Parenthood’s service numbers be distorted so that anti-choicers can continue to chum the anti-choice waters in a desperate attempt to defund the organization?
Back in 2011, Politifact noted that “Planned Parenthood’s use of ‘services’ as its yardstick likely decreases abortion’s prominence compared to what other measurements would show. Using dollars spent or hours devoted to patient care would likely put abortion above 3 percent in the calculations.”
The Washington Post made a similar claim, albeit one that came across as much more slanted. Writer Michelle Ye Hee Lee admits: “When all services are counted equally, abortion procedures do account for 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s total services.”
Lee goes on to dwell on the fact, however, that there’s a difference between a surgical abortion and a Pap test in terms of price points:
But there are obvious differences between these services. For example, a first trimester abortion can cost up to $1,500, according to the Planned Parenthood Web site. Yet an emergency contraceptive pill costs around $45 and a urine pregnancy test costs around $10 at a pharmacy. An abortion is a different type of procedure than a vasectomy, or testing for sexually transmitted infections or diseases, or a vaccine for human papilloma virus (HPV), and so forth.
Lee uses this to suggest that the services should somehow be weighted differently.
In addition, Lee quotes an article by Rich Lowry published in the New York Post to bolster her point. But Rich Lowry’s article is standard anti-choice pablum:
Planned Parenthood, embroiled in a scandal over secret videos capturing its cavalier dismemberment of unborn babies and sale of their body parts, insists that abortion is only 3 percent of what it does.
The 3 percent figure is an artifice and a dodge, but even taking it on its own terms, it’s not much of a defense. Only Planned Parenthood would think saying that they only kill babies 3 percent of the time is something to brag about.
How much credit would we give someone for saying he only drives drunk 3 percent of the time, or only cheats on business trips 3 percent of the time, or only hits his wife during 3 percent of domestic disputes?
In Rich Lowry’s world, a woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy—and one in three women has made that choice—is the same as a domestic abuser or a drunk driver.
And this is the guy Lee cites? In an article that is supposed to be about fact-checking a claim about the number and types of health-care services Planned Parenthood provides?
If anti-choice politicians like Rep. Blackburn want to make some point about the amount of revenue that Planned Parenthood takes in as a result of its abortion services, then they at least have some truthful evidence to back up that argument.
But that’s not what they are doing. They are trying to downplay the non-abortion health-care services that Planned Parenthood provides—the overwhelming majority of its care—in order to manufacture outrage and convince hard-working Americans that they shouldn’t have to fork over any of their taxpayer dollars to Big Abortion. And so they claim that 94 percent of Planned Parenthood’s business is abortion services, based on SBA List’s questionable methodology of excluding from the realm of “services that Planned Parenthood provides” every health-care service that is not abortion, prenatal services, or adoption referrals, all lumped together under a made-up category of “pregnancy services.” Furthermore, to the extent that SBA List knows that its followers won’t distinguish between “pregnancy services” and “services in general,” it is being disingenuous.
It simply doesn’t make any sense.
Abortion is a health-care service. Just because anti-choicers don’t like it, does not mean that’s not true.
And just because anti-choicers don’t like abortion, it doesn’t mean that there is anything misleading about the oft-cited 3 percent figure. Planned Parenthood analyzed the volume of services it provides. It counted each health-care service as one health-care service and arrived at 3 percent. Those are the facts.
Even if you think Planned Parenthood should open up its books to the public so the rabid anti-choicers who want to shut it down can pore over and mislead and distort numbers related to the type and volume of services it provides, as SBA List has already done, the fact remains it is under no obligation to do so. And why should it?
Legal abortion is a health-care service to which every person is entitled, and it shouldn’t matter how much of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion services. Three percent. Fifty percent. One hundred percent. It shouldn’t matter.
It only matters to anti-choicers because they don’t like abortion. And because polls demonstrate that the majority of Americans have a favorable view of Planned Parenthood, anti-choicers must distort reality by focusing on the number of abortions Planned Parenthood performs as compared to every other health-care service in an attempt to drum up outrage against the organization. If anti-choicers can convince the public that 94 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services—excuse me, pregnancy services—are abortion, and Planned Parenthood is in the grisly business of selling baby parts (a conspiracy theory, thus far proven false, concocted by the Center for Medical Progress based on deceptively edited videotapes), then surely Americans will demand that Planned Parenthood be defunded.
Good luck with that.
The bottom line is this: Any way you slice it, the only way to draw the conclusion that 94 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion is if you lie.
And that’s what Rep. Blackburn did, and that’s what Jake Tapper allowed. And that’s what other conservative politicians will surely continue to do.