What Should We Think of Planned Parenthood?

Once, after hearing a speaker at a large public meeting claim that Planned Parenthood offered women nothing but abortions, I wrote a column disputing that assertion. It was an obvious distortion, and needed to be challenged.

Now it’s Planned Parenthood that needs to be challenged. The organization has – it seems intentionally – misrepresented itself and the services it provides in order to protect its federal funding (roughly a half-billion dollars in taxpayer monies) from being cut.

Whenever that funding has been challenged, as it has in both state and federal governments, Planned Parenthood’s leaders and supporters repeat the same arguments: that abortions represent only a tiny percentage of the organization’s health care services, and that defunding Planned Parenthood will deprive women – particularly women in lower income brackets – of necessary health services.

These are both misrepresentations, formulated by Planned Parenthood, and promulgated (sometimes unwittingly) by its supporters in the public square.

First, there is the assertion that only a tiny percentage (Planned Parenthood puts the actual figure at 3 percent) of the organization’s services involve abortion. This claim is a central tenet of Planned Parenthood orthodoxy. It has been repeated countless times (including in a current Newsweek article), yet it is a blatant misrepresentation of the truth.

To come up with the 3 percent figure, Planned Parenthood had to count each thing it does for a client as one service, whether providing contraceptives or making a referral, giving a client a urine pregnancy test or performing an abortion. It then divides the number of abortions by the number of “services” provided and arrives at the 3 percent number – as if handing a woman a cheap pregnancy test is somehow equivalent to performing an abortion.

To include an abortion as just another service is intentionally misleading. Writing in a New York Post op-ed piece, Rich Lowry of The National Review says that if The New York City Marathon used this kind of reasoning it could label itself as a hydration business, since it serves over 2 million cups of water but only has 45,000 runners. Or “Major League Baseball teams could say that they sell about 20 million hot dogs and play 2,430 games in a season, so baseball is only .012 percent of what they do.” That why a Slate editor called Planned Parenthood’s 3 percent figure the “most meaningless abortion statistic ever.”

The other frequently-made claim that misrepresents the facts is that women in lower income brackets will be deprived of health care if Planned Parenthood is defunded.

In making this claim, some Planned Parenthood supporters, including President Obama, have talked about the mammograms that Planned Parenthood provides. But the fact is, Planned Parenthood does not and never has provided mammograms. The president probably just got his talking points wrong, but what about the senior official at Planned Parenthood who suggested that many women would not get access to mammograms if it were not for her organization’s referrals, since Planned Parenthood is the only health care provider for countless women?

If that claim were true and funding was cut, then untold numbers of women would be deprived of basic health care services. But that claim is not true. According to its own study, less than one percent of Planned Parenthood clients use the organization as their primary health care provider. And many of those women could find another federally qualified health center (there are over a thousand of them) that provides contraception, STI testing, and cancer screenings.

What should we think about Planned Parenthood, especially in the light of recent and troubling revelations? We should think about transferring funding away from Planned Parenthood to other federally qualified health care centers as soon as possible. The organization has violated public trust and should no longer conduct its business using taxpayer money.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/26/2015

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