Q&A with Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.
Editor’s note. Whenever questioned about the hundreds of millions the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) receives every year in government funding, PPFA ducks, bobs, and weaves. At the top of its evasions is a multi-fold defense that attempts to demonstrate that abortion is a small part of what it does, bringing in barely enough to pay the utilities. Is this plausible? To those who don’t have the opportunity to closely follow the money and statistical trails, yes. But are they true? No! Contrary to the official PPFA line, its abortion connection has, if anything, been underplayed. For an explanation we turn to Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., National Right to Life’s resident expert on Planned Parenthood. Dr. O’Bannon has tracked the activities of PPFA and its affiliates for us for over 20 years and has written dozens and dozens of stories and blog entries about the country’s largest abortion provider, which aborted 332,278 babies in 2009.
NRL News: Let’s start with this claim that abortion represents “only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services,” the single most common PPFA defense. Where does this come from and is it in any sense true?
Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.: If you were PPFA, above all you want people’s eyes distracted from the 330,000+ abortions you perform a year. How could you minimize its prevalence and its importance to your bottom line? (This is complicated, so please bear with me.) By bundling services when it serves your purpose, and unbundling when it makes you look better. It arrives at this 3% figure by using some very strained mathematics, by counting everything given to, or done for, a given patient as a separate service. So if a young mom comes into a Planned Parenthood clinic for an abortion, she’ll probably also have a pregnancy test, maybe a test for an STD, and then may receive a packet of birth control pills after her abortion. So, is that one “service” or four? Planned Parenthood counts each of these as a separate service.
Moreover, this same woman coming in for an abortion may receive three, four, or more additional services, such as an ultrasound, an antibiotic, and an Rh type and hemoglobin test, all connected to her abortion visit. When counted separately, it makes it look like abortion was only one among several other more conventional “reproductive health care” services or procedures. [See PPFA’s 3/11 fact sheet on services]
PPFA offers the “3% of services” mantra day in and day out. It is accepted uncritically by the media. The figure is purposefully confusing. A much more understandable—and accurate—measure is to look at the numbers of clients, rather than the number of “services.” That tells a very different story.
Outside of places like National Right to Life News and NRL News Today, you virtually never read that the percentage of PPFA’s clients that receive abortions is 12%. As we shall see in a moment, that is important not only because it reveals its enormous investment in abortion, but also because abortions generate a hefty share of clinic revenue.
NRL News: So, to be clear, that means that nearly one in eight women walking through the door of a Planned Parenthood clinic receiving services has an abortion?
O’Bannon: Well, even that probably understates the abortion-related traffic to Planned Parenthood. In 2009 over 1.1 million women coming to Planned Parenthood had a pregnancy test. We don’t know what percentage of those were positive. What we do know is that of the services Planned Parenthood reported that would have involved pregnant women (abortion, prenatal care, adoption referrals), 97.6% were abortion.
On the PPFA Services fact sheet, Planned Parenthood says it provided services for three million people in 2009. That would mean roughly a third were tested for pregnancy. Considering how a woman can buy a relatively inexpensive pregnancy test from her local drug or grocery store, she must have had a reason to seek out Planned Parenthood. If the availability of abortion was the reason, that would mean that abortion was pulling in even more than the 12%.
NRL News: Even so, 12% of the business being devoted to abortion would be a significant percentage, would it not?
O’Bannon: That it would be. But to reiterate, abortion certainly accounts for a great deal more than just 12% as a portion of PPFA’s business, especially if you’re looking at it in monetary terms.
To see how significant abortion is to Planned Parenthood’s bottom line, there is no equivalency between a $15 pregnancy test or a $6 pack of condoms or $15–$50 packet of birth control pills and an abortion which runs $350–$950 for a first-trimester abortion [see www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/abortion/in-clinic-abortion-procedures-4359.asp].
Here’s some very basic math. At $451 (the Guttmacher Institute’s estimated average cost for a standard first-trimester surgical abortion), the 332,278 abortions Planned Parenthood performed in 2009 would represent $149.9 million—37% of the $404.9 million in clinic revenues PPFA took in for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009 [see PPFA 2008–09 Annual Report ].
NRL News: That’s a far cry from the 3% we started with.
O’Bannon: And since Planned Parenthood clinics also advertise and perform more expensive chemical abortions, like those with RU486, and later surgical abortions, which average more than $1,500 at 20 weeks, that income and that percentage are probably much higher. One thing is clear from the data we have, data that comes from Planned Parenthood itself. In spite of the spin and the deflections, Planned Parenthood certainly is “Big Abortion”– the nation’s biggest performer and most aggressive promoter of abortion.
NRL News: We know we have to be 100% accurate or the 99% that is correct gets tossed away. What are some common mistakes with regard to the data?
O’Bannon: Speaking in terms of Planned Parenthood’s “profits” instead of “revenues.”
Another is to confuse its clinic or “health center income” with the total revenues of the organization. Planned Parenthood had total revenues of $1.1 billion in FY 2009, but only 37% of that came from clinic income. It got another $363.3 million in “government grants and contracts” and private contributions totaling $308.2 million, and another $24.5 million from other sources.
One thing people also need to do is to be specific. Don’t say that 90% of Planned Parenthood’s patients have abortions, because that isn’t correct. What is true is that in looking at those services intrinsically connected to pregnancy—abortion, prenatal care, and adoption—97.6% of those were abortion.
NRL News: Anything else you want to say about this 3% claim that Planned Parenthood has popularized?
O’Bannon: If I may, let me briefly mention three other related issues. First, PPFA is building up its abortion business in a major way (see the editorial on page 2). This is 180 degrees away from the organization’s attempt to act as if abortion is incidental to what it does.
Second—to borrow from the article I wrote that appears on page 11—a secondary Planned Parenthood tactic is to argue that increased funding will enable it to reduce the numbers of abortions, but its own organizational reports don’t seem to show that.
The revenue Planned Parenthood receives in “Government Grants & Contracts” has gone from $165 million in 1998 to $363.3 million in the organization’s fiscal year ending June 30, 2009. During the same time, and at roughly the same rate, abortions have more than doubled at Planned Parenthood, from 165,509 in 1998 to 332,278 in 2009. All this while abortions in the U.S., as a whole, dropped by about 25%. To say that Planned Parenthood is committed to reducing abortions is to go against decades of evidence that shows the exact opposite.
Third, to return to the original question, we’ve shown that PPFA is heavily invested in—and derives enormous income from—abortion. But even if abortion constituted “only” 3% of its business—which masks the truth—this organization boldly and unapologetically destroys over 300,000 innocent human lives every year, making millions in the process, and unapologetically defends its doing so.
This is not only an absolute corruption of the very notion of “health care,” it is a gross abuse of our most basic human rights, something that no civilized society should tolerate, much less pay for.