Washington Post Fact Checker gives “Three Pinocchios” to Planned Parenthood’s “3%” assertion

By Dave Andrusko

pinocchio_3Earlier this week, I read a terrific post with this spot-on headline, “There’s no cover for Planned Parenthood anymore.” The reference was to the deeply disturbing truths unveiled by a series of six undercover videos filmed by the Center for Medical Progress, which has caused “cracks” in the “edifice.”

But it could have included a myriad of other examples of how Planned Parenthood is in deep, deep trouble. On Monday, for example, NRL News Today wrote about the hit PPFA’s public image has taken. All of a sudden PPFA doesn’t seem so invincible.

And then, lo and behold, in today’s Washington Post, the newspaper’s Fact Checker dissected one of PPFA’s most egregiously misleading claims. The headline? “For Planned Parenthood abortion stats, ‘3 percent’ and ’94 percent’ are both misleading.”

Frankly, I was stunned. For years, Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon has written what seems like scores of stories debunking the notion that abortion is an insignificant, tiny “service” provided by the good-hearted folks at Planned Parenthood. But now…..

You could easily quibble with a thing or two in Michelle Ye Hee Lee’s analysis. Please read what she wrote today, but if you don’t have time, here’s the gist of her column paraphrased by yours truly along with representative quotes.

The nub of the problem is that Planned Parenthood has a convoluted way of making it seem that its abortion “services” represent only a miniscule percentage of the “health services” it provides–the aforementioned 3%. That and its unwillingness to provide a detailed breakdown of its “clients, referrals and sources of revenues.”

Lee goes through a series of steps to reach this conclusion (which Dr. O’Bannon has documented in even greater detail):

The 3 percent figure that Planned Parenthood uses is misleading, comparing abortion services to every other service that it provides. The organization treats each service — pregnancy test, STD test, abortion, birth control — equally. Yet there are obvious difference between a surgical (or even medical) abortion, and offering a urine (or even blood) pregnancy test. These services are not all comparable in how much they cost or how extensive the service or procedure is.

Lee gives the 3% claim “three Pinocchios.” Pinocchios refer to how deceptive an assertion is, with four Pinocchios representing the highest degree of distortion. Three Pinocchios means (according to the Post) that a statement has “ Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.”

Lee (perhaps to seem “balanced”) concludes that a conclusion drawn by another pro-life organization–“In 2013, abortions made up 94% of Planned Parenthood’s pregnancy services”–is also misleading.

Lee admits that the math does work when one is talking about those service, which by definition, involve pregnant women: 327,653 abortions, 18,684 prenatal services, and 1,880 adoption referrals to other agencies. “Using this measure, abortions do account for 94 percent of the combined three categories,” Lee concludes.

But her conclusion that this is “misleading” is at least partly (if not principally) because “we don’t know how many pregnant women Planned Parenthood serves every year or how many they refer to private providers for prenatal care, because the organization does not report that information.” Only a handful of Planned Parenthood clinics offer on-site prenatal services, making it clear that “parenthood” is not one of the organization’s real priorities.

Two other points. First, in a February 2011, factsheet entitled “Planned Parenthood by the Numbers,” PPFA repeats the claim that 3% of its “health services” are abortions. But it also admits that the percentage of its clients receiving “abortion services” is actually 12%. That means that not one in every 33 women, but nearly one out of every eight women walking through the door of a Planned Parenthood clinic has an abortion.

Second, PPFA’s focus on prenatal “services” rather than prenatal clients makes it even harder to get a precise calculation of the percentage of pregnant women getting abortions. Lee writes

The 2013 [annual PPFA] report does not identify the number of prenatal clients, but Planned Parenthood numbers from 2009 give us an idea of how these numbers can differ. Planned Parenthood reported 7,021 prenatal clients in 2009, but also reported in its 2010 annual report that it provided 40,489 prenatal services in 2009.

Planned Parenthood clinics also refer pregnant patients to outside providers for prenatal services. A spokeswoman recently told PolitiFact that the organization does not record the number of such referrals. (However, Planned Parenthood made this information public long ago. Annual report figures from 1996 and 1997 show the number and type of procedures that were referred out in those years.)

Lee also addresses the “total non-government health services revenue” that comes from doing abortions. She says that using prices for abortion published on Planned Parenthood’s national or affiliate websites and multiplying that by the number of abortions they report, one can obtain figures anywhere from 15 percent to 55 percent of the organization’s annual non-government health services revenues.

But because PPFA lacks “transparency,” Lee says, you cannot know for certain what percent is derived from abortions.

But, as Dr. O’Bannon has written, abortions provide at least $150 million in annual revenues.”And this is without even considering the higher cost of chemical abortions or later surgical abortions that many Planned Parenthood clinics advertise and perform,” he explains.

(The huge amount of governmental money PPFA rakes in is a separate topic.)

Lee also gives Three Pinocchios to the 94% assertion.

Lee concludes

While Planned Parenthood has no legal obligation to make its data more public, it is unfortunate that the public has limited access to data about the organization. Planned Parenthood could end the speculation–and Pinocchios–by providing a more transparent breakdown of its clients, referrals and sources of revenues.

Fat chance of that.