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Obama’s ‘Tonight Show’ remark: Planned Parenthood provides mammograms

at 11:00 AM ET, 10/26/2012


(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

“You’ve got issues like Planned Parenthood, where that organization provides millions of women cervical-cancer screenings, mammograms, all kinds of basic health care.”

— President Obama during an interview on “The Tonight Show,” Oct. 24, 2012

President Obama appeared on “The Tonight Show” Wednesday, arguing his case for what’s at stake for women in the 2012 election after host Jay Leno prompted him to talk about a recent comment from Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock that pregnancies caused by rape are “something God intended.”

Obama suggested that Mitt Romney’s pledge to cut Planned Parenthood funding would deny women health services provided by the organization. But the incumbent’s reference to mammography prompted the Susan B. Anthony List antiabortion group to release a statement saying, “This oft-repeated myth has been repeatedly debunked, and it’s time the President stop misleading the American people in an effort to buoy his top political ally.”

We decided to investigate this issue to determine whether the president really stretched the truth about Planned Parenthood services.

The Facts

Obama has talked about Planned Parenthood’s supposed mammography services throughout his 2012 campaign. Here are a few examples of his remarks:

“When Governor Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care. They rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings.”

— Obama during second presidential debate, Oct. 16, 2012

“When people say we should get rid of Planned Parenthood, they’re not just talking about restricting a woman’s ability to make her own health-care decisions; they’re talking about denying, as a practical matter, the preventive care like mammograms that millions of women rely on.”

— Obama during White House Forum on Women and the Economy, April 6, 2012

“In many of these states Planned Parenthood is your only possible access to not only abortion but pap smears, cervical cancer screenings, mammograms. It is a place where women who may not otherwise have the means can take care of their own bodies.”

— Obama interview with Glamour magazine, October 2012

The problem here is that Planned Parenthood does not perform mammograms or even possess the necessary equipment to do so. As such, the organization certainly does not “provide” mammograms in the strict sense. Instead, its clinics provide referrals and direct low-income women toward resources to help pay for the procedure.

These services are by no means unique to Planned Parenthood. In fact, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Society provide them as well.

Still, Planned Parenthood contends that many women wouldn’t receive mammogram recommendations without the group.

“Like the vast majority of primary care physicians and ob-gyns, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses refer patients to other facilities for mammograms based on breast exams, age or family history,” said Deborah Nucatola, the senior director of medical services for the organization. “For many women, Planned Parenthood is the only health-care provider they will see all year, and thus the only way they will get a referral for a mammogram.”

In terms of connecting women with financial resources, Planned Parenthood helps women find grants to pay for mammograms and hosts visits from mobile mammography vans.

Planned Parenthood’s services extend well beyond help with mammograms. The organization also provides abortions, which draws the ire of social conservatives. But the that procedure made up only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services in 2010, according to data from the group.

Planned Parenthood’s top five services in 2010 were as follows:

Testing for sexually-transmitted infections: 3.6 million

Contraception: 2.2 million

Emergency contraception: 1.5 million

Pregnancy tests: 1.1 million

Pap tests: .8 million

The organization actually performed more than twice the number of breast exams (747,607) as abortions (329,445) that year. Furthermore, abortion ranked eighth out of 19 Planned Parenthood services in terms of how many times the group provided each type of assistance.

Here’s how all the services look in pie-chart format:

Just to clarify, Planned Parenthood does directly provide breast exams, but only the hands-on variety that doctors administer. This is different from mammograms, which require x-rays.

Planned Parenthood recommends a mammogram once a year for women 40 and above, whereas it advises younger women to undergo a breast exam every one to three years.

Obama’s campaign said the president was referring to Planned Parenthood’s broader role as a health-care provider. But the Democratic candidate has repeatedly suggested that the organization provides mammograms directly, indicating more than a slip-up. This claim seems to have become an intentional part of the incumbent’s talking points.

The president has also failed to mention in all his Planned Parenthood remarks that the Affordable Care Act is designed to bring more people onto Medicaid rolls, which would give those additional beneficiaries access to mammograms. Additionally, the health-care law requires employers to provide coverage for those exams with no out-of-pocket costs for the insured — it’s part of the mandated preventive health-care services.

At the end of the day, women overall should be able to rely less on Planned Parenthood for mammograms with the Affordable Care Act in place.

We should point out that the president has at times described Planned Parenthood’s role in mammography with slightly more accuracy. For instance, during an Oct. 18 campaign event in Manchester, N.H., he referred to “all the work [the group] does to provide women with mammograms and breast cancer screenings.”

The operative word in this case is “work,” which could be interpreted to mean that Planned Parenthood provides referrals for mammograms rather than directly administering them. Still, Obama’s remarks were vague enough to be misleading, especially in light of other comments he has made about this issue.

The Pinocchio Test

The president has suggested time and again that Planned Parenthood directly provides mammograms, but the organization only offers referrals and helps women find financial resources for the exams. This suggests an intentional attempt to mislead voters about all the services that are at stake with decisions regarding federal funding for the controversial group.

Obama’s campaign points out that the incumbent was referring in each case to Planned Parenthood’s broader role as a health-care provider. But that doesn’t make his remarks any less inaccurate.

We wavered between Two or Three Pinocchios but ultimately decided the president earns Three Pinocchios for his mammogram remarks on “The Tonight Show.” He has repeated them too many times in one form or another for this to be considered just playing with words to generate a misleading impression.

Three Pinocchios

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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