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Harry Reid’s incorrect claim that 30 percent of women rely on Planned Parenthood for health care

(AP Photo/Brett Carlsen)

“The Republican bill pretends to be for women’s health, but it would prohibit federal funds to go to an organization that is the health care backbone for American women during their lives. In fact, it is the only health care that a significant number of women get. For about 30 percent of women, that’s their health care.”

— Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate floor speech, July 29, 2015

Center for Medical Progress, a group that opposes abortion rights, in recent weeks released a series of covert videos filming Planned Parenthood officials describing the non-profit’s fetal tissue donation process.

Amid Center for Medical Progress’s allegations that Planned Parenthood illegally and unethically is selling fetal tissues for profit, there is a renewed push among conservatives in Congress to pull federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

In defense of Planned Parenthood, Reid said eliminating funding would jeopardize health care for 30 percent of women. Is he correct?

The Facts

Republicans in both chambers have taken legislative measures to pull federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood received $528.4 million in state and federal funding in 2013. The majority of federal funding that Planned Parenthood health centers receive are through Medicaid reimbursements or grants through the federal family planning program, Title X. Medicaid is the main source of funding for publicly supported family planning services.

The majority (84 percent) of women who use Planned Parenthood are over 20 years old, according to Planned Parenthood. There were 161 million women in the U.S., according to the 2013 Census, and 120.3 million were women over 20 years old. Another 10.3 million women were in the 15-to-19 age range.

If 30 percent of women rely on Planned Parenthood for their health care, that would be between 36 to 39 million women. But according to Planned Parenthood figures, 2.7 million women and men visit its health centers every year. Clearly, Reid’s statement doesn’t add up.

A statistic frequently cited by lawmakers, activists and Planned Parenthood officials is that “one in five women in the U.S. has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life.” Using the 2013 Census data, that comprises 26 million women over 15 years old. This is closer to Reid’s figure. Reid’s spokesman Adam Jentleson said the senator spoke off-the-cuff and meant to cite the one-in-five statistic.

But that statistic is highly questionable. It is supposedly based on internal polling by Planned Parenthood, and its results and methodology has not been made available to the public. The Fact Checker has asked the organization to release polling results and methodology, and will update this fact check if the information becomes available.

Planned Parenthood also pointed to a 2013 Huffington Post/YouGov poll that found that one in five Americans said they had visited a Planned Parenthood clinic for health services. But opt-in Internet surveys, which do not accurately estimate population values, do not meet The Washington Post polling methodology standards. The Fact Checker often has warned readers of relying on such polls.

In 2011, there were about 4.6 million women who received health care (including contraceptive care, screening for sexually transmitted infections and cervical cancer screening) through Title X funds. Even if 30 percent of all women in Title X programs went to Planned Parenthood centers, the number would be nowhere close to Reid’s figure.

Reid could have made his point about Planned Parenthood using a different measure that is close to his 30 percent figure. In 2010, there were 19.1 million women aged 13 to 44 who needed publicly funded family planning services, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Among these women, 5.8 million were uninsured.

Planned Parenthood clinics serve a disproportionate share of these women. Planned Parenthood comprises 10 percent of publicly funded family planning centers, but serves 36 percent of people who rely on safety-net health centers.

The Pinocchio Test

Reid is incorrect that 30 percent of women rely on Planned Parenthood for their health care. His spokesman said that Reid meant to cite the statistic by the non-profit that one in five women has visited Planned Parenthood at least once in her life. That is not the same as Planned Parenthood being the “only health care that a significant number of women get,” as Reid said. And it is unclear how Planned Parenthood arrived at that figure; it is supposedly based on the organization’s “internal polling,” which is often a red flag.

Reid could have supported his point using a more finessed statement, citing the Guttmacher Institute’s research that shows 36 percent of women who rely on publicly funded family planning services use Planned Parenthood clinics. But that is not what he said, nor what his office provided. PolitiFact rated this claim Pants on Fire, and we’re going to award Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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