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For Planned Parenthood abortion stats, ‘3 percent’ and ’94 percent’ are both misleading

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“Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.”

–Planned Parenthood, fact sheet on Web site 

“In 2013, abortions made up 94% of Planned Parenthood’s pregnancy services.”

–Susan B. Anthony List, fact sheet on Web site 

Three percent or 94 percent? Are abortions just a small portion of the array of Planned Parenthood’s services, as advocates of abortion rights say? Or is Planned Parenthood mainly an abortion provider that masquerades as a reproductive health organization, as opponents of abortion rights say?

It depends on the measure you use to make your case. Both figures are being paraded around as controversy over Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donations continues. The Fact Checker obviously takes no stance on abortion rights, fetal tissue donations or defunding Planned Parenthood.

Let’s decode these dueling abortion statistics.

The Facts

First, here is a breakdown of Planned Parenthood’s “services,” defined as a “discrete clinical interaction.”

According to the 2013-14 annual report, Planned Parenthood’s affiliated clinics provided 10.6 million services for 2.7 million clients in 2013. “Other women’s health services” are pregnancy tests and “prenatal services,” which are described as “care you receive from a health care provider, such as a doctor or midwife, during pregnancy.” These services may take place at a Planned Parenthood clinic, or may be referred out to another provider. “Contraception” includes emergency contraception kits, vasectomies and female sterilization procedures. “Other services” includes adoption referrals and family practice services for men and women.

Out of the 10.6 million services, 327,653 of them were abortion procedures — which leads us to the Planned Parenthood figure.

Planned Parenthood’s ‘three percent’

When all services are counted equally, abortion procedures do account for 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s total services.

But there are obvious differences between these services. For example, a first trimester abortion can cost up to $1,500, according to the Planned Parenthood Web site. Yet an emergency contraceptive pill costs around $45 and a urine pregnancy test costs around $10 at a pharmacy. An abortion is a different type of procedure than a vasectomy, or testing for sexually transmitted infections or diseases, or a vaccine for human papilloma virus (HPV), and so forth.

While each service is listed separately, many clients received multiple services. A woman may get a pregnancy test, birth control and a pap smear, but she would be counted three times, once for each service, in the annual report.

Those who oppose abortion rights have criticized this definition, saying the 3 percent figure misleads the public. In a recent New York Post op-ed, National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote a series of analogies to argue that the 3 percent figure “is crafted to obscure the reality of Planned Parenthood’s business:”

Such cracked reasoning could be used to obscure the purpose of any organization.
The sponsors of the New York City Marathon could count each small cup of water they hand out (some 2 million cups, compared with 45,000 runners) and say they are mainly in the hydration business.
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.
Supporters of Planned Parenthood want to use its health services as leverage to preserve its abortions, as if you can’t get one without the other.
Of course, this is nonsense.

Slate’s Rachael Larimore, the left-leaning online magazine’s conservative senior editor, called this the “most meaningless abortion statistic ever.”

Susan B. Anthony List’s ‘94 percent’

SBA List, which opposes abortion rights, arrives at its 94 percent figure by comparing abortions to two other categories of services that are provided to pregnant patients — or “pregnancy services.”

Recall the earlier breakdown of Planned Parenthood’s services. SBA List compares abortions to the number of prenatal services (18,684) and adoption referrals to other agencies (1,880). Using this measure, abortions do account for 94 percent of the combined three categories.

But Planned Parenthood does not provide the number of pregnant clients it has in a year, or what services they received. So pregnant women may have come to the clinic to receive a service other than (or in addition to) an abortion, prenatal care or adoption referral — the only three services counted in SBA List’s criteria. SBA List also does not include 1.13 million pregnancy tests, a portion of which may be given to a pregnant woman.

Multiple prenatal services may be offered to one woman, so the prenatal services number may not compare directly to the number of adoption procedures (assuming one abortion per woman). The 2013 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.)

Knowing the full number of referrals for various pregnancy-related services would give a fuller picture. For example, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains partners with a midwifery practice for its Prenatal Plus Program, assigning case managers to help pregnant women with parenting classes, counselors and a registered dietician. Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan connects pregnant women with community resources for a variety of pregnancy-related services.

Other measures

Advocates on both sides have used other measures in an effort to portray a more representative figure of adoption services as a share of total services. But all face limitations, as Planned Parenthood — a non-profit — does not have to release financial information beyond its legal requirements.

Some, including SBA List, have attempted to quantify how much of Planned Parenthood’s clinic revenues comprise revenues from abortions. Typically, this calculation is made by taking the number of abortions, multiplying them by the average cost of abortions advertised by Planned Parenthood clinics, and dividing the figure by the organization’s total non-government health services revenue.

The main Planned Parenthood Web site says first-trimester abortions can cost up to $1,500. Some affiliate clinic Web sites provide a range of costs: a Western Pennsylvania clinic lists $390 to $1,090 for abortions, and first trimester abortion is priced at $515 in Arizona.

Non-government health services revenues refer to money collected for health care services, such as abortions, that are not covered by government programs. (The largest source of revenue for Planned Parenthood is government funding, but federal funds can’t be used for abortions. Planned Parenthood does not separate its federal and state funds in its annual report.)

Using this calculation, advocates and opponents of abortion rights have calculated somewhere between 15 percent and 37 percent of the organization’s annual non-government health services revenue comes from abortion services. Depending on which price you use, you can even get up to 55 percent. But this type of math is speculative and has limitations. For one, it does not take into account sliding payment scales for patients or reflect costs absorbed by insurance.

Another way to calculate is by the number of total patients. Recall Planned Parenthood health centers saw 2.7 million patients (men and women) in 2013. If the 327,653 abortion procedures were given to individual patients, patients who received abortions would account for 12 percent of total patients.

There were 4.6 million clinical visits in 2013. If each woman who received an abortion visited the clinic only once for the procedure, abortions comprised 7 percent of visits that year. If each woman visited twice (a Q&A on the Web site says women need to schedule a follow-up appointment after an abortion), abortions comprised 14 percent of visits. But there is no way of knowing an accurate figure beyond the 7 percent.

Neither organization provided an on-the-record statement about their methodology to The Fact Checker.

The Pinocchio Test

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.

The 94 percent figure that Susan B. Anthony List uses also is misleading, comparing abortion services to two other types of services that pregnant women receive through Planned Parenthood. But 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.

With limited data, there is no accurate way to measure how much of Planned Parenthood’s activities comprise abortions. Both sides are using meaningless and incomplete comparisons to make their argument, and the public should be wary of both figures. Thus, both receive Three Pinocchios.

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.

Three Pinocchios

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