LIberal Media Fact Checkers Have Different Standards for Planned Parenthood, Pro-Life Group Claims

August 26th, 2015 5:16 PM

A recent analysis in the Fact Checker column of The Washington Post by Michelle Ye Hee Lee examined competing claims by Planned Parenthood and Susan B. Anthony List regarding what percent of the former’s business consisted of abortions.The analysis concluded that both claims were misleading, and awarded each organization three Pinocchios. I would suggest that Planned Parenthood’s Pinocchios were well deserved, while SBA List’s were not. 

After correctly pointing out that the statistics produced depend on how one defines what is being measured, The Washington Post quotes Planned Parenthood as saying: 

Three percent of all Planned Parenthood’s health services are abortion services.” Using 2013 data from Planned Parenthood’s own annual report, and discussing some of the difficulties of the way its various services are measured, the Post states, "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.

The problem with the 12 percent figure, of course, is that it is too low, since the denominator of the fraction used to calculate it includes men, who do not have abortions. Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood does not report what percent of its patients were men or women. To its credit, the Post also reports the analyses of some pro-life groups which have estimated what Planned Parenthood’s clinic abortion income might be.  Depending upon cost estimates, the results vary from 15 to 55 percent.

Writers from news sources as varied as Slate, The New York Post, The Weekly Standard, Politifact, and the editors of USA Today agree that Planned Parenthood’s three percent figure is very misleading, and we conclude they deserve the Post’s three Pinocchios. 

But what of the Post’s claim that saying, "In 2013, abortions made up 94% of Planned Parenthood’s pregnancy services," on its website also earns the Susan B. Anthony List three Pinnochios?

Again to its credit, the Post indicates that the List arrived at this figure by noting that for 2013, Planned Parenthood reported 327,653 abortions, 18,684 adoption referrals, and 1,880 prenatal services.  It then admits, “Using this measure, abortions do account for 94 percent of the combined three categories.”

But the Post objects to this definition of "pregnancy services" (the Politico author called it "cherry-picking"), since it does not include other services which Planned Parenthood may provide to women who are pregnant. But given a major focus of pro-lifers, the List’s narrower definition of "services" makes sense. Perhaps this variable might better be labeled "pregnancy resolutions."

Pro-lifers are interested in the pregnancy resolutions of women who come to Planned Parenthood. Pregnant women have three options: carry and raise the child, offer the child for adoption, or have the child aborted.  Given that relatively few services were reported to be “prenatal,” we may assume that most women coming to Planned Parenthood know this and are experiencing an untimely pregnancy. Noting the above data, it is instructive that the services this champion of women’s "choice" rendered consisted of 94.1 percent abortion services, 5.4 percent adoption referrals, and less than one half of one percent prenatal services. 

Both the Post and Politifact noted that SBA List failed to take into account how many women Planned Parenthood may have referred to other agencies for prenatal services. However, it could not, since  Planned Parenthood does not record these data. One can only speculate that they do not because the numbers are small, if they exist at all. Certainly if they were available, they would help bolster its three percent myth.

Hence, Susan B. Anthony List does not merit three Pinocchios. Although I am not aware of the criteria used, at most it might merit a quarter of a Pinocchio for failure to explain why it was using its own definition of "pregnancy services (resolutions)," and not Planned Parenthood’s.