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Why the Claim that Abortion is “Only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s Services” is so Radically Misleading

by | Apr 15, 2011

 By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., National Right to Life Director of Education & Research

Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon is director of Education and Research for the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund.

As attention has increasingly focused on the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, PPFA has repeated one statistic over and over, like a mantra, in its attempt to advance the notion that abortion is only a small, insignificant part of this billion dollar corporation’s business. This assertion appears in Planned Parenthood press releases, is advanced by Planned Parenthood spokespersons, and is uncritically repeated by their witting and unwitting defenders in the media.
 It is the claim that abortion represents “only three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services.”
 Sometimes it is expressed in the reverse, that 97% or “more than 90 percent of the health care Planned Parenthood provides is basic and preventive.” But presented either way, the claim is the same: abortion is a minor part of Planned Parenthood’s business or agenda.
 Is this true? Is abortion just 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services? Only if you present the numbers in an odd, twisted, and extremely misleading way. But a more straightforward way of looking Planned Parenthood’s data makes it clear that abortion is central, indeed critical, to Planned Parenthood’s mission and its bottom line.
 Where the 3% comes from
 To see how Planned Parenthood arrives at this claim, look at PPFA’s March, 2011 Fact Sheet, “Planned Parenthood Services.” [1] There you’ll see Planned Parenthood’s 332,278 abortions listed as 3% of the 11,383,900 services the organization says it provided clients in 2009. If you do the math, it comes out to 2.9%.
 But look closer at the page. You’ll notice that it lists every “service” Planned Parenthood does equally, whether it is a test, a surgical procedure, or handing someone a condom. Something that takes a couple of seconds and can be done by receptionist is put on par with what is supposed to be a serious operation.
 Clearly, not all these “services” are equivalent. Some involve medical skill, some are rather expensive, but others are neither.
 Moreover, as a matter of fact, the whole total of “services” that the percentage is based on is grossly inflated by the 3,864,842 receiving “reversible contraception” or “emergency contraception kits,” in many cases, “services” that consist of nothing more than the passing out a few packs of pills.
 Planned Parenthood says that it counts services in this way because it is “following government requirements for tracking and calculating services performed” (PPFA physician Deborah L. Nucatola, writing in The Hill’s Congress Blog, 4/6/11). Perhaps. But it never seems to trouble itself with explaining or correcting the false impressions given by these “professional protocols for its data reporting,” that make it appear that abortion is an inconsequential part of Planned Parenthood’s business. If anything, by repeating this ad nauseam without clarification, it helps to foster and perpetuate this misimpression.
 What other “services” do you get with your abortion?

 Another reason the 3% of services claim is so laughable is that a woman coming to Planned Parenthood for an abortion gets more than just her abortion. Bundled with that abortion may be a pregnancy test, an Rh Type test, an ultrasound, an antibiotic, a pack of birth control pills, a prescription for “the morning after pill,” and “Other tests as needed” [2]
 Some of these services may be included with the abortion, but others, such as the pregnancy test, the contraceptives, and some of the “other tests” are the sort that are listed separately on Planned Parenthood’s Services fact sheet. If the counts on the Services fact sheet are correct, they would include some services rendered to abortion patients.
 A higher percentage of abortion clients

 It does not publicize it anywhere near as much, but elsewhere, Planned Parenthood admits that the percentage of its clients receiving abortion is significantly higher than 3%.
 On a February 2011, fact sheet entitled “Planned Parenthood by the Numbers,” PPFA repeats the claim that 3% of its “health services” are abortions, but also admits that the percentage of its clients receiving “abortion services” is actually 12%. [3] That means that not one in every 33, but nearly one out of every eight women walking through the door of a Planned Parenthood clinic has an abortion.
 Even this, however, does not count the numbers who visit Planned Parenthood thinking they might be pregnant and planning on having an abortion if they are. The 2009 PPFA services factsheet says that 1,158,924 women visiting Planned Parenthood clinics had pregnancy tests.
 Why were these women coming to Planned Parenthood for their pregnancy tests, considering how they could have gotten a cheap pregnancy test at their local drug store? It certainly couldn’t be for the prenatal care, since so few Planned Parenthood centers offer it (FN According to the Services fact sheet, PPFA clinics provided prenatal services just 7,021 clients in 2009 in the U.S.).
 A not so insignificant part of the bottom line
 To get a real idea of how essential abortion is to Planned Parenthood, instead of comparing all services equally, one does well to take a look at the relative revenue brought in by each service.
 While a pregnancy test may cost $15 and birth control pills may run $15-$50 a month, the average price a woman pays for basic first trimester surgical abortion in the U.S. is about $451, says a recent survey by the Guttmacher Institute (FN Rachel Jones and Kathryn Kooistra, “Abortion Incidence and Access to Services in the United States, 2008, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 43, No. 1 (March 2011), Table 6, p. 48).
 If so, and all 332,278 abortions performed at Planned Parenthood in 2009 are counted as these first trimester surgical abortions, then the revenue generated by abortion would be $149.9 million. This would represent a full 37% of the $404.9 million in “health center income” Planned Parenthood reported for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009 (FN, Planned Parenthood Federation of American, Annual Report, 2008-2009,”The Promise of Change,” p.29)
 Given that Planned Parenthood clinics advertise and perform more expensive chemical abortions with abortifacients like RU486 (average price paid $483) and later surgical abortions (average price of $1562 at 20 weeks), [4] the revenue stream generated by abortion and the percentage of clinic income it represents at Planned Parenthood is probably much higher.
 Put all this together, largely taken from PPFA’s own reports, and it is clear that the “3%” figure is a myth intended to mask Planned Parenthood’s deep, wide, and lucrative involvement in abortion.

 [2] See page 2 of Planned Parenthood of Waco Family Planning and Surgical Services’ “Information about In-clinic Abortions,” from 6/19/09, at .
 [4] A search of’s “Find a Health Center” function finds Planned Parenthood clinics in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Overland Park, Kansas, Billings, Montana, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, New York City, St. Louis, Missouri, Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles, California offering abortions at 20 weeks or more. Several other clinics offer abortions earlier in the second trimester

Categories: PPFA