Thursday, August 13, 2015


Planned Parenthood says that only 3% of the health services it provides are abortion services. The right has been hell-bent on disproving this assertion, but its debunking of the statistic has consisted mostly of huffing and puffing and insisting that it's nonsense. Unfortunately, Washington Post fact checker Michelle Ye He Lee has accepting the huffing and puffing as fact.

Lee's fact-check piece is titled "For Planned Parenthood Abortion Stats, ‘3 Percent’ and ’94 Percent’ Are Both Misleading." It's based on two assertions:
“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
I'll get to the stats from the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List later, because Lee starts by challenging the 3% number -- giving credence to right-wing outrage-mongers who really don't debunk it.
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.
Yes, and? Why is this deceptive? Planned Parenthood is talking about a percentage of its services, and this is a percentage of its services. But that use of the word "service" outrages the right, so Attention Must Be Paid, Lee says:
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.
So because other organizations could in theory make ridiculous claims about their services that they don't make and have no interest in making, and that seem analogous only because Lowry is throwing a tantrum and insisting they're analogous, we have to take the argument seriously?

The New York City Marathon doesn't give you water if you're not engaged in the marathon's main business, which is running. Major League Baseball won't sell you a hot dog if you're not in a stadium watching a game. Planned Parenthood will give you contraception, STD screening, cancer screening, or other health services if you're not pregnant. It won't turn you away if you are pregnant but don't want an abortion. That's the difference. These other services aren't ancillary to Planned Parenthood's mission -- they're a significant part of the mission.

And why, if not because of right-wing rage, are we approaching this the way Lee does -- saying that emergency contraception costs $45 per pill but an abortion costs $1500, so the former is just sort of a service but the latter is a real service? When police departments offer arrest statistics, do we question the raw number of arrests because arrests for misdemeanors aren't real arrests, the way felony arrests are? Do we expect them to count each felony arrest as, say, five arrests, because it's a more significant collar? If we talk about the number of cars on the road, does a new Lexus count as multiple cars because it's more expensive than a used beater? How many statistical adjustments do we need to make in other parts of our lives if we make this one?


Lee does go on to debunk the right's 94% stat -- using some of the same numbers she deems dubious while discussing Planned Parenthood's numbers:
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.
So now these other services -- dismissed as trivial when Planned Parenthood used them -- are suddenly real services again.

That's good, but it's done so that Lee and the Post can assign three "Pinocchios" (out of a possible four) to both claims. Both Sides Do It! Both sides lie! The lies are indistinguishable!

No, they're not. The right has worked the refs on this, quite successfully.


Victor said...

The right always works the ref's efficiently.

Mainly because we on the left either doesn't try, or we're not efficient about it.

The Reich-Wing is proactive.
We're reactive.

PP is a very important organization for women.
Which is why the "He-man Woman's Hater Club" boys on the Reich, are trying to take it down.

There are many days when I hate this stupid fucking country!!!

The New York Crank said...

Reporters for newspapers, including the Washington Post, ought to be able to show basic proficiency in statistics, verbal reasoning, and clear writing if they report on the interpretation of statistics.

One wonders where the Post dug up Michelle Ye He. Or what planet the copyreaders were on when Michelle's story crossed their desk.

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank

petrilli said...

This whole idea of arguing around margins seems wrong to me. I get that it's tempting to marginalize the so-called "icky" abortion part of PP's activity. I get that in this culture at this time, such framing may seem like only realistic rhetorical gambit available. but the truth is this form of argument only further stigmatizes the procedure. The same applies to the fixation on rules exceptions like ectopic pregnancies or rape and incest. Truth is, the overwhelming reasons for the million or so abortions performed in the US annually are and always have been for personal choice reasons, and those are bloody well good enough reasons. Argue around the margins and that is where the policy (if we're lucky) will end up. Abortion only for carved out rare exceptions. That would be disastrous. But that is where we're heading with pro-choice rhetoric in it's current form. The best article on the subject IMO right now, The Big Secret of Abortion: Women Already Know How It Works, By Rebecca Traister

Unknown said...

What are the correct abortion alternatives?

Unknown said...

Are there any clinics which provide help for pregnant women?

petrilli said...

Taylor, please peddle your BS elsewhere.