Why is it so hard to be truthful about Planned Parenthood?

Dianna Anderson

February 3, 2012

This is exactly what has bothered me most about this whole controversy--why do so many Christians insist on using extreme exaggeration and slander in instances like this? Is it so difficult to amend our internal narratives that we must simply ignore facts when they disagree with us?

Yes, Planned Parenthood has become the most recognizable face of abortion in the US. Yes, many Christians hate them for this. But they also (and primarily) provide many much-needed services for "the least of these."

To be completely honest, if I had my way, the church would be more like Planned Parenthood. Perhaps we hate them so much because they remind us of what we should be doing, while we instead waste our time protesting, slandering, and judging.

Monica Selby
February 3, 2012

Lying is different from misinformation. The people quoted may not have known their statement were untrue. With an issue as hotly contested as abortion, it's also important that we speak kindly to our allies and friends, and, perhaps, give them the benefit of the doubt.

Why is hard to tell the truth about Planned Parenthood? Because they rarely tell the truth about themselves. They wear the abortion hat proudly, regularly giving misinformation (whether they believe it to be or not) about abortion and human life. Until the Susan G. Komen story began last fall (with Lifeway pulling the pink Bibles), I didn't even know Planned Parenthood participated in other aspects of "women's health." Additionally, according to the official statements, Komen revamped their policy on funding, refusing to allow organizations under investigation to apply for grants. Planned Parenthood is under investigation and were, therefore, ineligible for funding. Yet, Planned Parenthood didn't want the public focusing on that part, and the whole thing became about pro-life vs. pro-choice. You say we can "debate all day about whether or not it was political," yet that is a truly important starting place. Was Komen taking a stand against abortion? Probably not, as Planned Parenthood's mission isn't exactly a secret, and Komen has been sending them money for years. But, if that had been their motive, they would deserve some credit for taking an unpopular stand against an issue.

Micheal Hickerson
February 3, 2012

That list of services compares apples to oranges. PPA arrives at the 3% figure by comparing 330,000 abortions in 2009-10 with 3.3 million STD tests, 2.3 million contraception visits, and 1 million pregnancy tests (among other things). I don't really see how a 10-minute pregnancy test or a free pack of condoms is the equivalent of an abortion, in terms of "services rendered." See their annual report for details:

I have worked for many years in the nonprofit field, including several years leading a nonprofit ethics watchdog in my city. There are many, many nonprofits providing medical services to the poor at or above the same rate as Planned Parenthood, including many Christian organizations. While the medical needs of the poor are serious, they are not so dire that Christians need to look the other way when PPA combines medical services with abortion.

February 4, 2012

The funding of PP is always supporting abortion. By giving them money to support non-abortion services, one has allowed them have more money to perform abortions. It's the same reason the government does not allow money to be sent to terrorist organization, even if a particular dollar is used in humanitarian good, other money is then freed up for the sinful aspects of the organization. So, the government should not at all be funding abortion services providers, even if tax-dollars never get spent on abortions.

And another question: Even if only 3% of the services performed were abortions, what portion of their profits came from abortions? I have heard the stats from the pro-life group, but what does PP say of the distribution of their profits? Their profits will tell what their true goals are.

February 4, 2012

Well, in the spirit of getting our facts straight, I see from the link Michael Hickerson, they are a not-for-profit organization. But as he points, out, handing out condoms can hardly be equated with a major surgery such as abortion.

I still stand by my other assertion that any money given to PP indirectly supports abortion.

Jason Summers
February 4, 2012

Michael makes an important point here. Statistical analyses need to be looked at carefully. As he points out, a breakdown of percentages by the number of services rendered is rather different from an indication of how funds are distributed because the cost of providing different services varies greatly. Dianna is being less than careful herself in suggesting that such statistics are definitive measures of fund allocation when they are not actually measures of fund allocation at all.

Of course, other data would be difficult to obtain. In their annual report, Planned Parenthood indicates that their primary expense (68%) is "medical services," which is not broken out by type of service. I doubt that Planned Parenthood employee are required to allocate their reported hours worked to specific tasks as, for example, government contractors must. But, if so, they have not released such data.

One alternative is to look at allocation of services across those served, which paints a slightly different picture. As Klein points out in the Post, of the roughly 3 million women served, 329,000, or roughly 11%, receive abortions. However, this is still no measure of how funds are allocated.

Dianna makes a fine point with respect to the Hyde Amendment and the mandate to respect private-donor intent. However, it seems to me that the moral case people are making does not rest at all on the percentage allocation of services or funds, but rather, simply on the fact that Planned Parenthood is a provider of abortions (and, particularly, the largest single provider in the U.S.). Their argument is one of virtue versus one of outcomes or utility.

Unfortunately, those who object undermine their own case by resorting (in Rawlsian fashion) to "neutral" arguments in the public square. As such, it seems that they care very much about how funds are allocated. But that's not the force of their argument. Rather, it is that they believe Planned Parenthood is working against the good and acting unvirtuously and, therefore, should not be rewarded by society.


Nathan Johnson
February 5, 2012

So now I'll tell you why the 3% figure is misleading. Abortion might make up 3% of the services that Planned Parenthood provides, but it makes a LOT MORE of the REVENUES that Planned Parenthood earns.

According to their own recently released 2009-10 annual report, Planned Parenthood performed more than 329,000 abortions. Conservatively estimating that each abortion cost $450, abortion services brought in $148 million of Planned Parenthood’s overall $320 million in clinic revenue, representing 46 percent of its operating budget.

The evidence is even more convincing considering that Planned Parenthood has issued a mandate stating that each of its affiliates must have at least one clinic offering abortion services by 2013. .

Andy Crouch
February 5, 2012

Ross Douthat, in the NYT today:

"Planned Parenthood likes to claim that abortion accounts for just 3 percent of its services, for instance, and this statistic has been endlessly recycled in the press. But the percentage of the group’s clients who received an abortion is probably closer to 1 in 10, and Planned Parenthood’s critics have estimated, plausibly, that between 30 and 40 percent of its health center revenue is from abortion.

"By way of comparison, the organization also refers pregnant women for adoption. In 2010, this happened 841 times, against 329,445 abortions."

February 6, 2012

Hi Andy:

I almost hate to say it, but you are providing the perfect example for what I'm saying about confirmation bias and spreading misinformation. It's important to know that Douthat is not always a reliable source - evidenced by the fact that he has neglected to note that he himself is included in the category of "Planned Parenthood's critics..." As you would know, as a journalist, the trick of saying "some people" when the author means their own opinion. Douthat is an expert at that rhetorical trick.

It's also worth noting that Douthat, here, is comparing apples to oranges - the Planned Parenthood chart is discussing services rendered, as most hospital and service based industries do when they report their numbers. This kind of reporting happens because of multiple services used by the same people - indeed, it is highly likely that patients will use the same doctor for multiple services, especially if they are low income.

And, as has been noted in other comments and cannot be repeated too much: Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization. To speak of them as having "revenue" is to purposefully mislead. They are not making a profit; they are providing a service to low-income men and women.

It's well worth noting that my point in the article is not necessarily to defend Planned Parenthood, but to point out how the Christian community - especially on this issue - suffers from a bad case of confirmation bias. We hear an expert say something that agrees with our ideology, and we don't look into it any further. As a result, we perpetuate half-truths and outright lies which serve only to alienate and enrage the "opponents." It does not help one's cause to willingly buy into a logical fallacy.

February 6, 2012

Since I have friends on both sides of this discussion and they have all been madly posting articles to support their respective positions, I have had to do a lot of reading to come to any kind of conclusion on the subject. My original comment on the Komen FB page said that I found it conflicting for an organization that is trying to SAVE lives to give funds to an organization which spends an inordinate amount of time TAKING them. It was deleted pretty quickly after one "like" and two counter arguments. I think PP's stats, AND their reputation would improve considerably among the pro-life crowd, IF they would make one small change in their policies and procedures: Be HONEST with these women about their "choices", encourage responsible behavior, and counsel them fully on both the medical and psychological effects of their choice. As far as I can tell, abortion is the one medical procedure for which the medical profession would prefer almost complete ignorance over full disclosure. I see that as a DIS-service to "women's health."

February 8, 2012

Why is it hard to be truthful about Planned Parenthood?

Because a lot of people simply don't understand what Planned Parenthood is, and what it is that they do, instead relying on a false understanding, based on a single factiod.

Folks hear "Planned Parrenthood is the single largest provider of abortions in the United States", and they assume (wrongly) that abortion is a significant portion of their business or that it is a central part of what PP does.

In 1996, Borders Books & Music was the single largest seller of Enya music i the United States. (true fact!) More Enya music was sold by Borders than by any other store in America. Does anyone think of Borders as being part of the "Enya Cartel", or involved in "Big Enya"? Of course not. Borders ran it's business model on selling all kinds of music, plus books, plus movies, plus food & drinks in their cafe's.

The people who cannot be truthful about Planned Parenthood are often the same ones who don't understand that "X is the largest provider of Y" is not the same is "Y is the most important part of X's business".

March 4, 2012

First of all, the link between breast cancer and abortion is not “thoroughly debunk,” as you say. It is not a proven fact, either, but to say that it is “thoroughly debunk” is to infer that there has been a concrete conclusion and there has not. The verdict is still out. Calling people liars here is harsh.

Whether or not tax payer money goes directly to providing abortions at Planned Parenthood, and whether or not Planned Parenthood offers other services, Planned Parenthood is an organization that not only performs abortions but promotes abortions at every stage of pregnancy – conception to 9 months. To play down Planned Parenthood’s voice in the pro-abortion arena is to be deceptive. They are a power house in the fight to maintain a women’s “right” to abort her baby. The way Planned Parenthood presents their stats is misleading in revealing just how important abortion is to their organization. In 2009, Planned Parenthood performed 332,278 abortions, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2008. Over the last 15 years up to 2009, Planned Parenthood has increased its number of abortions every year, committing 27.5 percent of all abortions in the United States as of 2009 ( the last year I could find accurate statistics).

You mentioned that Douthat cannot be trusted because he is an opponent of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood has their own motivation behind how they present themselves and their statistics. And just because someone is against Planned Parenthood doesn't mean there is no clout in what they have to say.

I understand the point of your article was that Christians shouldn't lie about Planned Parenthood but I don't think you showed that there is widespread lying by Christians concerning this organization.

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