There’s a famous book called “How to Lie With Statistics” that is an excellent primer on the myriad ways big companies, politicians and anyone else with something to sell can use numbers to paint a picture that sounds good but doesn’t really reflect reality.
The leaders of Planned Parenthood and their PR teams have clearly read the book.
You may have heard the tall tale that abortion procedures are a mere 3 percent of the services offered by Planned Parenthood. You can even find charts proving it in the organization’s annual reports.
The claim is an outright lie.
The deception resides in the way Planned Parenthood decides to divvy up what it calls “services.”
According to Planned Parenthood’s annual report, the organization provided over 10 million services in 2013-2014. Of that 10 million, only 327,653 abortion procedures were performed. See? Only 3 percent.
“Services” by Planned Parenthood’s definition can cover a wide range of patient-clinic interactions. The main charts in the annual report list things like pap smears, STD testing, birth control dispensing, colposcopy procedures, family practice services, pregnancy tests and a whole slough of other things. If you read footnotes, you’ll find that services can also include things like treatment of acne or diarrhea.
Mentioned elsewhere in the annual report is the number of patients Planned Parenthood actually served over the course of the year: 2.7 million.
But wait a minute, an astute reader might say, Planned Parenthood reported a total of 4.47 million STD/STI test services in the same year, close to twice the number of patients seen. Something doesn’t add up.
The explanation lies in the small print of a footnote that explains that those 2.7 million patients in the U.S. made 4.6 million clinical visits.
Now let’s do some non-Planned Parenthood math. By the organization’s own admission, it did 327,653 abortions in 2013-2014. In 28 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute state policy brief, the law requires an 18- to 72-hour waiting period or face-to-face counseling that necessitates two clinic visits. Assuming an even distribution (unlikely, but should be close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades) across clinics in various states, that means a conservative estimate of 183,485 extra visits for the ultimate purpose of obtaining an abortion.
Now just add the numbers together — 327,653 plus 183,485 equals 511,138 visits for the purposes of procuring an abortion.
Simply divide that number by Planned Parenthood’s own published number of clinic visits, 4.6 million, then multiply by 100 to get a percentage, and you come up with a minimum of 11.1 percent of visits to a Planned Parenthood clinic are made in order to obtain an abortion.
There are some other details you’d like to have, of course, to sharpen that number up, but that’s probably a very conservative and reasonable estimate of Planned Parenthood’s actual provision of abortion-related services as a number of visits. The real number could be — and likely is — much higher if you use Planned Parenthood’s own list of “services.”
So if Planned Parenthood is lying about that, what else is it lying about?