Politics & Policy

Collins and Murkowski Peddle Myths about Planned Parenthood

Senators Susan Collins (left) and Lisa Murkowski (Photos: Yuri Gripas/Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
No, it’s not a major provider of crucial health services.

Several key falsehoods have long plagued our public debates about abortion, particularly with regard to Planned Parenthood, the U.S.’s largest abortion provider. A few of those misrepresentations — especially the fiction that Planned Parenthood provides essential, quality care to American women — are front and center in an ongoing argument over the GOP’s health-care-reform efforts.

Unfortunately, it is more than just hardcore abortion activists who buy into skewed rhetoric about women’s health care. Indeed, a couple of Republican senators have consistently been proponents of such rhetoric, to the extent that they’re now willing to go to bat for Planned Parenthood in Congress under cover of the false claim that the group can easily separate its abortion business from its provision of other, supposedly essential health-care services. As the Senate continues to debate its bill, moderate senators Susan Collins (R., Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) plan to introduce an amendment that would strip the bill of its provision to defund Planned Parenthood.

“It makes absolutely no sense to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” Collins told George Stephanopoulos earlier this week. “There already are long-standing restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion, so that’s not what this debate is about. And Planned Parenthood is an important provider of health-care services, including family planning and cancer screenings, for millions of Americans, particularly women.”

In this attempted defense, Collins peddles two crucial pieces of misinformation, both of which Planned Parenthood’s defenders wield continuously in their effort to justify ongoing government — and thus taxpayer — support for their butchery. The “long-standing restriction” she mentions is the Hyde Amendment, a rider added to federal spending bills each year to preclude the reimbursement of abortion costs through Medicaid. Like nearly all abortion supporters, Collins misrepresents this restriction, completely ignoring the inherent fungibility of money.

While Planned Parenthood does not receive direct Medicaid reimbursements for the cost of abortion procedures, any money given to Planned Parenthood indirectly finances abortion. The half a billion taxpayer dollars that Planned Parenthood receives each year function as a cushion off of which the group conducts all of its business, including abortion. This is why pro-life Americans and proponents of conscience rights want to defund the group, regardless of the Hyde Amendment.

Collins also has bought into the ubiquitous fiction that Planned Parenthood provides a number of crucial health-care services that women would be unable to receive elsewhere if the group were to lose its government funding. Murkowski seems to agree, saying of Planned Parenthood, “It provides greater access for more women, more men, and in my state, anything that you do to reduce access is a bad thing.”

While the group itself, along with its high-profile supporters such as Collins and Murkowski — not to mention the many left-wing politicians and activists who defend Planned Parenthood indiscriminately — maintains that it serves as a primary health-care provider for millions of women, the reality is quite different.

The vast majority of the group’s services are related to reproductive issues, not general health. Of the 9.5 million services Planned Parenthood self-reported for the 2015–16 fiscal year, not even 40,000 were family-practice services. In fact, the group treats significantly more urinary-tract infections in a year than it provides general health-care services.

Planned Parenthood provides less than 1 percent of the nation’s Pap tests and less than 2 percent of its breast exams and cancer screenings. Despite frequent claims to the contrary, not a single Planned Parenthood clinic has a mammogram machine. And even the reproduction-related services on offer are rather limited: Earlier this year, Live Action team members called 97 Planned Parenthood facilities and found only five that provided prenatal care; the majority of the others repeatedly insisted that the organization doesn’t provide prenatal care at all, because it specializes in abortion.

Which, of course, it does. According to Planned Parenthood’s last annual report, its cancer screenings, prenatal services, and contraceptive services all dropped significantly from previous years; meanwhile, its abortion procedures went up by nearly 5,000, to more than 328,000. The group makes one adoption referral for every 109 abortions performed. In another Live Action exposé, former Planned Parenthood clinic workers revealed the group’s long history of imposing abortion quotas on its clinics nationwide, rewarding those that exceeded the quotas with pizza parties and extra paid time off.

By no stretch of the imagination does Planned Parenthood focus on providing crucial women’s health care. And luckily for those who purport to care so deeply about such services, in addition to defunding Planned Parenthood, the Senate bill would redirect $422 million from Planned Parenthood to community health centers across the country.

Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics are outnumbered 20 to 1 nationwide by community health centers. In California — the state with the most Planned Parenthood clinics by far — the abortion group has a mere 114 facilities, compared with 1,694 community health clinics.

The numbers are clear: Planned Parenthood exists primarily to provide abortions.

All of those centers provide not only the few health-care services Planned Parenthood offers, but much, much more.

These centers already receive $2.9 billion annually under the Affordable Care Act, and the Senate bill would increase that bottom line by $422 million, an estimation of how much Planned Parenthood would receive in Medicaid reimbursements through the end of this fiscal year.

If Murkowski and Collins truly care about their constituents’ ability to access health care, they should consider the overwhelming evidence that women don’t actually receive much general health treatment in Planned Parenthood clinics. The numbers are clear: Planned Parenthood exists primarily to provide abortions — over one-third of our country’s abortions each year. No semblance of women’s health care, especially care as limited as theirs, is worth that price tag.


Planned Parenthood’s Century of Brutality

Abortions Up, Prenatal Care Down at Planned Parenthood

Casey at 25: Pro-Life Progress Despite a Judicial Setback

— Alexandra DeSanctis is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.


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