With Donald Trump’s election and an incoming GOP congressional majority, Planned Parenthood’s annual federal funding of over $500 million appears to be in jeopardy. It isn’t surprising that the group and its allies are desperately fighting back. Earlier this month, Quinnipiac and the Kaiser Family Foundation both released misleading polls claiming that there is substantial public opposition to defunding Planned Parenthood. This week, the Washington Post published on its “Monkey Cage” blog an analysis by Miranda Yaver, claiming that states with more Planned Parenthood facilities per capita have fewer teen births and lower STD rates. Yaver’s research has been cited by a number of media outlets including, Glamour, Bustle, and the Huffington Post.
Yaver uses some sophisticated statistical techniques to analyze state-level variation across number of Planned Parenthood facilities, but there is less to her analysis than meets the eye. The main flaw with her research is that she chooses to analyze teen births rather than teen pregnancies. As Naomi Chan and Julie Carbone show in their book Red Families v. Blue Families, teenage girls in blue states are more likely to abort unintended pregnancies than are teenage girls in red states. The teen birthrate likely is lower in Planned Parenthood–friendly blue states because a higher percentage of teen pregnancies in those states end in abortion. Yaver neglected to examine or report on this factor.
Additionally, a look at Yaver’s tables shows that Vermont is a statistical outlier: It has more than three times as many Planned Parenthood facilities per capita than any other state, and its STD rates and teen birthrates are both among the lowest in the nation. If Vermont were excluded from the analysis, Yaver’s results would probably be vastly different, which suggests that this phenomenon isn’t as clear-cut as her data makes it seem.
Finally, Yaver holds constant state poverty rates in her analysis while ignoring other factors that also affect the incidence of teen pregnancies and STDs. For instance, various minority groups have relatively high rates of both teen pregnancies and STDs, but Yaver did not hold constant state racial demographics. Furthermore, pro-life parental involvement laws also demonstrably impacts teen-pregnancy outcomes, and yet Yaver also ignored the possible effects of this type of legislation.
The “Monkey Cage” blog was founded in 2007 to highlight political-science research that informs ongoing public-policy debates. In 2013, the “Monkey Cage” became a regular feature of the Washington Post. Submissions are vetted by a team of well-known political-science professors, so it is puzzling that they chose to publish Yaver’s essay. Her findings come from a working paper that has not been published by an academic journal and thus has not yet been peer reviewed. Her work does seem to answer a growing need: The increasing evidence of Planned Parenthood’s misconduct has made its supporters especially eager for face-saving — and federal fundsaving — ammunition.