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Conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch got Twitter fired up recently by tossing out another statistic in the ongoing debate over Planned Parenthood and abortion.
In her post, Loesch claimed that Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards was "forced to concede that 86 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue is from abortion."
But is it right? Did Planned Parenthood’s chief executive admit that 86 percent of its revenues come from abortions?
Both the figure and Loesch’s description of the events surrounding it are flawed. We’ll explain why.
The House hearing
Loesch is describing the Sept. 29 meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which included some tough questioning of Richards.
At one point, Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., asked Richards a series of questions about the number of Planned Parenthood’s clinics, whether it conducts mammograms (Planned Parenthood typically refers women to outside clinics for those), and the claim that just 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion-related.
Lummis asked Roberts about Planned Parenthood’s 2013-14 annual report, which she said included statistics that abortions "would have been over 86 percent of your non-government revenue."
"How do you explain this massive disparity between the amount of revenue you collect from abortion, and the fact that you only report 3 percent of your services being abortion?" Lummis asked.
We have to stop and make clear that Lummis asked about non-government revenue, which is not what Loesch tweeted. (Loesch could have made that distinction and kept within her 140-character limit, in case you were wondering.)
Dropping the words "non-government" make a major difference, which we will discuss in a moment. But first back to Richards’ answer.
Richards at first responded by saying those numbers are not connected because federal money doesn’t cover abortions. (That’s correct, except in cases of Medicaid funds in instances of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother). Lummis then pressed for how many Planned Parenthood affiliates receive the majority of their revenue from abortion, and Richards said she didn’t know but would talk to her team about getting the answer.
Then Richards went back to Lummis’ original question and said, "But I do think it's important to understand that abortion procedures are probably more expensive than some other procedures that we — that we provide, which might, you know, might explain what you're trying to get at."
You can read the complete transcript here. But what’s clear in our reading is that Richards conceded nothing other than that abortions are relatively expensive procedures compared to Planned Parenthood’s other works.
A different line of inquiry came up on this point in the third hour of the hearing. Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., tried to ask Richards how much revenue comes from abortion services, but she said she couldn’t give him a ballpark.
Then Russell walked through an estimate for how he extrapolated the revenue that abortion brings in. He used Planned Parenthood’s own estimates for a surgical abortion (up to $1,500) and the abortion pill (up to $800), and then multiplied each by the number of reported abortions (over 327,000) to get a range of $261 million to $491 million in ballpark revenue from those procedures.
Depending on the cost used, the ballpark abortion revenues "would come to 40 percent or 22 percent" of total revenue reported by Planned Parenthood affiliates of $1.145 billion in 2013-14, Russell said. (This method has been used by anti-abortion groups over the years.)
Now we’re from 86 percent to 40 or 22 percent. Either way, Richards interrupted, saying that was inaccurate.
"What was inaccurate is, I think, what you reported in terms of what the cost of an abortion," Richards said. "Obviously, it varies state to state. So I can't say. But I think your, I think your number was high."
Unpacking the 86 percent
The major problem with all the figures and statistics about what Planned Parenthood does and doesn’t do is that Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide much detail for fact-checkers and observers to analyze.
That gets critics in trouble when they exaggerate the available data, as in this case with Loesch.
Here’s how Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s 2013-14 annual report presents its revenues:
Non-Government Health Services Revenue
Government Health Services Grants & Reimbursements
Private Contributions and Bequests
Other Operating Revenue
This doesn’t tell us much, specifically if you’re trying to answer how much revenue is generated by abortion services.
The first column of numbers represents money brought in from Planned Parenthood’s network of affiliates around the country.
The top line is for non-government health services revenue, $305.3 million (which would include abortions, as well as STD testing, pregnancy tests, etc.). Of course, there are more sources of revenue than that. The lines below describe $528.4 million in federal reimbursements for services from low-income patients on Medicaid, as well as $257.4 million raised in private contributions and bequests.
The only possible way to get to 86 percent is to ignore those other sources of revenues, which account for more than 70 percent of everything Planned Parenthood takes in.
The figure Lummis quoted is based on the assumption that of the $305 million in non-government health services revenue, $262.1 million comes from abortion procedures (Planned Parenthood’s $800 top-end estimate for an abortion pill multiplied by 327,653 abortions performed).
That’s not a precise way of measuring things because abortion costs vary by state and provider. Average costs reported to members of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers which counts some Planned Parenthood affiliates among its members, put the costs of an abortion lower, in some cases, at $500 for pregnancies 12 weeks and earlier (a mix of medication and in-clinic abortions at that stage), $1,000 between 16-18 weeks, and $2,000 after 20 weeks.
As we pointed out, Loesch’s dropping of the words "non-government" makes some of this analysis academic.
Loesch significantly overplays any validity to Lummis’ estimate by simply referring to revenue. A Florida legislator in 2011 made the same mistake.
Applying Lummis’ estimate of $262.1 million from abortions to Planned Parenthood’s total $1.3 billion in revenue shows a lower estimated figure for the share of profits from abortions at 20 percent. (Even Russell’s statement in the hearing, which Richards said was wrong without saying why, put the share of abortion services toward revenue at 22-40 percent.)
We’d be remiss if we didn’t note that the people who could shed the most light on these figures, Planned Parenthood, haven’t provided any clarifying information. Loesch provided no additional evidence to support her claim.
Loesch said Richards was "forced to concede that 86 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue is from abortion."
At a U.S. House hearing, Richards said abortions are expensive compared to other health services offered by Planned Parenthood. But we found no evidence of her saying, or conceding, that 86 percent of revenue is from abortion. At one point in the same meeting, she said an even lower estimate for abortion revenues was "too high."
On top of that, Loesch describes the reported statistic incorrectly by dropping "non-government." That phrase makes all the difference.
We rate the claim False.
Twitter exchange with Dana Loesch, Oct. 2, 2015
CQ Transcripts, Sept. 29, 2015 U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting (subscription)
Tweet at Dana Loesch, Oct. 2, 2015
PolitiFact Florida, "Florida Republican says abortions make up 37 percent of Planned Parenthood revenues," April 21, 2011
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