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On April 30, 2017, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) provoked an outcry at a town hall meeting in Neenah when pressed to explain his support for defunding the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
A woman doing the questioning warned Grothman that he shouldn’t use Planned Parenthood’s abortion services as an excuse to pull funding, because the agency is already prohibited from using federal funds to support abortion procedures.
Grothman’s quick response: "Planned Parenthood is the biggest abortion provider in the country."
He added that the group is an outspoken advocate for what he termed "controversial" services.
To be sure, Planned Parenthood does more than abortions.
Services include screening for sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, sex education and general health care. Indeed, in a one-year period from 2014 to 2015, 87 percent of patients visited Planned Parenthood clinics for services other than abortion, PolitiFact Wisconsin found in February 2017.
Does it hold up?
Running the numbers
There’s no complete, centralized database that tallies abortions, much less breaks that number down by providers.
But there is strong indirect evidence backing Grothman’s claim.
Planned Parenthood self-reports that 323,999 abortions were performed at its facilities nationwide for the year ending September 30, 2015.
That represents 35 percent of the 926,200 U.S. abortions estimated for calendar year 2014, the latest year studied by the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy organization whose survey-based data on abortions is widely quoted by both sides in the abortion debate.
Grothman maintains 49 percent of abortions are performed by Planned Parenthood. That’s because he uses the smaller base of 664,000 abortions -- the figure reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is based on voluntary reporting.
Here’s what we heard from two groups deeply involved in the abortion issue:
-- Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortion care in the United States, according to the Abortion Care Network, a national association for independent abortion providers. It’s worth noting that local providers unaffiliated with a national organization -- including freestanding clinics and private practice hospitals -- collectively do the majority of the procedures.
-- The 35 percent "easily" makes Planned Parenthood "the nation's largest abortion chain," and there’s no evidence any other provider is close, according to the National Right to Life Committee.
More about Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood’s abortion services grew rapidly between 2000 and 2015, rising by 127,000 procedures at a time when the total number of abortions nationwide was falling significantly.
The agency operates some 660 centers across the country. About half offer abortions, according to agency spokeswoman Beth Lynk.
Its facilities see patients from all 50 states, though one state, North Dakota, has no Planned Parenthood health center. The Moorhead, Minn., health center is two blocks from the state border and serves predominately North Dakota patients.
A Planned Parenthood spokesperson said the agency doesn’t track the numbers on other providers and wouldn’t venture an opinion on Grothman’s claim.
But Jennifer Thibodeau, a spokesperson for the Abortion Care Network summed up the general feeling among informed observers this way:
"There is no other national organization that operate on the scale they do."
Grothman told constituents that "Planned Parenthood is the biggest abortion provider in the country."
The agency’s national network of clinics stands apart from other providers as the undisputed leader when it comes to providing abortion services.
This is one of those truisms that is basically, well, True.
(Editor's note, June 7, 2017: An earlier version of this item quoted Grothman as saying that Planned Parenthood is an outspoken advocate for "controversial" services such as birth control. A spokesperson for his office said on June 7, 2017 that the video, in which Grothman's voice is hard to hear at times, may have led people to that conclusion, but that Grothman does not believe birth control is a controversial service. The birth control quote had no bearing on the congressman’s statement about Planned Parenthood and its role in abortions, so the rating of True is unchanged.)
YouTube video, town hall meeting, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, (abortion discussion at 18:00 mark), April 30, 2017
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Reproductive Health, Data and Statistics, accessed May 4, 2017
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, "Grothman town hall draws angry, raucous crowd," April 30, 2017
Guttmacher Institute, "Abortion Incidence and Service Availability In the United States, 2014," March 2017
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, annual report, 2014-15
Interview with Jennifer Thibodeau, Communications & Program Manager, Abortion Care Network, May 3, 2017
Interview with Rebecca Wind, Associate Director of Communications, Guttmacher Institute, May 3, 2017
Interview with Tatiana Bergum, Deputy Press Secretary, National Right to Life Committee, May 3, 2017
Interview with Dr. Randall K. O'Bannon, Director of Research & Education, National Right to Life Committee, May 4, 2017
Interview with Beth Lynk, State Policy Press Officer, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, May 4, 2017
Interview with Bernadette Green, Communications Director for Rep. Glenn Grothman, May 4, 2017
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