"Abortions account for 94 percent of the services provided for pregnant women by Planned Parenthood."

Bishop Thomas Tobin on Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 in a newspaper column

R.I. Bishop Thomas Tobin says abortions make up 94% of Planned Parent services for pregnant women

Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin is an ardent and outspoken abortion opponent.

He voiced his opposition recently in the Jan. 22, 2015 edition of The Rhode Island Catholic newspaper in a column entitled "The ‘Throwaway Culture’ Has Arrived at Our Doorstep." In it, he faulted Planned Parenthood as a "destructive, immoral" organization that should not be supported by federal tax dollars.

He cited figures to support his position, including that "... Abortions account for 94 percent of the services provided for pregnant women by Planned Parenthood."

In the column, Bishop Tobin identified the source of the information as the Susan B. Anthony List, a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose mission is to help elect anti-abortion candidates and pursue policies that will reduce and ultimately end abortion.

We reached out to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, which Bishop Tobin leads, to see whether the bishop had additional information to back up his statement.

Carolyn E. Cronin, director of communications for the diocese, referred us to a fact sheet put out by the Susan B. Anthony List -- which included the 94-percent figure -- as well as statistics from another anti-abortion organization, Life Issues Institute Inc.

Mallory E. Quigley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List, referred us to numbers taken from page 18 of  Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 annual report.

"There are 3 options/responses to pregnancy for Planned Parenthood," Quigley said in an email.

  • Abortion services: 327,653

  • Prenatal referrals: 18,684

  • Adoption Services: 1,880

Quigley said the sum of those three numbers -- 348,217 -- represents "total pregnancy services." She  said the total number of abortions -- 327,653 -- is  94 percent of that total.

When we contacted Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, which encompasses Rhode Island, Susan Yolen, the vice president for public policy and advocacy, faulted that calculation -- and Bishop Tobin’s conclusion -- as misleading.

Planned Parenthood health centers do not compile the pregnancy status of all their female patients, she said. Nor do they tally the number of pregnant women staff refers to outside obstetricians or other health-care providers, she said.

In other words, the number of women receiving "pregnancy services" is not simply the sum of those getting abortions or receiving adoption or prenatal services.

Other figures on page 18 of Planned Parenthood’s annual report show that the agency conducted 1.1 million pregnancy tests and another 3.7 million tests for sexually transmitted diseases (for both men and women). Presumably, there were pregnant women in each of those groups who aren’t represented in the Susan B. Anthony lists’ tally.

It’s also important to note that the number cited by the Susan B. Anthony List for "total pregnancy services" does not appear in the Planned Parenthood report.

Eric Ferrero, vice president for communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, also rebutted Tobin’s numbers.

"This meaningless and false claim is part of a campaign to spread misinformation by a group whose sole purpose is to end access to abortion in America," Ferrero wrote in an email.

Ferrero cited figures to support his position.

"One in five women in America relies on Planned Parenthood at some point in her life for the full range of reproductive health care," he said. "In 2013, Planned Parenthood health centers provided more than 2 million birth control appointments, 1 million pregnancy tests, and 900,000 cancer screenings."

In addition, the agency informed us that in 2013, only 9 of Planned Parenthood’s 64 affiliates provided prenatal services at 45 health centers nationwide. Additionally, 14 health centers provided childbirth classes.

In other words, the 18,684 cited by the Susan B. Anthony List as receiving "prenatal referrals" reflect only the numbers from those 45 health centers.

We asked the Susan B. Anthony List about Planned Parenthood’s response.

"The fact that Planned Parenthood refers pregnant women to ob-gyns and other health care centers just underscores our point that they don’t actually provide care for pregnant women and their babies," Quigley said. "They could track that number if they chose, just like they track adoption referrals. Perhaps they will someday."

Quigley is right that Planned Parenthood could track the number of pregnant patients it sees, if it chose. Planned Parenthood told us that its records would not indicate a patient’s pregnancy status unless it was specified as the reason for the visit.

Also worth considering is that Planned Parenthood’s numbers are self-reported, as PolitiFact affiliates have noted in previous fact-checks on similar claims.

(In 2011, PolitiFact Ohio ruled False on a claim that 32 of every 33 pregnant women who visit Planned Parenthood get abortions. That same year, PolitiFact Florida ruled False on a claim that abortion services are "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does".)

Without knowing how many pregnant women Planned Parenthood sees at all its clinics, it is impossible to calculate what percentage abortions make up of the overall services to expectant mothers.

But that’s what exactly what the Susan B. Anthony List did, reaching a flawed conclusion.

Our ruling

Bishop Thomas Tobin said that  "... Abortions account for 94 percent  of the services provided for pregnant women by Planned Parenthood."

He cited as his source the Susan B. Anthony List, which arrived at that percentage using numbers that don’t represent all services provided to pregnant women by Planned Parenthood.

Because Planned Parenthood says it doesn’t track that number, we don’t know what percentage of pregnant women seen by the agency receive abortions. But neither does the Susan B. Anthony -- nor Bishop Tobin.

We rate his claim False.

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