Abortion & Planned Parenthood: USA Today Fact-Check Misleads on Wisconsin Policy

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A member of the New York Police Department stands outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in N.Y., November 28, 2015. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Thanks to the Media Research Center, which has highlighted a recent fact-check from USA Today and the Green Bay Press-Gazette. In the article, local reporter Haley BeMiller considers the claim — made in a 2019 LifeNews.com article — that Wisconsin’s Democratic governor Tony Evers “wants to force residents to fund Planned Parenthood abortion business” and rates it “partly false.”

Her work deserves some fact-checking of its own.

In her effort to debunk LifeNews, she offers two falsehoods. First, she attests that taxpayer money wouldn’t fund abortion because Wisconsin has its own version of the Hyde Amendment, a federal rider added to spending bills to prevent tax dollars from directly reimbursing for elective abortion procedures.

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“Wisconsin generally can’t use state or federal tax dollars to pay for abortions. And that wouldn’t have changed under Evers’ proposal,” BeMiller writes, adding, “Evers’ proposal would have restored funding — cut under former Gov. Scott Walker — that went to Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions. But the money never made it into the final budget, and even if it had, it would have generally been barred from paying for abortions.”

Here BeMiller repeats an error often found in arguments for government funding of Planned Parenthood. While Hyde and similar state policies prevent direct reimbursement of elective abortions through Medicaid, they do nothing to prevent money from being fungible. If Planned Parenthood receives state funding in Wisconsin, and if Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state perform abortions, taxpayer money is necessarily funding abortion, even if that money doesn’t directly reimburse the organization for the cost of any particular abortion procedure.

Second, BeMiller parrots the myth — debunked in turn by both Slate and the Washington Post — that abortion is just 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. “Another part of the claim labeled Planned Parenthood an abortion business. That caught our eye,” she writes, before pointing out that, according to the group’s own reports, “abortions made up 3.5% of [its] services, nationwide.”

She concludes, “Even at that rate, Planned Parenthood is still the largest provider of abortions in the United States. But to call it an abortion business is a stretch, as the organization provides other services far more often.”

To understand why this is wrong, consider how Planned Parenthood obtains this statistic: by calculating abortion as a percentage of its services rather than calculating what percentage of its clients show up primarily for an abortion. For instance, if a woman comes to Planned Parenthood for an abortion but, while she’s there, obtains a pregnancy test, an STD test, and a well-woman exam, and is given contraceptives on her way out the door, the organization would record the abortion she received as just one-fifth of the “services” Planned Parenthood performed. This does little to capture the true part that abortion plays in Planned Parenthood’s business, nor does it acknowledge the fact that abortion is, by far, the most expensive procedure the group offers.

As BeMiller herself admits, Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the U.S. — and it’s not even close. The organization performed north of 345,000 abortions last year alone. According to statistics from the CDC and estimates from the Guttmacher Institute, that means Planned Parenthood performs somewhere between one-third and half of all the annual abortions in the country.

BeMiller says calling that organization an “abortion business” is a stretch. It’s a stretch to call it anything else.

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