From the outset, Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform attacked Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, at one point using a chart that showed “Abortions up/Lifesaving Procedures down.”
“In 2006,” Chaffetz said, pointing to the chart, “Planned Parenthood performed more prevention services and cancer screenings than abortions, but in 2013, there were more abortions…. In pink, that’s the reduction in the breast exams, and the red is the increase in the abortions. That’s what’s going on in your organization.”
“This is a slide that has never been shown to me before,” Richards said, then paused briefly. “Excuse me, my lawyer is informing me that the source of this is actually Americans United for Life, which is an anti-abortion group. So, I would check your source.”
“Then we will get to the bottom of the truth of that,” Chaffetz agreed.
PolitiFact writes, “As it turns out, Richards’ lawyer was correct about the source of the chart – it comes from an Americans United for Life web post from June 2015.
“The chart, we found, gives a misleading impression. The numbers listed on the chart are based on actual statistics, but they are small and were hard to read during the televised hearings. The chart’s most prominent feature — the much larger crossed arrows — suggests a conclusion that’s flat wrong.
“[PolitiFact] reached out to Chaffetz’s office but did not hear back. A spokesperson for Americans United for Life told PolitiFact that the graphic is accurate and honest.
“That graphic is a damn lie,’ said Alberto Cairo, who researches visual communication at the University of Miami. “Regardless of whatever people think of this issue, this distortion is ethically wrong.
“Chaffetz’s chart,” PolitiFact explains, “falls into a category known as a dual-axis chart. On the left side, cancer screenings and prevention services are plotted in the millions. On the right side, abortions are plotted in the hundreds of thousands.
“For starters, dual-axis charts are particularly susceptible to showing spurious correlations. With two axes, trend lines can be exaggerated and manipulated, as most people ignore the axis labels that put the numbers in context.
“ ‘It forces your brain to see a relationship that isn’t there,’ Cairo said. ‘As economist Gary Smith once said, ‘If you double the axes, you can double the mischief.’
“ ‘Second, it’s even more inappropriate to use a dual-axis chart when comparing equivalent measures (in this case, the number of services performed by Planned Parenthood) using different scales,’ said Enrico Bertini, a professor at New York University who studies data visualization and who called the chart ‘scandalous.’
“ ‘Typically, dual-axis charts are used to compare lines that represent different things — ‘for instance, abortion rates and cost,’ said Bertini. ‘But in this case the unit is the same.’
“ ‘You cannot put two measures, one in the millions and one in the hundreds, without making it explicit,’ Cairo said. ‘We map data into visual properties — height, length, color — but we need to keep the proportions. We cannot force the data to adopt a shape we like.’
“Finally, perhaps the most egregious decision was to not label the axes,” PolitiFact adds. “Experts told us that, given this decision, they cannot rule out purposeful deception.
“ ‘By claiming to combine these two lines into one graph and then omitting the y-axis, we are being misled into to making a false comparison of two non-equivalent contexts,’ said Noah Iliinsky, a visualization and information designer based in Seattle. ‘The graph is absolutely misleading, and intentionally so.’
“Iliinsky also said he saw ‘propagandized design choices’ in the choice of the arrowheads, which suggest a ‘strong continuation of these trends, which we don’t know to be true.’ ”
PolitiFact rated the statements by Chaffetz and the chart Pants-on-Fire false.
The meeting went from bad to worse as Chaffetz focused on Richards’ $500,000 + salary, then asked, “…does this organization… really need federal subsidy?”
Richards’ answer was an unequivocal yes. “It’s a shame to think that there are people in this country who are so committed to ending women’s access to both birth control and safe and legal abortion that they’ll really resort to any means to try to entrap people, twist the truth in order to reach their end. But again we believe, and why I’m here voluntarily today, is that the facts are on our side.”
In a detailed and heavily footnoted statement to the committee, Richards made a very convincing and fact-based case for the organization. Among the points she made:
“Planned Parenthood operates just like all other health care providers or hospitals that provide medical care to Medicaid patients. Medicaid reimburses us for the preventive health services we provide. The Department of Health and Human Services conducts routine audits of the Medicaid program to be sure these funds are used appropriately. And the same is true for grants such as Title X, the federal family planning program, which was first signed into law by President Nixon.
“Planned Parenthood’s nearly 700 health centers across the country are key access points for underserved communities, with a majority (54 percent) of Planned Parenthood health centers located in health professional shortage areas, rural areas, or medically underserved areas.
“Seventy-eight percent of Planned Parenthood patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), and approximately 60 percent of Planned Parenthood patients access care through the Medicaid program or the Title X family planning program. According to an independent analysis conducted by the Guttmacher Institute at the request of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in 21 percent of the counties with a Planned Parenthood health center, we are the only safety-net family planning provider and in 68 percent of the counties with a Planned Parenthood health center, we serve at least half of all safety-net family planning patients.
“Without Planned Parenthood, many patients would not have timely access to basic reproductive health care.”
Regarding the recent fetal tissue controversy, Richards said, “Despite the critical role Planned Parenthood plays in providing health care to millions of Americans, since July, Planned Parenthood has been the focus of extensive discussion and scrutiny for our health centers’ limited involvement in fetal tissue research as a result of a deliberate and systematic effort by David Daleiden and other opponents of safe and legal abortion to infiltrate our health centers, try to entrap our staff into potentially illegal conduct, and create discredited, doctored videos designed to smear Planned Parenthood. …
“For the few centers that are involved with fetal tissue research, our guidance goes above and beyond the requirements of the law. In fact, despite Mr. Daleiden’s nearly three-year effort to entrap Planned Parenthood, he failed to succeed in convincing even a single affiliate to enter into a procurement contract with his fake company.”
As Yahoo News points out, “…the vast majority of funding that Planned Parenthood receives yearly — approximately $400 million — comes from reimbursements for individual health services under Medicaid and Title 10 services.”
National Public Radio (NPR) offers six audio clips that they believe highlight the contentious nature of the committee meeting between the members themselves.
On September 29, conservative pundit Dana Loesch tweeted the following: “Wow. Cecile Richards is forced to concede that 86% of Planned Parenthood’s revenue is from abortion.”
Katie Sanders of PunditFact, a division of PolitiFact, tweeted: “Hi Dana, I’m researching this for PunditFact. At what point did Cecile Richards concede that 86% of revenue is from abortions?…”
What Sanders found and my wrap-up on Planned Parenthood next week.