Editor's note: This column was co-authored by Om Narayanan.
During a CNN health-care debate on September 25, 2017 Sen. Bill Cassidy stated, “You know, first, most Planned Parenthood settings are in urban areas, urban areas that have lots of OB/GYNs…Now, as it turns out, the folks who don’t have access to those cancer screenings live in rural areas. They live in areas where there are not enough physicians. So the idea is that we want someone to have to drive — a lower-income person drive — three hours to a Planned Parenthood facility there to get her screening, or would we rather take that money and put it back in the rural area to allow her to get her health care there?”
The Washington Post attempted to frame Cassidy’s statement that “most Planned Parenthood settings are in urban areas” as “wildly exaggerated,” giving his statement Three Pinocchios based on the research it conducted. However, it is the Washington Post and Planned Parenthood that should receive the Three Pinocchios.
The fact is, Senator Cassidy was right. The overwhelming majority of Planned Parenthood businesses, almost nine out of ten (88%), are in urban areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau: “The Census Bureau identifies two types of urban areas: Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people [and] Urban Clusters (UCs) of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people.”
The Family Research Council conducted its own internal research using the exact addresses of each Planned Parenthood location nationally and compared it to information available online using the Am I Rural? Tool, which is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). FRC researchers found that a mere 12% of Planned Parenthood businesses in the U.S. (73 of the total 615 Planned Parenthood businesses) are in rural locations as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau: “‘Rural’ encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area.” Only those 12% of Planned Parenthood businesses are eligible for federal programs such as the Rural Health Clinics Program and the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy grant program.
Using Planned Parenthood’s report is misleading because it bases its percentage for each state on a combination of three criteria: whether a center is in a Rural Area, and/or in a Medically Underserved Area (MUA), and/or in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) to get to its total of 56%.
The Washington Post claimed it “spot-checked about half of the 600-plus Planned Parenthood locations to verify the organization’s list, and found no reason to doubt its veracity.” According to our research, however, there are plenty of reasons to doubt the veracity of Planned Parenthood’s claims, not the least of which is its overreporting of the areas it serves.
Even using Planned Parenthood’s own criteria, our research using the Am I Rural? Tool revealed that Planned Parenthood overreported the percent of its businesses that are in a Rural Area, and/or MUAs, and/or HPSAs as 56%. According to our research, the actual percentage of total Planned Parenthood businesses in the combination of these areas is 53%. In fact, Planned Parenthood’s combined percentages by state were only accurate in 28 states and DC. Planned Parenthood overreported its combined percentage in 16 states and underreported it in six states. For example, Planned Parenthood claimed that in Alaska, 75% of its four centers were in Rural Areas, and/or MUAs, and/or HPSAs, when in fact only two (50%) were.
To get a more accurate view of where Planned Parenthood businesses are according to each criteria, they should be broken out separately by that criteria. When broken out by these criteria, our research shows that only 12% of Planned Parenthood’s total centers nationally are in Rural Areas, 31% are in Medically Underserved Areas, and 34% are in Health Professional Shortage Areas.
The actual facts about Planned Parenthood show that Senator Cassidy was absolutely correct in saying that “most Planned Parenthood settings are in urban areas.” The over $550 million in taxpayer money that currently goes to Planned Parenthood should be redirected to the more than 13,500 federally qualified health care centers and rural health centers which offer a fuller range of health care options for women and outnumber Planned Parenthood businesses by more than 20 to one nationwide. It is better for women in rural areas to be able to access real health care locally. The taxpayer money that currently goes to Planned Parenthood should be used to improve federally qualified health centers or rural centers, or to create new health centers if they do not exist in a particular rural area. For Planned Parenthood and the Washington Post to twist numbers to give the impression that Planned Parenthood businesses have a greater presence in communities than they actually do is to perpetuate a falsehood for the sake of optics. Planned Parenthood only cares about its bottom line, not about women or the truth. Planned Parenthood and the Washington Post deserve the Three Pinocchios, not Senator Cassidy. The Washington Post should issue a correction on its article.
Arina O. Grossu, M.A., M.S. Bioethics, is the director for the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, where she focuses on sanctity of human life issues ranging from conception to natural death. Om Narayanan is an intern at the Family Research Council.