Analysis Politics

Message to Susan B. Anthony List: Planned Parenthood Does Provide Cancer Screenings

Ally Boguhn

In an email sent to supporters this week, the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List said its new ad targeting Planned Parenthood is already running during programs President Donald Trump reportedly views regularly.

Anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List is back at it with another advertisement spreading misinformation about Planned Parenthood in the hopes of pressuring Republicans into defunding the health-care organization. But yet again, the group has relied on cherry-picked data and outright falsehoods to make its case.

In an email sent to supporters this week, Susan B. Anthony List said its new ad is “already running during Fox News’ Fox & Friends and MSNBC’s Morning Joe.” That matters, because these are programs President Donald Trump reportedly views regularly, and the president has already vowed to defund the health-care organization.

Not to mention the fact that virtually the entire ad is a mashup of debunked talking points about Planned Parenthood.

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Planned Parenthood Provides Breast Cancer Screenings

“What is Planned Parenthood really about?” the ad begins. “Breast cancer screenings?” From there, it plays a brief clip of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards from August 2015 saying that the organization does “not have mammogram machines at our health centers.”

The ad implies that not having mammogram machines means that the organization does not provide breast cancer screenings. That just isn’t true. According to Planned Parenthood’s 2014-2015 annual report, it performed more than 350,000 breast cancer screenings in that time period. In total, cancer screenings—which also include screenings for HPV, which can cause cervical cancer, and Pap tests, which can help detect it—made up 7 percent of the services provided in that time frame.

As Rewire’s Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson has previously noted, “Mammograms are only one part of comprehensive breast health strategies that begin with breast health education and self-awareness, collection of personal medical histories and risk factors, and conducting clinical breast exams.”

The section on Planned Parenthood’s website about breast screenings says that “Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses teach patients about breast care, connect patients to resources to help them get vital biopsies, ultrasounds, and mammograms, and follow up to make sure patients are cared for with the attention they need and deserve.” The website’s section on mammograms tells readers to “ask your health care provider, health department, or staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center about where you can get a mammogram in your area” if one is needed.

The organization released a statement in 2012 explaining that “Planned Parenthood health centers play a critical role in providing breast health care to the millions of women who rely on them—clinical breast exams are provided at Planned Parenthood health centers as a part of well-woman care.” When it comes to mammograms, the statement noted that patients “rely on Planned Parenthood for referrals for and financial help with mammograms and specialized diagnostic follow-up tests (like ultrasounds and biopsies) when indicated by age, history and/or clinical breast exam. Like the vast majority of primary care physicians and ob-gyns, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses refer patients to other facilities for mammograms based on breast exams, age, or family history.”

As the Washington Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee explained in a 2015 fact check on Planned Parenthood’s breast-related services, mammograms do “not reflect the core clients of the organization.”

“Mammograms are recommended once a year for women 40 to 49, and every other year for women 50 to 74 years,” explained the Post. “Referrals are less commonly made for women under 40. In 2013, about 7 percent of Planned Parenthood clients were women over 40 years old.”

The lack of mammograms at Planned Parenthood has long been a popular talking point for anti-choice groups who ignore the related services offered at the clinics, in hopes of finding new excuses to take funding away from the organization.

Planned Parenthood Provides Prenatal Care

The ad then transitions to asking if the health provider has “prenatal care,” going on to play an audio clip of a single affiliate employee saying that their office “does not do prenatal services.”

What goes unmentioned in the ad is that the audio clip is borrowed from fellow anti-choice organization Live Action, a group run by activist Lila Rose that has repeatedly attempted to smear Planned Parenthood using undercover videos only to repeatedly turn up nothing.

Live Action’s most recent video claimed to have uncovered a whopper about Planned Parenthood, when after speaking to 97 clinics it found that only five provided prenatal care. Anti-choice groups and websites swiftly rushed to suggests the findings as proof that Planned Parenthood focuses on abortions.

But Planned Parenthood does not consider prenatal services to be among its primary offerings for patients. In its annual report, prenatal services were included among things like pregnancy tests in the “other women’s health services” category. While that category made up just 13 percent of the organization’s services in 2014 and 2015, Planned Parenthood nonetheless provided prenatal care more than 17,000 times.

After the release of Live Action’s video, Mary Alice Carter, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, “pointed out the group’s history of being targeted with selectively edited videos, and said that the new video … tried to hold the organization to a standard it had not set for itself,” as the New York Times reported.

“It is safe to say that not every single one of our health centers provides prenatal care, and we’ve never said otherwise,” Carter told the publication. “This is obviously part of a continued campaign to try to discredit us even though investigation after investigation found no wrongdoing in any of our health centers.”

And Planned Parenthood Provides Abortions (and Other Services)

Indeed, the Susan B. Anthony List ad notes that “Planned Parenthood does abortions.” And that is certainly true. Abortion care comprises about 3 percent of the organization’s services, according to the previously cited annual report. In other words, it provided a critical reproductive health service 323,999 times. Due to the Hyde Amendment’s ban on most federal funding for abortion care, these services were not paid for by federal tax dollars.

What’s interesting is that the ad suggests the more than 300,000 abortions performed at Planned Parenthood are the organization’s main work, even though that number is pulled from a report that clearly details the similar number of breast exams performed. That means Susan B. Anthony List either didn’t check its sources or willfully ignored what was written out in plain language.

Completely unmentioned by the anti-choice group are contraceptive services and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, which make up 31 percent and 45 percent of the organization’s work, respectively.

The ad goes on to claim that Planned Parenthood has “faced federal investigation for selling baby body parts.” Simultaneously, a quote appears on the screen from a Washington Times article about a December 2016 letter from U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that referred several Planned Parenthood affiliates and tissue procurement companies to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal investigation just before Trump took office.

Though Grassley attempted to distance his investigation into Planned Parenthood from the deceptively edited videos created by the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress, his committee’s report said the videos’ release was the “impetus” for the investigation. That report “echoes allegations disproven by three Republican-led congressional committee investigations, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury,” Rewire’s Christine Grimaldi reported.

In other words, multiple GOP-led investigations found that Planned Parenthood does not profit from fetal tissue donations.

The committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT), said in a statement that the report had “never been voted on or adopted by the Senate Judiciary Committee as an official report.”

“It is important to understand these wasteful and ideological inquiries for what they are: a relentless partisan effort to attack and defund a women’s health provider that millions of women across this country depend on each year for basic medical services,” he said.

The ad concludes by saying “Planned Parenthood doesn’t deserve our tax dollars,” instructing viewers to tell Congress to “redirect their funding to real health-care centers for women.”

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Rewire has detailed over and over again how community health centers could not fill in the gap that would be created if Planned Parenthood loses its federal funding.

Each year, Planned Parenthood health centers serves 2.5 million patients, 79 percent of whom have incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty line.

“Although proponents of defunding Planned Parenthood argue that other providers—namely health departments and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs)—would easily be able to fill the overwhelming hole torn in the safety net, evidence suggests otherwise,” explained a January analysis from the Guttmacher Institute. Some FQHCs, citing religious beliefs, also restrict access to or deny contraceptive services to patients, Rewire’s Amy Littlefield found in a recent investigation.

Republicans’ never-ending quest to defund Planned Parenthood could also have the unintended consequence of defunding other reproductive health providers, many of which are in rural and low-income communities.

The bottom line is that without Planned Parenthood, many people would lose access to the care that they need, including breast cancer screenings, STI testing, contraceptive care, and, yes, abortion.

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