The Most Meaningless Abortion Statistic Ever

What Women Really Think
May 7 2013 4:30 PM

The Most Meaningless Abortion Statistic Ever

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If you measure by how much revenue it brings in, abortion is a huge part of what Planned Parenthood does

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Amanda, it’s been so long since I’ve seen a reference to the claim that abortions make up only 3 percent of the services  that Planned Parenthood provides that I thought maybe they’d stopped trying.  It might not be a technically incorrect number, but it is meaningless—to the point of being downright silly— for several reasons. Not the least of which being that Planned Parenthood “unbundles” all of its services so that a pack of pills, an STD test and an exam are three separate services.

Undoubtedly, some of those services are cheaper than others: To illustrate this, let’s make a comparison with an actual business. Say I open a watch store. I sell lots of those cheap plastic digital ones that you can get at discount stores. And I sell some Timex and Casio, and also some nicer designer watches. But then I also keep a few superexpensive Brightlings and Patek Phillipes in stock. And maybe those only make up 3 percent of my sales. But selling only a handful of fancy watches brings in far more than 3 percent of my REVENUES. And so it is with abortion.

It’s impossible to know how much money Planned Parenthood brings in for abortion. Because as specific as the annual report is about the number of services it provides, it’s far less detailed when talking about where its revenue comes from (They are within their rights, so whatever). But it’s easy to calculate, as the Weekly Standard did, that Planned Parenthood gets at least a third of its clinic income—and more than 10 percent of all its revenue, government funding included—from its abortion procedures.

Ask anyone who runs a for-profit business or nonprofit charity if something that brings in one-third of their revenue is “central” to their endeavor, and the answer is likely to be yes. So yes, abortion is central to what Planned Parenthood does. There ARE a few things that aren’t central to their purpose though. As compared with the nearly 334,000 abortions that Planned Parenthood provided in 2011, 28,674 women received prenatal services. And 2,300 were referred to adoption agencies. 

Rachael Larimore is Slate's managing editor.