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CNS' Decade of Lying About Planned Parenthood

So much for fair and balanced reporting: has spent years falsely implying that federal money to Planned Parenthood pays for abortion as a justification for cutting off that funding -- and baselessly claiming that the money is "fungible."

By Terry Krepel
Posted 4/11/2018

If there's anything the anti-abortion activists at hate more than the existence of abortion rights -- to the point that it has to go into damage-control mode every time one of its fellow activists goes violent in order to pretend that such violence is not a part of the anti-abortion movement -- it's the existence of Planned Parenthood.

ConWebWatch detailed in 2008 how CNS has gone after Planned Parenthood with distorted attacks that routinely refused to let the group tell its side of the story. in 2016, both CNS and its Media Research Center parent pushed biased takes on misleadingly edited videos of Planned Parenthood officials secretly recorded by anti-abortion activists.

One thing CNS has consistently done over its years of attacking Planned Parenthood is push the lie that federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood pays for abortion.

CNS never explicitly states that, though. But by calling Planned Parenthood "America's largest abortion provider" in articles about funding or listing the amount of federal funding it receives next to the number of abortions it performs while also failing to explain that, by law, federal funding cannot pay for abortion, the implication CNS wants to leave is clear -- and fraudulent.

Indeed, Congress has prohibited for decades the use of federal money to pay for abortion, generally through the Hyde Amendment. The money that goes to Planned Parenthood, through Medicaid, Title X and other funds, pays for family planning services that do not include abortion.

But you'll rarely read about that fact at CNS.

Former CNS reporter and anti-abortion activist Penny Starr was occasionally good about doing this, though mostly in a grudging way. For instance, Starr wrote in an April 2009 article:

The Planned Parenthood Federation of American released its annual report for 2007-2008 last week, revealing record net assets of $1.014 billion and an increase of 15,560 more abortions in 2007 than the previous year.* The American taxpayer also contributed more than ever before, with $349.6 million of Planned Parenthoods funding coming from government grants and contracts.

The report says that in 2006 Planned Parenthood clinics performed 289,750 abortions and in 2007 the number was 305,310.

It wasn't until until the 10th paragraph that Starr conceded that "federal law prohibits federal dollars being used for abortions," but even then she baselessly implied that Planned Parenthood may have been breaking the law by claiming that "the report does not provide the details on how the more than $300 million it receives from taxpayers is used."

A December 2010 article by Penny Starr -- headlined "Planned Parenthood's Federal Funding Rose to $363.2 Million in FY 2008-2009, Aborted 324,008 Unborn Children in 2008" -- made the same juxtaposition, but it wasn't until the fifth paragraph that Starr got around to admitting that the two are mutually exclusive: "The funding is for reproductive health care services, including family planning, and cannot be directly spent on actual abortion procedures except in cases of rape, incest or to preserve the life of the mother."

That's a rarity, though. More typical is this February 2011 article by Edwin Mora, who wrote that "In its most recent annual report, Planned Parenthood said it took in $349.6 million in government funds in fiscal 2008. That same year, the organization says, it performed 324,008 abortions" without disclosing the fact that there is no link between the two.

CNS kept pushing this misinformation without telling its readers the full truth. For instance:

  • January 2012: "According to its latest annual report, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) received $487.4 million in tax dollars over a twelve-month period and performed 329,455 abortions."
  • March 2012: "According to its latest annual report, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) received $487.4 million in tax dollars over a twelve-month period and performed 329,455 abortions."
  • July 2012: "Planned Parenthood received $487.4 million in tax dollars; and according to its fact sheet, Planned Parenthood performed 329,445 abortions in 2010."
  • January 2013: Planned Parenthood clinics "performed 333,964 abortions in fiscal 2011" and that it received $542.4 million in "government health services grants and reimbursements."
  • January 2016: "Planned Parenthood says in its new 2014-2015 annual report, which was released this month, that its affiliates around the country did 323,999 abortion procedures in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2014 and that those affiliates received $553.7 million in 'government health services grants and reimbursements' in the year that ended on June 30, 2015."
  • May 2017: "Planned Parenthood’s newly released " 2015-2016 Annual Report " says that the organization performed 328,348 abortions in the year that ended on Sept. 30, 2015, and received $554.6 million in 'government health services reimbursements and grants'--money that came from U.S. taxpayers--in the year that on June 30, 2016."
  • June 2017: "According to its 2015-16 Annual Report, Planned Parenthood performed 328,348 abortions in the year that ended on Sept. 30, 2015, and received $554.6 million in 'government health services reimbursements and grants'--money that came from U.S. taxpayers--in the year that ended on June 30, 2016." (This claim was repeated nearly verbatim in a July 2017 article.)

This deception continues. CNS permitted a March 12 column by Monica Burke of the anti-abortion Heritage Foundation to assert that "A recent government report has revealed that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, received over $1.5 billion in taxpayer funds from 2013 to 2015" and huffing that "there is still much more to be done to prevent public funds from being tied up with abortion on demand."

CNS managing editor Michael W. Chapman made the false juxtaposition more explicit in a March 22 blog post (needless boldface in original):

The latest annual report of Planned Parenthood, for 2016-17, shows that it performed 321,384 abortions in its fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2016.

The abortion provider also received $543.7 million in government money for the funding year that ended June 30, 2017. The first five months of that year was during the Trump administration.

Planned Parenthood receives in excess of $500 million from the federal government each year. In 2015-16, it received $554.6 million; in 2014-15, it received $553.7 million; in 2013-14, $528.4 million; and in 2012-13, $540.6 million.

During those same years, Planned Parenthood performed the following number of abortions:

2015-16: 328,348

2014-15: 323,999

2013-14: 327, 653

2012-13: 327,166

Chapman added: "If one were cynical, one might conclude that the establishment GOP -- not the conservatives -- has absolutely no intention of ever defunding Planned Parenthood. "

One doesn't have to be cynical, however, to see that Chapman places right-wing propaganda before reporting the truth -- an odd position for someone who's supposedly running a "news" operation. As if the graphic photo of a "baby killed by saline abortion," taken from anti-abortion group Priests for Life, in his wasn't already an indicator of Chapman's preference for propaganda.

The dubious fungibility argument

Writing of a Republican-led House vote to cut off federal money to Planned Parenthood in a February 2011 CNS article, Matt Cover wrote:

Planned Parenthood is already barred from using Title X funding to provide abortions. However, pro-life Republicans have pointed out that by taking Title X funding for other purposes Planned Parenthood is able to stay in business and perform abortions using other funds.

But Amanda Marcotte pointed out at Slate: "Republicans who tout the 'money is fungible' line want you to imagine that Planned Parenthood draws on one big pot of government money for all its services. But since medical services are billed and funded individually, that's not actually how this works. For instance, if subsidies that discount contraception disappear, the price of contraception goes up, but the price of abortion will stay the same."

Further, even if this fungibility argument were somehow factually proven, it would undermine federal funding to other private and faith-based groups. As the Guttmacher Institute noted: "If public funding for contraceptive services indirectly subsidizes abortion, then public funds going to organizations controlled by or affiliated with the Catholic hierarchy inevitably subsidize its inherently religious activities." And yet we never hear anyone complaining about that.

Nor do we see CNS bothering to make an effort to tell its readers the truth about this. In a January 2011 article, Starr uncritically quoted then-Rep. (and current vice president) Mike Pence claiming that Planned Parenthood is exploiting a "loophole" because "common sense says there’s no question that taxpayer dollars received by Planned Parenthood are used to cover allowed expenses like overhead operational costs, thus freeing up other money for the clinics that do provide abortion."

Unsurprisingly, CNS editor in chief Terry Jeffrey latched on to this bogus claim as well, writing in a April 2011 article: "Although the money from federal programs that went to Planned Parenthood in 2009 theoretically paid for things other than the 332,278 abortions the organization performed that year, the fact remains that Planned Parenthood—an abortion provider--received subsidies from federal programs that equaled about $932 per abortion it performed."

Despite the facts that his claim exists only in theory and not fact, and that computing Planned Parenthood's funding on a per-abortion basis is dishonest and nonsensical, Jeffrey liked this claim so much he repeated it in an article the next day.

The parade of misinformation continued:

  • January 2012: "Planned Parenthood receives federal grants and contract, which are supposed to be used for family planning services and not for abortions. However, because money is fungible, pro-life critics say Planned Parenthood should not receive taxpayer money."
  • February 2012: "[Ron] Paul then attacked former Sen. Rick Santorum for voting for Planned Parenthood funding, saying it's the same as voting for birth control pills: 'And you literally, because funds are fungible, you literally vote for abortions because Planned Parenthood gets the money -- 'Oh, I'll buy birth control pills,' but then they have the money left over to do the abortion.'"
  • May 2012: "Although the law prevents Title X family planning funds from being used for abortions, money is fungible and, as the latest data show, Planned Parenthood received a reported $79 million in Title X funding in 2010, and a total of approximately $342 million between 2002 and 2008."
  • July 2012: "Though federal law prohibits tax dollars from directly funding abortions, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is conducting the investigation, said the money is fungible."
  • August 2015: "Christie also rejected the argument that the taxpayer money given to Planned Parenthood doesn't go towards abortion. 'Of course it does,' he said. 'Money comes into Planned Parenthood, and it is fungible. They can spend it on what they wish.'"
  • August 2017: "Though the Hyde Amendment prevents Medicaid funding for abortions in most circumstances, money is fungible. That means the taxpayer dollars Planned Parenthood receives for non-abortion services free up other resources for abortion."

It hasn't stopped. Chapman also embraced this bogus claim in a Feb. 28 article:

Enterprise donated to dozens of organizations across the country. Among those organizations was the Susan G. Komen group, which is dedicated to fighting breast cancer. However, Komen itself donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood every year.

Komen claims that its grants to Planned Parenthood are for "breast cancer screening and outreach programs" and that it does not fund abortion. However, money is fungible. For instance, if in its budget Planned Parenthood had $100 allocated to do "breast cancer screening," and then Komen donated $100 to "breast cancer screening," it would free up $100 in Planned Parenthood's budget, which could be spent elsewhere.

Chapman provided no evidence to back up his claim.

Leading by bad example

This journalistic dishonesty comes straight from the top. CNS editor in chief Terry Jeffrey has repeatedly pushed this bogus talking point:

  • December 2010: "According to Planned Parenthood’s annual report for fiscal year 2008 (the latest one posted on Planned Parenthood’s website), the organization incurred $953.1 million in total expenses that year and received $349.6 million in government grants and contracts. Planned Parenthood also says it performed 324,008 abortions in 2008."
  • February 2011: In its most recent annual report, Planned Parenthood said it took in $349.6 million in government funds in fiscal 2008. That same year, Planned Parenthood says it performed 324,008 abortions.
  • August 2011: "In this fiscal year, Boehner caved -- and permitted funding of Planned Parenthood. In 2009, according to a fact sheet Planned Parenthood posted on its website, the group aborted 332,278 babies."
  • October 2011: "According to a fact sheet Planned Parenthood has posted on its website, the group did 332,278 abortions in 2009. That same year, according to Planned Parenthood’s latest annual report, it also received $363.2 million in government grants and contracts."
  • September 2014: "According to Planned Parenthood’s 2012-2013 annual report, Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 327,166 abortions in fiscal year 2012 (Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012). In the year that ended on June 30, 2013, according to the annual report, Planned Parenthood affiliates received $540.6 million in government funds, accounting for 45 percent of their funding."
  • September 2015: "In its latest annual report, Planned Parenthood revealed that it killed 327,653 unborn babies in its abortion clinics in fiscal 2013. It also stated that in the year that ended on June 30, 2014 it received $524.8 million — or 41 percent of its total funding — from the government."
  • September 2015: "In fiscal year 2013, the report says that Planned Parenthood performed 327,653 “abortion procedures.” That means it deliberately killed 327,653 innocent and defenseless unborn human beings. The same report says that during the year that ended on June 30, 2014, Planned Parenthood raked in $528.4 million in 'government health services grants and reimbursements.' ... In fiscal 2012, Planned Parenthood says in its immediate past report, it did 327,166 abortions. In the year that ended on June 30, 2013, it got $540.6 million in government money. In fiscal 2011, it did 333,964 abortions, and in the year that ended on June 30, 2012, it got $542.4 million in government money. Over the three most recent years recorded in its own annual reports, Planned Parenthood aborted 988,783 innocent unborn babies and collected $1,611,400,000 in tax money."
  • April 2017: "According to a report published this month by the Congressional Research Service, Planned Parenthood received $553.7 million in tax dollars from federal, state and local governments in the year that ended on June 30, 2015. That equaled 43 percent of Planned Parenthood’s funding for that year, according to CRS. In the year that ended on Sept. 30, 2014, according to Planned Parenthood’s latest annual report, Planned Parenthood did 323,999 abortions."
  • September 2017: "In its latest annual report, Planned Parenthood said that it provided 328,348 abortions in the year that ended on Sept. 30, 2015. In a 365-day year that equaled approximately 900 abortions per day. In the same annual report, Planned Parenthood said that in the year that ended on June 30, 2016, its revenue was $1,354,300,000 and that $554,600,000—or approximately 41 percent—of that revenue came from 'government health-services reimbursements and grants.'"
  • Jan. 2: "Planned Parenthood says its affiliates did 321,384 abortions in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2016, according to its newly released 2016-2017 annual report. In the same report, Planned Parenthood says its affiliates received $543.7 million in payments from government—'Government Health Services Reimbursements & Grants,' the report calls them—in the year that ended on June 30, 2017."

Jeffrey regurgitated the bogus juxtaposition once more in his March 21 column:

This month, the Government Accountability Office presented Congress with a report that said Planned Parenthood affiliates spent $288,880,000 in federal funds in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and received $1,212,780,000 in Medicaid reimbursements. Planned Parenthood affiliates also received $2,420,000 in reimbursements from Medicare and $390,000 from the Children's Health Insurance Program.

That is a total of $1,504,470,000.

During that same three-year span, according to its annual reports, Planned Parenthood did 980,000 abortions.

Jeffrey, as usual, failed to tell his readers that none of that money pays for abortion, yet he attacked Republicans as "moral cowards" for not trying to eliminate federal funding to Planned Parenthood. But isn't is also a form of moral cowardice to hide facts from readers in order to push a partisan talking point?

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