Speaking at a campaign event last week in Nevada, Democratic Presidential candidate Robert Francis “Beto” O'Rourke was asked by a student how he will “protect a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortion.” During his response, O’Rourke reiterated his support for abortion rights. This was unsurprising. Every Democratic Presidential candidate this election cycle is a vocal proponent of legal abortion. However, during his response, O’Rourke raised eyebrows with his effusive praise for Planned Parenthood. He stated that “Planned Parenthood, to be specific, in Texas is saving the lives of our fellow women.”
Here O'Rourke is misinformed. Planned Parenthood is America's number one performer of abortions. Their most recent annual report indicates that they performed over 330,000 abortions in 2017. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood's annual reports indicate that the number of abortions they perform has been consistently increasing, while the number of other health services they offer has been consistently decreasing. Specifically, between 2005 and 2017 Planned Parenthood conducted 64 percent fewer breast exams and 69 percent fewer cancer screenings – while performing 26 percent more abortions.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that funding Planned Parenthood improves other aspects of public health. In his remarks, O'Rourke referenced high rates of maternal mortality. However, reports of high maternal mortality rates in Texas are based on a flawed study that was published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2016. A 2018 study published in the same journal finds that due to coding errors in the 2016 study – the maternal mortality rate in Texas is half of what was previously indicated. Furthermore, there is no evidence of any kind that funding reductions to Planned Parenthood has increased maternal mortality rates.
In 2011, the Texas state legislature and former Governor Rick Perry took the lead in cutting off taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. Many media outlets and health professionals confidently predicted doom. The New York Times, The Texas Tribune, and NPR cited a Legislative Budget Board analysis which predicted an increase of over 20,000 unplanned births. Similarly, a Guttmacher Institute analysis, according to a piece put out by The Nation, predicted that in the absence of funding for family planning, abortions would increasb e by 22 percent in the Lone Star State.
However, since that time, many public health trends in Texas have been very positive. The most recent data from the Texas Department of State Health Services indicates that since 2011, minor pregnancies have declined by 33 percent, minor births have gone down by 30 percent and minor abortions have been reduced by over 48 percent. The total number of abortions in Texas has fallen by 22 percent since 2011. The record indicates that Beto O'Rourke is incorrect. Planned Parenthood is not saving lives. Indeed, O’Rourke’s home state of Texas is faring very well without forcing its taxpayers to fork over millions of dollars annually to Planned Parenthood.
Michael J. New is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.