A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Planned Parenthood and Mammograms


At the second presidential debate, President Barack Obama said that women “rely on” Planned Parenthood for mammograms. Actually, mammograms are not performed at the clinics; Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses conduct breast exams and refer patients to other facilities for mammograms. Individual clinics sometimes provide more than referrals, arranging for mobile mammography vans.

Obama said: “When Governor Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care. They rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings.”

Obama used a similar line again on Oct. 18, telling a Manchester, N.H., crowd: “Governor Romney said he’d end funding for Planned Parenthood, despite all the work it does to provide women with mammograms and breast cancer screenings.”

Women can’t walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic and get a mammogram on the spot. The clinics don’t have mammography equipment. Planned Parenthood performs gynecological exams, including breast exams, and refers women to other facilities to have mammograms performed, much like women are referred to radiological centers by their gynecologists or primary care physicians.

According to Planned Parenthood, its medical staff performed 747,607 “breast exams/breast care” in 2010, the most recent statistics available. As for cervical cancer screenings, as the president mentioned, it performed 769,769 Pap tests.

In addition to mammogram referrals, the group says it helps low-income patients find grants and assistance to pay for mammograms, such as through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which is for women at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania also has a Breast Health Care Fund, which helps patients obtain mammograms. Individual clinics also may occasionally sponsor no-cost mammogram events — for instance, on Oct. 19, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, N.Y., plans to sponsor free mammograms at a mammography van at the health center. In south-central New York, a state program parks its mobile van outside two Planned Parenthood clinics.

In a statement sent to FactCheck.org, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood, said that “Planned Parenthood does help women nationwide get access to mammograms,” as part of the health care services it provides to nearly 3 million persons each year. “Women 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.”

Nucatola said that “for many women,” Planned Parenthood is their only health care provider and “thus the only way they will get a referral for a mammogram.”

The president said that “millions” of women rely on Planned Parenthood “for not just contraceptive care.” Contraception is one of the group’s largest categories of services provided — 33.5 percent of services in 2010. But that means Planned Parenthood provides other services, too. The largest category is testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (38 percent). Cancer screening and prevention services — which would include breast exams — made up 14.5 percent of all medical services. Abortion made up 3 percent, with 329,445 abortion procedures in 2010.

Planned Parenthood says it served about 3 million people in 2010. That would mean about 25 percent of its clients received a breast exam or breast care, or about 1 in 4. About 11 percent of clients, or 1 in 9, received abortion services. Contraception services and STD testing and treatment totaled well over 3 million for each category.

— Lori Robertson