Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Reid Wrong on Planned Parenthood

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid claimed in a floor speech that 30 percent of U.S. women get their health care from Planned Parenthood. That’s false. By one measure, the number is less than 3 percent.

Reid’s spokesman told the Washington Post Fact Checker that the senator misspoke and meant to say that 1 in 5 — or 20 percent — of all women have visited a Planned Parenthood at least once in their lifetime. But even that figure is questionable.

The Nevada Democrat made his remarks (at about the 2:30 mark) while criticizing Republican legislation that would have banned federal funding of the organization. The Republican-led effort, which failed Aug. 1, came in response to undercover videos that showed Planned Parenthood officials talking about the procedures for collecting fetal issue for research and the fees they charge tissue procurement companies.

Reid, July 29: The Republican bill pretends to be for women’s health. But it would prohibit federal funds to go to an organization that is the health care backbone for American women during their lives. In fact, it is the only health care that a significant number of women get. About 30 percent of women, that’s their health care.

Reid is way off.

More than 106 million adult women (18 and over) visited a doctor or other health care professional in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey (table 32). That same year, Planned Parenthood says its health centers saw approximately 3 million patients — which represents just 2.8 percent of all women who visited a doctor or other health care professional in 2012.

We sent an email to Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson about the senator’s remark, but we did not get a response. However, Jentleson told the Washington Post that the senator meant to say that 1 in 5 women have at one time in their lives visited a Planned Parenthood clinic — a statistic often cited by supporters of Planned Parenthood in Congress. Indeed, Reid himself used that statistic in an Aug. 3 floor speech.

The 1-in-5 statistic comes from Planned Parenthood, which frequently cites it on its website without identifying the source. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards cited it in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” about the videos. “One in five women in this country depend on Planned Parenthood for health care, more than two-and-a-half million people every single year,” she said.

We asked Planned Parenthood for the source of that statistic, but we have yet to hear back. We will update this item if it does respond.

The Washington Post Fact Checker wrote that Planned Parenthood cited a Huffington Post/YouGov online survey taken in 2013. That survey, taken July 18-19, 2013, reported that 20 percent of respondents said they have personally visited a Planned Parenthood.

But the methodology of that survey differs from traditional telephone polling. It is an online survey of respondents who were recruited through Internet advertising and agreed in advance to participate in surveys. The American Association for Public Opinion Research has been critical of YouGov’s polling method, issuing a statement in 2014 saying it has “little grounding in theory.”

It may or may not be accurate to say that 20 percent of U.S. women over their lifetime used Planned Parenthood at least once. But what is clear is that Reid was wrong when he claimed that 30 percent of women rely primarily or exclusively on Planned Parenthood for health care.

— Eugene Kiely