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Fiorina on Defunding Planned Parenthood

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina falsely claims “the vast majority of Americans” support defunding Planned Parenthood. Actually, national surveys show the opposite: most Americans support continued federal funding for the group’s health services.

Fiorina, who has criticized Planned Parenthood for accepting compensation for aborted fetal tissue, made her claim Nov. 29 on “Fox News Sunday.” Host Chris Wallace asked Fiorina to respond to some pro-choice advocates who say “language like yours has incited violence” against Planned Parenthood, referring to the fatal shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Fiorina, Nov. 29: [T]his is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing the messenger, because they don’t agree with the message. The vast majority of Americans agree, what Planned Parenthood is doing is wrong. That’s why the vast majority of Americans are prepared not only to defund Planned Parenthood, but also to stop abortion for any reason at all after five months.

There is support for Fiorina’s claim regarding abortions after five months. But she is way off on her claim that the public overwhelmingly supports defunding Planned Parenthood.

First, let’s recap the controversy over federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

The House passed a bill in October to deny federal funding for Planned Parenthood for one year in response to undercover videos taken by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress. As we have written, the videos show Planned Parenthood officials discussing compensation for fetal tissue with people posing as employees of a company looking to procure fetal tissue for research purposes. The Senate is expected to take up the issue this week.

(We should note that federal funding for abortion is restricted by the Hyde Amendment to only abortion cases involving rape, incest or endangerment to the life of the mother. As we have written before, abortions accounted for 3 percent of the nearly 10.6 million total services provided by Planned Parenthood clinics in 2013, according to its annual report.)

We asked Fiorina’s campaign for surveys that show a “vast majority of Americans” support defunding Planned Parenthood, but we did not get a response. Our review of public opinion polls, however, shows the exact opposite: most Americans surveyed support continued funding for Planned Parenthood.

  • A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Aug. 19 found that “54 percent supported federal funding of Planned Parenthood, and 26 percent opposed it,” according to a Reuters article about the poll.
  • An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken Sept. 20-24 asked respondents if they favor or oppose eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood. NBC reported that 61 percent opposed eliminating funding (including 44 percent who said they “strongly” opposed eliminating it), while 35 percent favored eliminating funding (including 22 percent who “strongly” favored eliminating it).
  • A New York Times/CBS Poll taken Sept. 23-27 asked, “Should Planned Parenthood receive federal funding?” About 55 percent of respondents answered “yes,” while only 36 percent said “no.”
  • A Pew Research Center poll conducted Sept. 22-27 asked whether a budget agreement being worked on at the time by congressional leaders should maintain funding for Planned Parenthood or eliminate it. Pew reported that the poll found that “60% say that any budget deal must maintain funding for Planned Parenthood, while 32% say that any agreement must eliminate funding for the organization.”
  • An Economist/YouGov poll taken Sept. 11-15 showed 39 percent supported continued funding for Planned Parenthood, while 32 percent supported defunding it. So, in that case, neither position held a majority.
  • A Quinnipiac University National Poll taken Sept. 17-21 asked those surveyed, “Do you support or oppose cutting off federal government funding to Planned Parenthood?” That poll found 52 percent opposed cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood, while 41 percent supported ending funding.
  • A USA Today/Suffolk University poll taken Sept. 24-28 found that 65 percent of those surveyed said federal funding of Planned Parenthood should continue, while 29 percent say it should be eliminated.

We sent our above list of national polls to Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School Poll. Franklin co-founded Pollster.com, which was sold to the Huffington Post, and currently runs pollsandvotes.com, which provides nonpartisan analysis of polling data. We asked Franklin if he knew of any national polls that supported Fiorina’s claim. He did not.

“I am not aware of a national poll by a reputable pollster that has shown a majority for defunding. Rather the opposite,” he said.

We should note that the Reuters/Ipsos poll found that support for funding Planned Parenthood dropped when the undercover videos taken by the Center for Medical Progress were described to poll respondents. The Reuters article on that poll article said: “After the videos were described to poll respondents, 39 percent said Planned Parenthood should not receive government funding and 34 percent said federal dollars should continue.” But that’s a plurality of poll respondents in that case who favored ending federal funding for the organization, not a majority — let alone “a vast majority.”

In an Oct. 1 opinion piece for the conservative National Review, Michael New, a visiting associate professor at Ave Maria University, a Catholic university in Florida, cited the Reuters/Ipsos poll as evidence that anti-abortion efforts to defund Planned Parenthood is having an impact. He also cited a decline in Planned Parenthood’s favorability ratings.

“Overall, the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress may not have shifted public opinion as much as some pro-lifers have hoped,” New wrote. “However, they would do well to consider a long-term perspective. When the Republicans took control of Congress in the mid 1990s, pro-lifers could not even get a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. Now, a vast majority of Republican elected officials support defunding it.”

New makes a valid point. After New’s op-ed appeared, Gallup released a poll that found 59 percent of Americans viewed Planned Parenthood favorably, down from 81 percent in 1993. But public opinion hasn’t shifted yet to the point that a “vast majority of Americans” support defunding the organization, as Fiorina claimed.