The nation's premier provider of abortions doesn't want to be known for providing abortions.
Planned Parenthood, embroiled in a scandal over secret videos capturing its cavalier dismemberment of unborn babies and sale of their body parts, insists that abortion is only 3 percent of what it does.
Practically every defender of the organization, fighting to preserve its federal funding, reverts to the 3 percent figure. How could you possibly, they ask, defund a group that devotes itself overwhelmingly to uncontroversial procedures and services for women?
The 3 percent figure is an artifice and a dodge, but even taking it on its own terms, it's not much of a defense. Only Planned Parenthood would think saying that they only kill babies 3 percent of the time is something to brag about. How much credit would we give someone for saying he only drives drunk 3 percent of the time, or only cheats on business trips 3 percent of the time, or only hits his wife during 3 percent of domestic disputes?
The 3 percent factoid is crafted to obscure the reality of Planned Parenthood's business. The group performs about 330,000 abortions a year, or roughly 30 percent of all the abortions in the country. By its own accounting in its 2013-2014 annual report, it provides about as many abortions as Pap tests (380,000). The group does more breast exams and provides more breast-care services (490,000), but not by that much.
The 3 percent figure is derived by counting abortion as just another service like much less consequential services. So abortion is considered a service no different than a pregnancy test (1.1 million), even though a box with two pregnancy tests can be procured from the local drugstore for less than $10.
By Planned Parenthood's math, a woman who gets an abortion but also a pregnancy test, an STD test and some contraceptives has received four services, and only 25 percent of them are abortion. This is a little like performing an abortion and giving a woman an aspirin, and saying only half of what you do is abortion.
Such cracked reasoning could be used to obscure the purpose of any organization. The sponsors of the New York City Marathon could count each small cup of water they hand out (some 2 million cups, compared with 45,000 runners) and say they are mainly in the hydration business. Or Major League Baseball teams could say that they sell about 20 million hot dogs and play 2,430 games in a season, so baseball is only .012 percent of what they do.
Supporters of Planned Parenthood want to use its health services as leverage to preserve its abortions, as if you can't get one without the other. Of course, this is nonsense. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides free or low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings -- without aborting babies. State health departments provide free cancer screenings -- without aborting babies. Community health centers provide a range of medical services -- without aborting babies.
These organizations are genuinely committed to women's health, with no ideological commitment to abortion. Planned Parenthood's twisted conception of "reproductive health" doesn't extend to the baby that has been reproduced. All you need to know about its priorities is that it only provides 19,000 "prenatal services," which means that it performs roughly 17 times more abortions.
Supporters of Planned Parenthood have taken to arguing that the group prevents abortion by providing women with birth control, in an obvious smokescreen. Planned Parenthood could straightforwardly do its part to reduce abortions -- by not championing abortion, by not fighting restrictions on abortions and, most of all, by not performing abortions. If abortion is really incidental to what it's all about, it could give up the alleged 3 percent. But it will never do it. Abortion is just a tiny portion of what it does exactly the way the heart is small muscle in the body.