In May 2019, Sen. Amy Klobuchar criticized the Trump administration for attempting to cut Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. Klobuchar stated: “In their lifetime, one in five women go [to Planned Parenthood]…. And most of them are going there for contraception, birth control [and]…mammograms.”
Her comments about mammograms caused confusion. Why? Because Planned Parenthood does not provide them.
Mammograms: An Emotional Tinderbox
Breast cancer: Two words that rightly terrify women. It doesn’t matter what race, age, or color. According to MD Anderson, one of the nation’s leading cancer hospitals, breast cancer takes the lives of about 40,000 women per year. In addition, there are about 265,000 new diagnoses each year. Fortunately, the five-year survival rate is almost 90%. The earlier the cancer is caught, the better a woman’s chances.
So it’s natural that women are scared. It’s natural that they want to be screened and tested. It’s natural that they don’t want to lose a part of themselves. And it’s natural that they don’t want to die. Couple these fears with a lack of money, and you have a recipe for anxiety. Many women struggle financially. They often wonder how they’ll pay for a doctor, and they fear needing extra tests.
So where do low-income women turn when they need testing?
If you ask the average person, you may find that she recommends Planned Parenthood. After all, politicians have falsely claimed for years that the organization offers mammograms.
Who Repeats the Mammogram Myth?
The reality is that Planned Parenthood gives only referrals for mammograms. Still the myth persists that it does them.
The way people phrase their speech often hides its real meaning. The media is particularly skillful at doing this. We see this specifically when it comes to Planned Parenthood’s funding.
The media wants people to believe that poor women cannot live without the services of Planned Parenthood. Yet, there are over 13,000 federally funded health clinics across the country. Planned Parenthood has just 665. Women do have choices. They can function without the nation’s number one abortion provider.
Let’s examine some of the instances in which noted personalities mentioned mammograms and Planned Parenthood in an attempt to mislead.
Cecile Richards, Former Planned Parenthood President
In 2011, Cecile Richards was president of Planned Parenthood. She sat for an interview with TV personality Joy Behar and discussed current issues. During the interview, they talked about a proposal in Congress that would take federal monies from Planned Parenthood. Richards said: “If this bill ever becomes law, millions of women in this country are going to lose their health care access—not to abortion services, but basic family planning. You know, mammograms, cancer screenings, cervical cancer.”
She didn’t specifically say that Planned Parenthood offers mammograms. However, those listening—including the media—jumped on the notion that women might lose access to necessary healthcare. And since Richards mentioned mammograms, the media and others ran with it. They began to say that women wouldn’t get the mammograms that they need. Thus, they either ignored or wrongly interpreted the meaning of the word “access.”
Politicians and media personalities seem to enjoy creating fear in low-income women. They claim that women will lose access to healthcare if the government does not fund Planned Parenthood.
For example, during the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama talked about Governor Romney’s desire to take funding from Planned Parenthood. He stated: “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.”
Several weeks later, Obama made that same claim again. He told a New Hampshire 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.”
People want to trust the president. When he says something, people believe him. Many don’t even question his words.
And Everyone Else…
Fast-forward to September 2015. Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, spoke to a government reform committee. Regarding Planned Parenthood funding, she said: “All of the [people signing the letter to support defunding Planned Parenthood] are men. None of whom will get pregnant, or need a cervical screening for cancer, or a mammogram, or a pap smear, or other life-saving services that are provided by Planned Parenthood.”
The Washington Post later addressed the inaccuracies that high-profile supporters repeat about mammograms. One example was comedian Margaret Cho, “who tweeted about this repeatedly during the hearing.” Another was Whoopi Goldberg, “who referred to it on The View the day after the hearing.” The Post also mentioned that Miss Tennessee made a statement about it during the Miss America contest. She stated that Planned Parenthood’s federal funding “goes for mammograms.”
That same year, Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, was asked if he had seen any Center for Medical Progress videos. These videos showed Planned Parenthood staff members talking about selling baby body parts. O’Malley stated that he hadn’t. He then followed that up with: “I do know that 97 percent of the work that Planned Parenthood does is about mammograms and preventative health.”
O’Malley was wrong on two counts. He was wrong about the mammograms. And he was wrong about 97% of PP’s services going to healthcare. Planned Parenthood likes people to believe the myth that abortion is only 3% of its services. But it calculates this 3% number to purposely mislead. Planned Parenthood counts each service it provides as a “unique interaction.”
Instead of recording multiple services for one person, Planned Parenthood records each service included in the abortion process individually. It then divides the number of abortions by the total number of services it provides. This number comes out to a little over 3%.
It’s easy to see how that number is skewed. And it’s easy to see how the untruths about mammograms get continually passed along. When people hear a lie over and over, they begin to believe it.
What Cancer Screenings Does PP Offer?
In its 2018-2019 Annual Report, Planned Parenthood lists the services it currently provides. This list included 566,186 cancer screening and prevention services. Under this umbrella are things like pap tests and HPV vaccinations. Also included in that number are 265,028 services for “breast care.” This refers to the same kind of breast exam that a woman can do on her own at home. The doctor will feel for lumps. If he finds something of concern, he will provide a referral for a mammogram at an outside facility.
Some Planned Parenthood facilities have allowed a mobile unit to park outside. This mobile unit offers free mammograms to PP’s clients. A few affiliates, such as Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, have created a healthcare fund. This fund helps needy patients obtain services they cannot afford. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention runs the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, a program for low-income women to get access to services. Some PP facilities will help women apply for this program.
Why Does the Myth Persist?
We know that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms. A simple Google search proves this. Yet politicians and TV personalities often state otherwise. Why?
We live in a culture where people have not learned to think for themselves. Nor do they search for facts. They are willing to believe whatever suits their belief system. They do so even if that belief system is based more on emotion than on facts. Oftentimes people put more stock in what they see on social media or on memes than in the truth.
The myth that Planned Parenthood provides mammograms exposes a larger and more widespread problem in our society. People believe everything they see or hear. They then pass this misinformation along to others. They don’t take time to check whether something is true or not.
Many politicians back Planned Parenthood. The media backs Planned Parenthood. Knowing this, we must all be cautious. We must fact-check what we read and what we see on social media. We must do our best to pass along only what is true.
The media does have an agenda. If we are not careful, we will fall prey to it, and then we will never see the truth. Now more than ever, we need the truth. Does Planned Parenthood do mammograms? Absolutely not.
Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. Since 2003, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials, and website content. Fourteen of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of its Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program, an educational nonprofit program for k-12 students.