It was arguably the most important moment in this week’s congressional hearing on Planned Parenthood. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight panel, was slowly building his case against the health care organization, leading Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards towards his grand finale: a chart that purports to show the number of prevention services provided by the health care group steadily declining, while the number of abortions steadily increasing.
Chaffetz even boasted that his devastating evidence came “straight from [Planned Parenthood’s] annual reports.”
embarrassing him, not his target. The chart’s data had been manipulated in a deceptive way, and it had come from an avid anti-abortion group, not Planned Parenthood’s annual reports. His winning argument was a disaster, which left the chairman momentarily speechless. The GOP lawmaker eventually concluded he would “get to the bottom” of this.Unfortunately for the Utah Republican, Chaffetz’s evidence ended up
Well, Chaffetz has now had a couple of days to do that, and as it turns out, he’s still convinced he’s right.
[CNN host Wolf Blitzer] asked Chaffetz about a chart from anti-abortion group Americans United For Life that the congressman used during the hearing. The chart reflects the number of abortions and cancer screenings provided by Planned Parenthood between 2006 and 2013. But the lines on the chart make it seem like the organization performs more abortions than cancer screening if one cannot see the numbers.Chaffetz said he did not believe the chart was misleading. “I stand by the numbers. I can understand where people would say the arrows went different directions, but the numbers are accurate. And that’s what we were trying to portray,” he told Blitzer.
I can appreciate why the Republican chairman was disappointed by how his hearing turned out. He did, after all, expect to make a powerful case against Planned Parenthood, which obviously didn’t happen. On the contrary, Chaffetz’s show trial even disappointed his allies.
But he really shouldn’t “stand by” a stunt that went horribly awry.
Even if we put aside the fact that Chaffetz got the source of the chart wrong – he overlooked the fact that it literally says, “Source: Americans United for Life,” in all capital letters – his proof was gibberish. He and his staff, for example, created a chart with no y axis, rendering the entire image meaningless.
What’s more, over the course of the decade, the numbers really haven’t budged. Vox’s Tim Lee explained, “So it’s not true, as the chart implies, that Planned Parenthood has been performing more abortions while drastically cutting back the provision of other services. The overall number of non-abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood barely changed at all, going from 10.29 million in 2006 to 10.26 million in 2013.”
What’s more, Cecile Richards explained that there was a slight decline in the number of cancer screening because “some of the services, like pap smears, dropped in frequency because of changing medical standards about who should be screened and how often.”
In other words, everything about Chaffetz’s argument was wrong. Literally, everything. And it’s against this backdrop that the committee chairman still says, “I stand by the numbers.”
It’s one thing to make a mistake. But responsible officials should acknowledge the error, correct it, and move on. Pretending what’s wrong is right is just unbecoming.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this report, and her work is unrelated to the services Chaffetz tried to describe.