Fudging the numbers: Media misrepresents TX Planned Parenthood study


Thursday morning, I woke up to find this story trending on Facebook:study

Wow! “Births paid for by Medicaid rose 27 percent.” That is quite a statistic. Did defunding Planned Parenthood really restrict the distribution of contraceptives to such an extent that low-income Texans experienced a 27 percent increase in childbirth?

As of 2014, Texas had a population of 26,956,958, and about 17.5 percent of those people were covered by Medicaid. In other words, approximately 4,717,468 Texans are on Medicaid. If Facebook’s story is true, Texas birth rates must have risen dramatically!

But this never happened. The restrictions against Planned Parenthood went into effect on January 1, 2013. As shown in the table below, the Texas birthrate remained steady from 2011 to 2014. (This data is from the Center for Disease Control and the Texas Department of State Health Services.)

texas birth rate

So where did the supposed “27 percent” increase come from? It’s a bit complicated, so bear with me.

The study measured two groups of women on Medicaid who received an injection contraceptive. These injections are effective for three months; after this, the woman must return to the clinic to receive another injection. The first group (Group A) was composed of 12,194 women who took an injection in the last quarter of 2011. The second group (Group B) was composed of 10, 919 women who took an injection in the last quarter of 2012, immediately before the Planned Parenthood restrictions went into effect.

The study found that in counties which had Planned Parenthood clinics, 8.4 percent of the women in Group B gave birth in the next 18 months, while only 7.0 percent of the women in Group A gave birth in the same period of time. In other words, there was an increase of 1.4 percentage points. In counties which did not have Planned Parenthood clinics, 5.9 percent of the women in Group B gave birth, while 6.4 percent of the women in Group A gave birth. In other words, there was a decrease of 0.5 percentage points. The figure of “27 percent” comes from adding 1.4 to 0.5 and dividing by 7.0.

Bottom line? Whatever else this study may show, it most certainly does not show that cutting funding to Planned Parenthood caused the birthrate of the Medicaid population in Texas to increase by 27 percent.

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