Skip to content

Lying with Charts

Just over a week ago Congress held a hearing on Planned Parenthood to build the case for defunding them based on a series of “sting videos” produced by a pro-life group. Republican Jason Chaffetz showed the following chart, which seems to be making the point that Planned Parenthood is increasingly providing abortions while decreasing other services:

Americans United for Life

But this chart is extremely misleading and dishonest in several ways. First, if you look carefully at the actual numbers, you can see that the chart was drawn all wrong. For example, if you look at the numbers for 2013, you might notice that they drew 327,000 above 935,573. That is not how you are supposed to draw a chart!

Here’s what their chart should look like:

Vox 1

But the chart is also misleading in a second, more insidious way – they cherry picked data. For example, back in 2006 Planned Parenthood also provided 3 million treatments for sexually transmitted diseases, and that number went up to just under 4.5 million in 2013. But they left that data off the chart.

Also left off the chart is the fact that contraceptive services (which social conservatives also hate) provided by Planned Parenthood declined modestly from just under 4 million in 2006 to 3.6 million in 2013. Which means that contraceptive services declined in number around ten times more than abortions went up.

This is what the chart should really look like, showing abortion services almost down in the noise:

Vox 2

if Congress defunded Planned Parenthood and thus made contraceptive services more expensive and more difficult to obtain, would the number of abortions go up even more? It is hard to know, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that permanently defunding Planned Parenthood would actually cost the government $130 million over the next 10 years. The $520 million saved by not funding Planned Parenthood would be more than offset by increased costs of $650 million from Medicaid. The CBO:

projects that defunding Planned Parenthood would actually end up increasing government spending, because it would result in more unplanned births as women lost access to services such as contraception. Medicaid would have to pay for some of those births, and some of the children themselves would then end up qualifying for Medicaid and other government programs.

So we either get more unwanted births or more abortions. Both would be bad news.

UPDATE: PolitiFact reviewed Jason Chaffetz’s chart. They went back to the real data and drew even better charts, using almost yearly data:


Here’s a simplified version of this chart, corresponding directly to Chaffetz’s chart. Abortions actually peaked in 2009 and are now going down, not up as Chaffetz strongly implies:


PolitiFact also points out that the reason cancer screenings are decreasing is most likely due to the fact that the guideline for getting a Pap Smear (the screening test for cervical cancer) changed from every year to once every 3 to 5 years. And yet this, the most declining test, is the statistic they picked to compare to abortions.

The best part of the PolitiFact review are the quotes from experts on visual communication:

“That graphic is a damn lie. Regardless of whatever people think of this issue, this distortion is ethically wrong.”


“The graph is absolutely misleading, and intentionally so.” For example, the “propagandized design choices” in the arrowheads used by Chaffetz, which imply a trend that simply does not exist.

PolitiFact gave Chaffetz a “Pants on Fire”.



  1. ThatGuy wrote:

    I wonder why cancer screening and preventative care is down. Are more people able to get this through other medical facilities because of the uptick in folks with insurance? It’d be great to tell this clown that his chart is both wrong and evidence of the ACA’s impact.

    Anyway, while I don’t think there should be any sort of rigorous intelligence requirement for being an elected official, I do think a 48 year old human being should be able to identify the less than, equal to, or greater than relationship between a pair of numbers.

    Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    ThatGuy, PolitiFact just released an opinion about this, and they mention that the decline in cancer screenings is probably due to the fact that the guideline for Pap smears has changed from getting one every year to testing every 3 to 5 years. See

    Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  3. ThatGuy wrote:

    Ah, thanks for the followup, IK. I guess the ACA tie in would just be too much icing for this very rich cake of GOP foolery.

    Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  4. Ralph wrote:

    “There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damn lies and statistics.” – Benjamin Disraeli

    That one hits the trifecta!

    Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  5. Iron Knee wrote:

    Jason Chaffetz admits that his investigation into wrongdoing against Planned Parenthood did not turn up anything.

    Friday, October 9, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  6. redjon wrote:

    Liars gonna lie.

    Friday, October 9, 2015 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. Why you can’t trust Congress | You Must Be From Away on Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 3:36 am

    […] Full story here […]