Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

Planned Parenthood debate: Formulating facts around opinions

The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.

This editorial is not about defunding Planned Parenthood.

Last week, the Ohio Senate voted 23-10 to defund Planned Parenthood statewide. If the bill is approved by the Ohio House of Representatives, all 28 Planned Parenthood locations across Ohio - three of which provide abortion services - will be affected.

The organization came under fire this summer when videos showed Planned Parenthood employees allegedly discussed selling fetal body parts gathered from abortions. The videos are still under federal investigation to verify authenticity and determine whether Planned Parenthood broke the law.

We hoped to editorialize on the defunding of Planned Parenthood. We wanted to and we tried. But, in the end, we could not reach a consensus on the matter.

While we might have different views on whether abortion should be legal, whether Planned Parenthood should be defunded, we all agree on one thing: this decision should not have been made without proof of illegal activity.

As our discussion heated up, we decided to call a truce. We agreed to disagree, which is more than can be said about our legislature. The ruling by the Ohio Senate is rooted in speculation and the power of a majority opinion, not fact.

During our conversation about Planned Parenthood, questions arose: Since the money Planned Parenthood currently receives from the government isn't used to fund abortions, would cutting funding really have an impact on availability of abortion services? Are there other organizations that will provide the same services for free? Is this debate really about Planned Parenthood's alleged bad behavior, or is it a way to ban abortion in general?

Both sides have different views, each with their own set of favorable "facts."

One side said: "Abortions are only 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does."

The other side countered: "Abortions account for 94 percent of what Planned Parenthood does."

What's strange about these statistics is that they are both, technically, true.

According to the Washington Post, it just depends on what is being measured. Or, who is cherry-picking the data and why.

The 3 percent is calculated by dividing the total number of abortions performed by the total number of services provided. Say a woman comes in and asks for birth control pills. Later, she comes back to be tested for STDs. A few weeks later, she comes in again, needing an abortion. This woman has used three different services that Planned Parenthood provides, one of which is an abortion. All three of the services she received are used in the calculation - in terms of the calculation, the abortion gets added to the numerator and the two other services get added to the denominator.

To calculate the 94 percent, only three services are measured and patients can only fall into one sector. The three categories confused those who receive prenatal services, those who receive referrals to adoption agencies and those who get abortions. These categories are mutually exclusive, and there is no category representing women who seek any of the other dozen or more services.

So, to revisit the woman in the first scenario: she comes in on three separate occasions, twice for non-abortion services and once for abortion services. All that can be measured using this system is the fact that she got an abortion. Other services are overlooked and left unacknowledged in order to make abortions seem more common than they are.

As we looked to settle our own disputes about who had the right facts, we realized that "facts" aren't always the most accurate representation. Furthermore, just because something is true doesn't mean others will be persuaded.

It is easy, especially when talking about sensitive subjects, to enter a discussion with our minds already made up. This can be said about any controversial issue: one side believes something is right, and the other side believes it is not right. We are blinded by our own opinions.

The media is partially to blame. Many organizations choose which data to show and which to cast aside based on what fits a certain agenda. We are all guilty of confirmation bias, the phenomenon by which we as an audience tune into news outlets that align with our existing views and feed us information we want to hear. Hearing our own thoughts echoed back to us by someone else, or by data - even skewed data - reaffirms our beliefs, making us feel as though we were right all along.

Anyone with a different viewpoint is automatically wrong. Even if their argument makes perfect sense, we don't buy it. More often than not, we don't even listen to it.

When faced with difficult issues, we need to make sure we are informed and open-minded. We need to do our research and critically analyze the data. We need to ask questions if we don't understand. We need to avoid jumping to conclusions that are based on religious bias or political affiliation. Just because the Ohio Senate made a hasty decision doesn't mean we need to make the same mistake.