Activity: Planned Parenthood Misleading Graph

Developed by QR Fellow Rachel Perlin

Learning Objectives: Students will be able to critique, suggest changes to, and discuss the interpretations of a misleading graph that was shown during a congressional committee hearing on Planned Parenthood.

AACU Quantitative Literacy learning outcomes addressed in activity: Interpretation, Representation, Calculation.

Background: On Tuesday, September 29, 2015 during a congressional committee meeting, Congressman Jason Chaffetz displayed a slide that showed a graph created by anti-abortion group, Americans United for Life (AUL). The issue is important because as part of an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, many Republicans have portrayed it as an abortion provider, while defenders of Planned Parenthood have said it mostly performs other women’s health services, such as cancer screenings.

Activity [See accompanying PowerPoint presentation]:

  • Start buy showing the students this video:
  • Then show the actual graph that was shown during the Congressional committee hearing because it was not so clear in the video.


  • Ask students (either as a class discussion or they can work on this in pairs) to explain what the problem is with this graph.
    1. What is the graph trying to say but how does it fail in saying that?
    2. What can you change about the graph so that it is more accurate (can use the same numbers, as well as the same x-axis)?
    3. Now that the graph is corrected, how is the interpretation of the graph different? What is the rate of decrease in cancer screenings in other prevention services? What is the rate of increase in abortions?
    4. Why should the graph above not have been shown during the congressional committee meeting about Planned Parenthood?


Suggested Solutions/Discussion: For the questions posed to students in #3,

  1. The graph is trying to portray the Planned Parenthood as having increased the number of abortions they have performed from 2006-2013 at the same rate they decreased cancer screenings and prevention services. The graph is faulty because it does not include a y-axis, so the numbers are not to scale.
  2. In actuality, the two lines should not be intersecting, as in 2013 the number of cancer screenings and other prevention services are still performed more frequently than abortion at Planned Parenthood. A y-axis should be added to the graph, and the pink line should be above, and not intersecting with the red line. The lines should be drawn to the scale of the y-axis. It might be helpful to have the intervals of the y-axis be every 100,000 and go up to a maximum of 2,100,000.
  3. From 2006 to 2013, there was a 935,573/2,007,371 *100 = 46.6% decrease in cancer screenings and other prevention services at Planned Parenthood. From 2006 to 2013, there was a 327,000/289,750 *100 = 1.1% increase in abortions performed at Planned Parenthood. Abortions are performed 35% less or about 1/3 less (327,000/(935,573) than how many cancer screenings and other prevention services were performed in 2013. 3 times as many cancer screenings and other prevention services are performed at Planned Parenthood compared to abortions.
  4. The graph is misleading and also was created from an anti-abortion group – political meetings should use neutral sources that display accurate graphs and high quality sources of data and information.
  5. Feel free to show students this corrected graph, from (link below) in which it compares non-abortion services performed at Planned Parenthood to abortions performed at Planned Parenthood as well as a corrected version of the one presented during the congressional committee meeting.


Sources/Further Reading:


Word Doc: PlannedParenthood_CongressChart

PPT: PlannedParenthood_MisleadingGraph



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