- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Threatened with cuts to its state and federal funding, Planned Parenthood has fought back by touting its non-abortion services, starting with its “life-saving breast cancer screenings.”

The problem? The American Cancer Society no longer recommends the annual procedures, saying in its latest directive that they have failed to show a “clear benefit.”

“Research does not show a clear benefit of physical breast exams done by either a health professional or by yourself for breast cancer screening,” the society said in an Oct. 20 statement after the directive was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Due to this lack of evidence, regular clinical breast exam and breast self-exam are not recommended,” the statement said. “Still, all women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away.”

For Planned Parenthood, the recommendation is another blow in its battle to portray itself as an indispensable health care provider while it tries to stem a rash of defunding efforts.

Planned Parenthood did not respond to a request for comment on the American Cancer Society revision.

“There’s always been a contrast between the Planned Parenthood PR spin and what they’re actually doing,” said Americans United for Life attorney Anna Paprocki. “Even prior to this change in the [American Cancer Society] recommendation, Planned Parenthood had been cutting its breast health services. If you look at their annual reports, what they’re reporting year after year is they’re cutting those.”

In its 2014-2015 annual report, released in December, Planned Parenthood reported performing 363,803 breast exams in fiscal year 2014 to check for breast cancer, down from 487,029 in the previous year for a one-year decrease of 14 percent.

“And yet when it’s questioned whether [Planned Parenthood services] are a wise investment of taxpayer dollars, the first thing they scream is ‘breast health services,’” said Ms. Paprocki.

Other top cancer groups are split on clinical breast exams. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network continues to recommend the screenings, saying women 25-39 should receive them every one to three years, and then every year after 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says there is not enough evidence to recommend one way or another, according to the Susan G. Komen foundation.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America remains the nation’s largest abortion provider even as its patient base declines. Since fiscal year 2012, visits have dropped from 3 million to 2.5 million, according to the organization’s annual reports.

The latest report shows the number of overall services provided has fallen from 10,590,433 to 9,455,582, a one-year decline of 10.7 percent. At the same time, federal funding in the form of grants and reimbursements grew from $528.4 million to $553.7 million, an increase of 4.8 percent.

The number of abortions performed has also fallen off, albeit less dramatically. Planned Parenthood affiliates reported 323,999 abortions in fiscal year 2014, down from 333,964 in fiscal year 2011 for a drop of 1.5 percent. Since 2010, the abortion rate nationwide has fallen by 12 percent, according to The Associated Press.

What irks pro-life groups is that Planned Parenthood continues to report that only 3 percent of its procedures are abortions, even though the number of abortions has remained fairly steady while overall services have experienced a double-digit drop.

“A higher number of patients are there for abortion. Planned Parenthood is increasingly becoming about abortions and STD treatment. That is their main focus right now,” said Ms. Paprocki.

Faced with calls for defunding, however, Planned Parenthood has shifted the focus away from abortion and toward its cancer screenings — meaning its clinical breast exams and Pap tests, which screen for cervical cancer.

The narrative has gained steam. Even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said Planned Parenthood does “some very good work,” which drew a response Wednesday from Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.

“Well, this is one thing I agree with Donald Trump on, is that Planned Parenthood does amazing work for 2.5 million patients every single year,” Ms. Richards said on MSNBC.

“I think the disturbing thing is that Donald Trump as well as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have said if they were president, they would end women’s access to family planning, to cancer screening, to basic affordable health care as well as overturning the Affordable Care Act, which is now covering family planning and other preventive care for 55 million women,” Ms. Richards said. “That’s what’s really at stake here.”

In an Oct. 29 interview with The Coveteur, Ms. Richards sounded a similar theme, saying, “These politicians were elected to govern, but instead they continue to be obsessed with cutting off women’s ability to receive services like lifesaving breast cancer screenings, STI tests and treatment, and birth control.”

In an August campaign ad, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton blasted efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

“When politicians talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, they’re talking about blocking millions of women, men and young people from lifesaving preventive care: Cancer screenings. Breast exams. Birth control.”

The American Cancer Society revision to its breast exam policy was largely overlooked at the time of publication, thanks to the publicity surrounding the society’s concurrent recommendation for annual mammograms starting at age 45 instead of 40, then every other year after age 55.

Planned Parenthood does not offer mammograms at its nearly 700 clinics, but does refer patients to outside doctors for mammograms. Ms. Richards came under fire in 2011 for listing mammograms as one of the organization’s services in an interview with television host Joy Behar.

In the past week, Ohio and Wisconsin have joined the list of states moving to defund Planned Parenthood since the release last year of undercover videos by the pro-life Center for Medical Progress linking the provider to sales of fetal tissue from abortion.

Both states are redirecting funds to community health clinics and other providers.

Planned Parenthood officials have denied any wrongdoing while pointing to a Jan. 25 indictment issued by a Harris County grand jury against two center investigators. Both face felony counts of creating fake driver’s licenses as part of the investigation, while one — lead investigator David Daleiden — was also charged with illegally attempting to purchase fetal tissue.

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