On February 3, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) released a new study documenting the severe impact of Texas' decision to bar Planned Parenthood from accessing state family-planning funds. Using pharmaceutical claims data and state program records, TxPEP analyzed "rates of contraceptive-method provision, method continuation through the program, and childbirth covered by Medicaid before and after the Planned Parenthood exclusion." The results reflected "adverse changes in the provision of contraception" for Texas women, and a subsequent "increase in the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid."
Writing for Vox, Sarah Kliff highlighted these findings, arguing that they directly refute a consistent conservative media myth that women's health clinics could easily replace Planned Parenthood in many communities. Kliff wrote that although "some have argued women would just seek care elsewhere, this new research shows the opposite: When Planned Parenthood becomes less accessible, women just get less care." In an interview with Vox, TxPEP researcher Amanda Stevenson said the study "contradicts the claim that other providers will simply take up the slack and that they'll meet the demand currently being met by Planned Parenthood providers."
Texas has long been at the forefront of the battle to defund Planned Parenthood.
In 2013, the state successfully cut the network of clinics out of its public family planning program for low-income women.
Now researchers at the University of Texas have figured out what happened next: Fewer women filled birth control prescriptions -- and more low-income women had babies.
The new study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, is the first to look at what happens to women when a state specifically excludes Planned Parenthood from public programs. While some have argued that women would just seek care elsewhere, this new research shows the opposite: When Planned Parenthood becomes less accessible, women just get less care.
Congressional Republicans have, so far, failed to defund Planned Parenthood on a national level -- despite multiple attempts to do so.
This new Texas study is important because it demonstrates that there is a risk that comes with cutting Planned Parenthood out of public programs: Women won't get the care that they used to, and births can increase as a result.
"This directly contradicts the claim that other providers will simply take up the slack and that they'll meet the demand currently being met by Planned Parenthood providers," Stevenson says. "We can say, after this study, that isn't the case in Texas."
The Supreme Court will hear arguments March 2 in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstadt, which challenges Texas anti-choice law HB 2. A ruling against abortion provider Whole Woman's Health would close at least 75 percent of Texas' clinics and likely enable anti-choice legislation across the country. Texas' brief to the Supreme Court utilized arguments that mirror talking points from right-wing media, including the claim that HB 2 would prevent another "Kermit Gosnell scandal," in which illegal operations led to multiple deaths at a Philadelphia clinic.
Officials from the Koch brothers' funding arm have announced a new "venture philanthropy" project called Stand Together, with aims of "strengthening the fabric of American society," and focusing on "poverty" and "educational quality," according to USA Today. Media should know that: previous Koch-backed poverty and education efforts have been coupled with ideological proselytizing, Stand Together's executive director is a Koch veteran and former Republican congressional candidate who repeatedly fearmongered about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the group's top collaborator is associated with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's sham "anti-poverty" efforts.
From the February 1 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers pushed back on Bill O'Reilly's criticism of an Associated Press fact-check that found Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had falsely claimed that Obamacare was "the biggest job-killer in the country." O'Reilly argued "Senator Cruz might be correct about Obamacare but to be fair, his opinion is subjective." Powers responded, noting "multiple studies have shown that's not true," and that the American Enterprise Institute found that "there was no correlation between the Affordable Care Act and a decrease in employment." From the January 29 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the January 28 edition of Premiere Radio Network's The Sean Hannity Show:
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Actress Kerry Washington explained how the lack of accurate and representative media portrayals of abortion can increase stigma, explaining to Women's Wear Daily that "by not having those moments represented in media, we add to the idea that there's something shameful to be talked about."
In a November episode of ABC thriller Scandal, Washington's Olivia Pope character had an abortion. In a January 27 interview with Women's Wear Daily, Washington explained the need for TV to reflect the full experiences of women who have abortions:
"[Abortion is] a reality, and more often than not, it's a really difficult choice to make. The same was true for Olivia," Washington said. "But by not having those moments represented in media, we add to the idea that there's something shameful to be talked about. It's always important that our storytelling reflects the real experiences of human beings, because it allows us to not feel as alone."
Fictional TV shows depict a wide range of human experiences, but until recently the stories told about abortion have rarely showed the common experience of a procedure that nearly one in three women will have by age 45.
The portrait of abortion in our fictional TV shows and movies has been typically distorted from reality in several ways, including over-associating abortion with maternal death, and rarely showing women of color accessing abortion care. Women on TV who obtain abortions rarely look like Kerry Washington's character, a black woman and a professional who is not a teenager and was not made pregnant as a result of rape. Gretchen Sisson and Katrina Kimport, academic researchers who study pop-culture depictions of abortion, have previously offered similar assessments to Washington's commentary, explaining that when fictional TV series fail to depict abortion, it "could contribute to feelings of internalized stigma or isolation among real women who obtain abortions." Sisson discussed the Scandal episode in an email to Media Matters:
Scandal represents the first time that a Black woman as a lead character has obtained an abortion on network television. While Black women account for about 30 percent of all abortions in the U.S., they only account for 5 percent of the abortion plot lines that are shown on television. This leaves just a handful of stories -- usually centered around peripheral characters -- representing an experience shared by millions of Black women in the U.S. Before Scandal, this meant that there were only two examples of a Black woman getting an abortion on TV (with an additional depiction of a biracial Black woman).
Additionally, Scandal has been the first show to depict a modern abortion procedure in a medical setting, without cutting away immediately before the abortion begins. It did this twice in 2015: an episode in May, where Olivia helped a Naval officer obtain an abortion, and again in November, with Olivia's own abortion.
According to Sisson, the only previous depictions of black women having abortions were on the broadcast show The Good Wife -- where it was a peripheral character -- as well on The L Word and The Fosters.
The portrayal of a black woman having a non-tragic abortion shouldn't be a nearly singular event in television history. Media that distort "the real experiences of human beings" -- as Washington aptly put it -- contribute to stigmatizing those experiences and those human beings. It's time for media -- all media -- to stop contributing to the stigmatization of health care services that are necessary for women.
"Violent." "Sickening." "Disgusting." "Inhuman." These are all words regularly used by prominent media sources to stigmatize and mislead on the reality of abortion.
Listening to these words used to smear and shame women who exercise the right to an abortion, it'd be easy to forget that 43 years ago the Supreme Court protected that constitutional right.
Women's access to reproductive health care is as much in jeopardy as ever, as anti-choice activists and their GOP accomplices in Congress are rapidly chipping away at that right, emboldened by the echo chamber where media figures perpetuate abortion stigma.
Abortion stigma is the "shared understanding" that abortion is morally wrong or socially unacceptable. It shows up in all facets of popular culture but is especially dangerous when it taints news coverage of abortion stories.
Abortion stigmatization can be incredibly obvious in right-wing media, where abortion is often referred to as sickening, "grizzly," unethical, and on par with terrorism, while abortion providers are smeared as villains and compared to Nazis. But some of the most insidious perpetuations of abortion stigma are subtly pushed by mainstream media, like in news stories about abortion laden with emotionally manipulative language and images, and in popular culture, such as our favorite TV shows and movies.
When news outlets use footage of extremely pregnant women and even babies to cover abortion stories, the viewer's focus shifts from the women seeking abortions to the contents of their wombs. Stock footage that cuts off the heads of women and shows only their bodies in later stages of pregnancy is particularly egregious. These images also offer a subtle nod to the anti-choice activists who want news consumers and voters to believe that the majority of women getting abortions are 40 weeks pregnant. But that could not be further from the truth. The vast majority of abortions -- 90 percent -- occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when it's often not visible.
The media also help carry water for anti-choice activists when they squander opportunities to correct misinformation. In the past year alone, states have introduced 45 TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), which are deceptive measures aimed at shutting down abortion providers by imposing medically unnecessary regulations under the guise of protecting women's health. TRAP laws include requirements for abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges and rules that clinics must be outfitted like ambulatory surgical centers -- measures that are not only unnecessary, but that also impede abortion access and put women's health at risk by delaying or even preventing care. When the media report on these TRAP laws without acknowledging the medical community's consensus that these rules are medically unnecessary, they further promote abortion stigma by telling women that abortion is inherently unsafe and in need of regulation.
Rush Limbaugh is wrong -- Hollywood will not do "anything" to "normalize" and "promote" abortion. In fact, it's often the opposite. Abortion stigma shows up in other media as well, like when our favorite TV shows and movies depict abortion as anything other than a routine medical procedure. A recent study conducted by University of California, San Francisco sociologists Gretchen Sisson and Katrina Kimport of TV stories from 1916 to 2013 explained that abortion in fictional shows is often linked to death for female characters -- whether they obtain the procedure or not -- perpetuating the false myth that abortion frequently causes death. In reality, pregnancy is a more frequent cause of death than is induced abortion. Another study by Sisson and Kimport identified how TV depictions of abortion contribute to misconceptions about who has abortions and why. In an interview with The Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg*, Sisson explained that characters who get abortions on TV tend to be wealthy, white teenagers who have never given birth before. She noted that while in reality, such women do get abortions, the depictions on aggregate underrepresent the Latina and black women who obtain abortions, and distort the reasons why they obtain them. When shows emphasize women obtaining abortions when they either don't want children, or want to prioritize their careers or education, and underrepresent women who make the choice due to financial pressures, health risks, or a need to focus on their other children, they create the "perception that abortion is a want rather than a need." And when they depict a disproportionate number of women obtaining abortions because the pregnancies were the result of rape or incest, they send the message that abortion is a legitimate choice only in those horrific circumstances.
The year 2015 saw an uptick in the number of attacks against abortion providers over previous years, culminating in the deadly November shooting attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood by a man who called himself a "warrior for the babies" and said he was trying to ensure that there were "no more baby parts." The phrase "baby parts" had been used repeatedly in cable news coverage about Planned Parenthood in the months prior to the attacks. The deadly attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood affiliate came after an FBI Intelligence Assessment reportedly concluded, "it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities." And as Vox's Emily Crockett pointed out in November, "threats, vandalism, and violence against abortion providers and clinics have escalated since this summer," when the anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP), "released deceptively edited videos that accused Planned Parenthood of 'selling baby parts.'" CMP's smear campaign was bolstered by the conservative echo chamber and right-wing media, which obsessively aired and backed the organization's false claims that Planned Parenthood had committed crimes. The Colorado Springs shooter's vitriol bore remarkable resemblance to the deceptively edited smear videos. It serves as a tragic reminder of the violent repercussions of pervasive abortion stigma when anti-choice activists are able to capitalize on the conservative echo chamber.
At least five other Planned Parenthood facilities were attacked in 2015 since the release of CMP's first video in July (some reports from September 2015 indicated there may have been as many as nine criminal or suspicious incidents targeting the group). Before Colorado, clinics in Thousand Oaks, CA; Pullman, WA; Aurora, IL; and New Orleans, LA, experienced attacks that in some cases impeded clinic operations.
There is no definitive evidence tying a specific attack to a specific media report, but it is crucial to note that the incidents have occurred in the midst of a prevalent smear campaign against abortion providers that has been enabled in part by abortion stigma.
Attacks on reproductive rights don't occur in a vacuum. According to RH Reality Check, "A report released in February  found that threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence against women's health clinics have doubled since 2010. Reproductive rights advocates have raised concerns that radical anti-choice activists have been emboldened by a wave of GOP legislative attacks on reproductive rights."
Legislative attacks by the GOP on reproductive rights are marshaled in by media figures perpetuating abortion stigma. According to a November 2015 report from NARAL Pro-Choice America, 22 states enacted 41 anti-choice measures in 2015. These measures included medically unnecessary TRAP laws, mandatory delays that force women to wait a certain period of time before obtaining an abortion, and laws barring abortion providers from receiving public funds.
This year there will be a landmark decision regarding abortion access when the U.S. Supreme Court hears Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt. The case is expected to determine the constitutionality of a Texas anti-choice law that, if allowed to stand, will have far-reaching consequences involving the ability to access abortion. The law is both medically unnecessary and based on the myth that abortion is unsafe and requires extra regulations to protect women's health -- a myth used to stigmatize abortion and shutter providers.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court's previous decisions on abortion have already echoed stigmatizing language on abortion.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has repeatedly adopted one of the right-wing media's favorite stigmatizing anti-choice abortion myths. Slate notes that Justice Kennedy has exhibited a troubling pattern of using "language straight out of the anti-abortion movement's talking points," including floating the right-wing media myth that women "regret" their choice to have an abortion. Medical experts have repeatedly debunked the stigmatizing myth, explaining that the vast majority of women receiving abortions "felt it was the right decision." Amicus briefs have been submitted to the justices in the Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt case that were meant to combat the media-encouraged stigma and ensure that justices hear from women who say access to abortion care improved their lives.
Anti-choice laws have dire consequences for women and families, causing clinic closures and restricted access to services. Texas' anti-choice restrictions have already forced about half the state's clinics to close, and some estimates predict up to 75 percent of clinics could ultimately close as a result of the law. The closures would disproportionately harm low-income women in rural areas of the state and strand nearly 1 million women more than 150 miles from the nearest abortion provider. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) interviewed a number of women whose access to abortion care was severely impeded as a result of Texas' anti-choice law, and found that women's health care "was delayed, and in some cases [women were] prevented altogether" from obtaining an abortion. Investigators noted that women not only "reported a lack of information and confusion" in the wake of clinic closures, but also that once they had located an affordable provider, many "faced substantial added travel and hotel costs when seeking abortion services." Experts have warned that the Texas law could actually place more women at risk, predicting that women are more likely to self-induce abortion "as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access."
Abortion isn't scary, but the threat that these laws and anti-choice extremists pose to women's health and basic human rights is terrifying. Imagine a potentially imminent future where women are forced back into the margins of society, and expected to sacrifice their lives, jobs, and education because they no longer control their own bodies or decision to give birth -- where miscarriages can become criminalized and the basis to investigate women for self-abortions. That future sounds alarmingly like the past, like a time when women were forced to take their health care into their own hands, and risk their lives to end unwanted or life-threatening pregnancies in the shadows. When women lose control over their reproductive health, they lose control over nearly every other aspect of their lives.
*Rosenberg is married to Media Matters Research Director Matt Gertz.
Image: Creative Commons: Thomas Hawk
Major newspaper editorial boards urged politicians to abandon efforts to defund and slander Planned Parenthood after a grand jury indicted two members of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-choice group that released smear videos against the women's health organization.
On January 25, David Daleiden, the founder of the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record and a misdemeanor charge of violating the "prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs" for the actions he took to manufacture smear videos of Planned Parenthood officials. Daleiden has a history of working with conservative groups on anti-choice campaigns.
The Associated Press profiled the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-choice group responsible for releasing undercover footage as part of a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, after the founder and an associate were indicted on felony charges. Yet, the AP report failed to note that the videos were deceptively edited or that CMP and its senior members have extremist ties.
From the January 26 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the January 25 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File.
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A grand jury in Harris County, Texas indicted the Center for Medical Progress' founder David Daleiden and associate Sandra Merritt on January 25 for "tampering with a governmental record," a felony, and Daleiden was also indicted for "illegally offer[ing] to purchase human organs" in a video recording he used to falsely accuse the group of illegally selling fetal tissue for profit. The grand jury was investigating based on CMP's allegations, but found no evidence of misconduct by Planned Parenthood.
CMP is the anti-choice group that targeted Planned Parenthood with a smear campaign using undercover actors, including Daleiden and Merritt, who posed as fetal tissue procurement salespeople in order to unsuccessfully induce Planned Parenthood officials across the country into illegal agreements to sell fetal tissue. CMP has released deceptively-edited videos of the encounters accusing Planned Parenthood of wrong-doing. On August 4, CMP released a video featuring secretly-recorded footage of officials from Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast with key context of the conversations omitted from this CMP-released version, which debunked CMP's claims.
The Harris County, Texas grand jury has now cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of "breaking the law" in allegations stemming from CMP's videos.
On January 14, Planned Parenthood named Daleiden and Merritt, along with three other individuals, as defendants in a federal lawsuit which alleges CMP and some members of its leadership engaged in a conspiracy against PPFA and broke numerous federal and state laws.
The news broke just hours after USA Today published an op-ed in which Daleiden claimed that "Planned Parenthood's senior leadership part[ook] in a widespread and organized violation of state and federal laws" that had triggered "multiple state and federal investigations." The Harris County grand jury joins the list of federal and state investigations that have cleared of Planned Parenthood of wrong-doing.
From Houston Public Media:
A Harris County grand jury today decided not to take any action against Planned Parenthood in Houston. But two people who used undercover videos accusing the group of selling fetal tissue have been indicted.
The sting videos recorded last April alleged that Planned Parenthood illegally profited from donations of fetal tissue. The Harris County District Attorney's Office investigated those allegations for more than two months, along with the Texas Rangers and the Houston Police Department.
In the end, a grand jury has cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of breaking the law.
Both David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt have been indicted for Tampering with a Governmental Record, which is a felony. Daleidan was also indicted for Prohibition of the Purchase and Sale of Human Organs, meaning he illegally offered to purchase human organs in the video recording. A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
"We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast," said Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson. "As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case."
From the January 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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