Justice & Civil Liberties

Issues ››› Justice & Civil Liberties
  • NRA Doesn’t Know What’s In Landmark Second Amendment Decision It Constantly Touts

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association is claiming that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton lied during her debate answer about the landmark Second Amendment case District of Columbia v. Heller. But the NRA, which called the Heller ruling “a great moment in American history,” needs to revisit the decision.

    During the final presidential debate, Clinton explained that she previously called Heller “wrongly decided” because she disagrees “with the way the court applied the Second Amendment in that case, because what the District of Columbia was trying to do was to protect toddlers from guns and so they wanted people with guns to safely store them.”

    The NRA responded on Twitter, writing, “So now [Clinton] says Heller was abt toddlers? Another lie; was abt the right to defend yourself w/ a gun in your home”:

    The NRA should revisit the text of the Heller decision. The case was about the right to keep a gun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. But it was also about safe gun storage -- specifically a trigger-lock requirement. Indeed, the court issued a ruling on two issues, striking down, on Second Amendment grounds, both D.C.’s law banning handgun ownership and D.C.’s law about gun storage that was meant to safeguard people -- specifically children -- from accidents:

    In fact, contrary to the NRA’s false claim that Heller wasn’t about gun accidents involving children, Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent highlighted the accidental firearm-related deaths of children seven times.

    As Clinton alluded to in her answer, D.C.’s brief for the Supreme Court argued that the gun storage law “is a reasonable regulation designed to prevent accidental and unnecessary shootings,” while noting, “In 1991 the U.S. General Accounting Office found that 8% of accidental shooting deaths resulted from shots fired by children under the age of six, which could have been prevented by child-proof safety locks.”

    When the decision came down, the NRA itself explained at the time of the ruling, the decision was about both D.C.’s handgun ban and “possession of functional firearms” in the home.

    In the same debate answer, Clinton also added, “I also believe there's an individual right to bear arms. That is not in conflict with sensible, commonsense regulation.”

    During the presidential campaign, the NRA has based its opposition to Clinton on its claim that she opposes allowing people to own guns -- a charge that has been repeatedly rated false by independent fact-checkers.

  • Chris Wallace Let Trump Push The Right-Wing Media Myth Of "Partial-Birth" Abortion

    Wallace Broke The Debate Silence On Abortion, But Failed To Fact-Check Trump’s Pivot To A Misleading Right-Wing Media Myth

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    During the final presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton a substantive question about her stance on the legality of abortion restrictions, yet he allowed Republican nominee Donald Trump to avoid a similar question and instead repeat the baseless right-wing media myth that Clinton supports so-called “partial-birth” abortion.

    Throughout this election cycle, reproductive rights advocates have been pushing for debate moderators to #AskAboutAbortion. Although Wallace asked Clinton a substantive question about her previous vote against a piece of anti-choice legislation that did not meet the requirements of Roe v .Wade, he failed to fact-check Trump’s misleading pivot to “partial-birth” abortions.

    In response to Clinton’s comments about the importance of ensuring any restriction on abortion includes constitutionally-mandated exceptions for the health and safety of the mother, Trump falsely claimed that Clinton believes “you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother.” Trump continued that Clinton supports letting abortion providers “take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day.”

    Trump’s comments reflect the misleading right-wing media claim that the Democratic position on abortion access includes support for so-called “partial-birth” abortions -- often invoking the term as a description of an abortion that takes place in the final months or “moments” of a pregnancy. In reality, “partial-birth” abortion is a non-medical and fabricated term coined by anti-choice groups to vilify and stigmatize individuals who elect to have an abortion.

    Not only is  “partial-birth” abortion a right-wing media creation, the allegation that Clinton supports such a practice is also inaccurate. On October 9, PolitiFact Texas rated as false a statement by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that Clinton “supports unlimited abortion on demand up until the moment of birth, including partial-birth abortion.” PolitiFact noted that “abortions in the weeks leading up to birth” are an extreme rarity and that “Clinton has long said that she’d support a late-term limit on abortion--provided it has exceptions” -- a position she reiterated during the October 19 debate.

    In her remarks, Clinton not only emphasized the importance of abortion access, but also noted that Planned Parenthood is an essential health care provider that she would not allow anti-choice lawmakers to defund. For his part, Trump promised to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

  • Right-Wing Media’s Favorite Myths About Planned Parenthood

    As Planned Parenthood Celebrates 100 Years Of Providing Essential Health Care, A Look Back At Right-Wing Media’s Most Common Smears About The Organization

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On October 16, Planned Parenthood celebrated 100 years of providing quality reproductive health care to millions of Americans. Despite the essential role Planned Parenthood has and continues to play in facilitating access to both primary and reproductive health care, right-wing media have frequently provided a platform for numerous smears and misinformation about the organization. Here are right-wing media’s favorite myths about Planned Parenthood.

  • The Questions Chris Wallace Should -- But Probably Wont -- #AskAboutAbortion In The Final Debate

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On October 19, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News will have the last opportunity in a 2016 presidential debate to ask either candidate a direct and meaningful question about abortion -- an opportunity that, if history is any guide, will likely be ignored.

    Throughout this election cycle, reproductive rights advocates have been pushing for debate moderators to #AskAboutAbortion. Unfortunately, given the history of debate questions asked about reproductive rights topics since 1960, if Wallace does ask about abortion it will most likely be framed in the context of the candidates’ faiths or preferences for judicial nominees.

    On October 12, the Commission on Presidential Debates released the topics for the third and final presidential debate -- a list that includes debt, immigration, the economy, and the Supreme Court. Although abortion is not among the given topics, it could play a significant role in any comprehensive conversation about the candidates’ policies for addressing economic insecurity or even immigration.

    Here are the debate questions Chris Wallace should -- but probably won’t -- ask about abortion in the final debate:

    1. Debt And Entitlements

    The intersection between entitlements and federal support for reproductive health care is both substantive and significant in the wider landscape of abortion access advocacy.

    Since 1977, the Hyde amendment has restricted federal funding -- and in particular, Medicaid funds -- from supporting abortion services. The amendment has been re-enacted annually to prevent the use of federal funds for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

    Because of its restrictions, the Hyde amendment has created a significant barrier for low-income patients attempting to access safe and legal abortion care. In a July 2016 study, the Guttmacher Institute found that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services.

    As Medicaid is an entitlement program, asking about abortion in the context of entitlements would be particularly appropriate given that both Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, have taken an explicit stance on the Hyde amendment.

    As Rebecca Traister explained in New York magazine, Clinton was the first presidential nominee to speak out against the Hyde amendment when she decided to “publicly do battle” against the restriction in January. The Democratic Party also formally adopted repealing the Hyde amendment as a priority in its platform -- marking the first time a major political party has targeted the anti-choice restriction on this scale.

    In contrast, Trump has committed himself to making the Hyde amendment “permanent law” in order to prevent “taxpayers from having to pay for abortions.”

    2. Immigration

    Abortion access is also a fruitful topic for discussion in the context of U.S. immigration policy, particularly the impact of reproductive health care policies that disproportionately affect Latinas and mixed immigration status families living in the border state of Texas.

    Disparate access to health care coverage is an issue impacting many immigrants -- both documented and undocumented -- in the United States. As the Kaiser Family Foundation explained in a January 2016 brief, “Immigrants, particularly those who are not citizens, historically have faced disproportionate barriers to accessing health coverage and care.” These findings affirmed a 2014 study done by the Pew Research Center which concluded that “Hispanic immigrants are more than twice as likely to not have health insurance as Hispanics born in the U.S.”

    In particular, Latinas’ access to reproductive care is significantly impacted not just by the Hyde amendment but also by the financial and logistical barriers created by anti-choice restrictions in states, like Texas, that have a high percentage of Latinos.

    An independent analysis of Texas’ 2014 abortion statistics data by the Texas Observer pointed out the disparate loss of access to abortion experienced by Texas Latinas after the anti-choice law HB 2 went into effect. As Alexa Garcia-Ditta reported, “In 2013, over 24,000 of Texans who got abortions were Hispanic; in 2014, that number decreased by 18 percent to under 20,000.” In comparison, she noted, there was “a 7.7 percent decrease among black Texans who got abortions” and a “6.7 percent drop among white Texans, after the law went into effect.”

    In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) argued that the additional barriers to abortion access created by HB 2 would be particularly devastating to undocumented women, who would face “[b]order patrol agents and internal immigration checkpoints” when forced to travel farther for health care due to clinic closures.

    3. Economy

    Chris Wallace could use the economy category as an opportunity to discuss the myriad financial obstacles individuals confront when trying to obtain abortion care.

    As Salon’s Christina Cauterucci explained, “Studies show that poor women take up to three weeks longer than other women to secure an abortion” partly because of the time necessary to gather the money for the procedure. In a July 2015 report, the National Women’s Law Center noted that low-income persons are also put at a substantial financial disadvantage because they “may have to postpone paying for other basic needs like food, rent, heating, and utilities in order to save the money needed for an abortion.”

    This financial challenge of covering the cost of an abortion adds to the usual barrage of anti-choice restrictions already complicating access to abortion care. Between mandatory waiting periods, long wait times to get an appointment, and the great distances many patients must travel to reach a clinic, abortion care is already out of reach for many -- circumstances media frequently ignore or underestimate when talking about abortion.

    Given the numerous financial considerations that can make both abortion and wider reproductive health care inaccessible, Wallace should use the economy category during the debate to ask the candidates a substantive question about abortion care.

    4. Supreme Court

    In a recent report, Media Matters analyzed all abortion questions asked in presidential or vice presidential debates from 1960 to 2012 and found that 56 percent of questions were framed around religion or used abortion as a litmus test for judicial appointments. Media Matters found that since 1960, a total of 34 moderator or panelist questions cited abortion, and 23 of those were framed in terms of religion or judicial appointments or presented abortion in a stigmatized and negative way.

    This framing for questions is ineffective, unilluminating, and ultimately fails to provide the American public with any understanding of how presidential candidates would support or inhibit access to essential reproductive health care.

    The second presidential debate was a good example of the limited and ineffective nature of this framing. During the October 9 debate, the only mention of reproductive rights came during a question about the nomination of Supreme Court justices -- when Clinton mentioned that her ideal nominee would support upholding Roe v. Wade.

    Questions like this -- although useful in a limited sense -- clearly do not go far enough in pressing candidates to explain and defend their positions on an essential reproductive health issue and the ramificiations of upending abortion law. As a possible solution, the reproductive rights advocacy group Ultraviolet has been conducting a campaign encouraging individuals to submit questions about the issues that “have taken a backseat in the news coverage this election” but that “they think are the most important questions facing women.”

    In a petition, NARAL Pro-Choice America further explained why it is essential that Chris Wallace take advantage of the final opportunity to ask about abortion in a 2016 presidential debate:

    Donald Trump has said women should be punished for accessing their right to abortion, and suggested doctors who provide abortion care be thrown in jail.

    A candidate's position on abortion speaks to their position on gender equality, to whether or not they think all people, regardless of gender, should be able to plan their families and determine their futures for themselves. Such a crucial issue cannot be left unaddressed on the national stage this election year.

    UPDATE: On October 18, after allegations emerged that Trump has sexually assaulted and harassed numerous women, NARAL Pro-Choice America issued a letter urging Wallace to take advantage of a "critical opportunity to hold candidates accountable" and "demand answers about whether our candidates believe women are equal to men in the eyes of the law." The letter -- cosigned by EMILY's List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, CREDO, UltraViolet, All* Above All Action Fund, the National Organization for Women, and Feminist Majority -- continued, "For that reason, we request that you ask the candidates about how they plan to address the crisis of abortion access in our country."

  • After Previously Ignoring Crucial Stories, Mainstream Media Finally Giving Trump Scrutiny

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is claiming that the media is “rigging the election” in response to increased scrutiny and an influx of investigative reporting on Trump’s business dealings, his taxes, his rhetoric about sexual assault, and accusations of sexual assault against the nominee. But the media scrutiny of Trump is a drastic change from the overwhelming and positive coverage Trump received throughout the primaries, and his claims ignore the way the press, particularly television news, has often ignored -- or downplayed reporting on -- Trump’s improprieties. Veteran reporters have called this lack of initial vetting “bad journalism.”

  • The Problem With Debate Moderators Making Abortion About Religion And Judges

    Since 1960, Moderator’s Questions About Abortion Have Almost Always Been Asked In Relation To Faith Or Judicial Appointment Litmus Tests


    During the 2016 election, reproductive rights groups have consistently called on debate moderators to ask questions that would examine the candidates’ positions on abortion-related issues, but moderators have either ignored the call or centered their questions around  judicial appointees or the candidates’ religious views.

    Although faith and judicial appointments are important topics, limiting debate discussions of abortion to only these contexts deprives the public of an opportunity to understand the candidates’ positions on an essential issue: access to reproductive health care.

    On October 12, the Commission on Presidential Debates released the topics for the third and final presidential debate. Although the list includes the Supreme Court, it notably excludes any explicit mention of reproductive health or abortion -- making the likelihood of a question about the topic on its own merits unlikely.

    What is likely, however, is that if the topic comes up, the moderator will either frame it around the candidate’s religion or ask whether they would screen their judicial picks for pro- or anti-choice positions.

    In a recent analysis, Media Matters analyzed all abortion questions asked in presidential or vice presidential debates from 1960 to 2012 and found that 56 percent were framed around religion or used abortion as a litmus test for judicial appointments. In both instances, questions were often asked in a way that stigmatized abortion -- suggesting that the common and legal medical procedure was morally wrong or socially unacceptable.

    The pattern has been borne out in each of the debates this year.

    For example, the first presidential debate on September 26 did not include a single question about abortion or reproductive health care despite efforts by a coalition of reproductive rights advocacy groups. They encouraged NBC’s Lester Holt to ask the candidates how they would “address the crisis in abortion care in our country.”

    In the second presidential debate, on October 9, the only mention of reproductive rights came during a question about the nomination of Supreme Court justices -- when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton mentioned that her ideal nominee would support upholding Roe v. Wade. If history is a guide, this line of questioning will be repeated for the last presidential debate, as one of the topics is the Supreme Court.

    During the October 4 vice presidential debate, CBS’ Elaine Quijano asked Republican candidate Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine an open-ended question about how they “struggled to balance [their] personal faith and a public policy decision.” As ThinkProgress’ Tara Culp-Resser explained, Pence “quickly pivoted to abortion” in his answer, while Kaine, “followed up by saying he trusts women to make this moral choice for themselves.” Although the candidates addressed abortion, as Culp-Resser pointed out, “ the exchange was ultimately situated in a religious and moral context that does a disservice to the bigger issue.”

    In an October 5 article for The New York Times, Katha Pollitt explained why having candidates discuss their abortion positions only in relation to their faith was problematic. She wrote:

    “I wish we didn’t so often discuss abortion rights in the context of religion. We’re not a Christian nation, much less a Catholic or evangelical one. Why should women’s rights have to pass through the eye of a theological needle? Given that the next president will nominate at least one and probably two or three more justices to the Supreme Court, it’s discouraging that we are still talking about abortion as a matter for biblical exegesis.”

    Given the escalating assault on reproductive health care access, it's high time that debate moderators ask substantive questions about abortion that do not focus exclusively on religion or the court and that do not stigmatize the issue. There is a crisis currently underway, and it is likely the presidential nominees have differing views on how to address it -- distinctions the viewing public deserve to hear, and distinctions that can’t be determined by rote questions about religion and litmus tests.

    The final presidential debate will be held on October 19, and if the moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, doesn’t ask about abortion, the 2016 election will be the first since 1976 to include no direct debate questions about reproductive rights.

  • NRA Risks Complete Disaster Following Unprecedented Spending On Trump

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The NRA has gone out on a limb for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, but the candidate is in the process of sawing it off as his campaign flails amid a rapidly increasing number of new sexual assault allegations.

    While other outside groups that traditionally spend a lot on elections have taken a more measured approach in backing Trump, the NRA has already spent nearly twice as much on independent expenditures in this presidential race as it did in 2012, when it attempted to elect Mitt Romney.

    The NRA’s outsized promotion of Trump began during its May 2016 annual meeting. Previewing the group’s endorsement of Trump, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre told a roaring crowd, “The revolution to take America back starts here, it starts on this day, and by God we will elect our next president, we will save our freedom, and America truly will be great again.” Moments later Trump joined the stage to receive the NRA’s official endorsement from NRA top lobbyist Chris Cox.

    Such an early endorsement of a presidential candidate was “virtually unprecedented” for the NRA, which did not endorse John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 until October.

    The NRA has backed its enthusiasm for Trump with massive spending -- even as other conservative groups have backed off. In August, The New York Times reported that “Donald J. Trump’s candidacy has driven away throngs of Republican elected officials, donors and policy experts. But not the National Rifle Association.” Calling the NRA “the institution on the right most aggressively committed to his candidacy, except for the Republican National Committee itself,” the Times reported, “The association has spent millions of dollars on television commercials for Mr. Trump, even as other Republican groups have kept their checkbooks closed and Mr. Trump’s campaign has not run any ads of its own.”

    Indeed, according to FEC filings viewed on October 13, the NRA has spent the second most of any organization on independent expenditures opposing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and supporting Trump, behind only pro-Trump super PACs:

    Because the NRA spends with two committees -- the NRA Institute for Legislative Action and the NRA Political Victory Fund -- the figures above do not even represent total NRA spending on the 2016 presidential race. According to NBC News, the committees have spent a combined $21 million so far attempting to elect Trump. In contrast, the NRA spent  $12 million trying to elect Romney in 2012 in a spending campaign the gun group termed “all in.”  

    The largest pro-Trump NRA ad buy to date -- reportedly worth $6.5 million -- could not have come at a worse time. On October 5, the NRA released an ad that falsely claimed Hillary Clinton opposed the notion that “every woman has a right to defend herself with a gun if she chooses.” The ad featured a woman who defended herself with a gun against a violent attacker.

    On October 6, the NRA predicted the ad would give Trump a “big boost” in an article in its online magazine, touting “the largest advertising push to date for the National Rifle Association’s support of the Trump campaign":

    The next day, The Washington Post released a video of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, sending his campaign into a free fall. Following the release of that tape, numerous women have come forward accusing Trump of more sexual assaults.

    Following these revelations, it is unclear what the NRA will do, having already invested so much money into the race and already touted themselves as "the key" to delivering the election for Trump. According to the NRA’s upcoming election edition of its magazine America’s 1st Freedom, the gun group shows no sign of backing down, with the group’s leadership setting Trump up as necessary to “save our freedom”: