The legacy of the conservative media's long campaign to push abortion myths and turn a blind eye to the opinions of medical experts is being felt in 43 states, where Republican legislation restricting abortion access has surged in the first quarter of 2015.
According to an April 2 report from the Guttmacher Institute, the first few months of 2015 have seen 332 provisions to restrict access to abortion introduced in the legislatures of nearly every state. The anti-choice measures included many provisions roundly condemned by the medical experts, including measures to restrict abortion services at 20 weeks of pregnancy and during the second trimester, as well as bills "seeking to impose targeted regulations on abortion providers" (or TRAP laws). The high number of abortion-related state-level legislation introduced so far in 2015 follows a trend of Republican-led state legislatures sweeping in a record number of abortion restrictions following electoral gains in 2010:
Conservative media have long championed the anti-abortion rhetoric behind such legislation, ignoring medical experts who point out such measures are based on medically inaccurate or outright false information, and that these regulations harm women.
In January, after House Republicans dropped plans to vote on a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, several conservative media figures lashed out, attacking female members who objected to the bill and dismissing the legitimate health concerns experts say lead women to choose the procedure.
And despite women's health experts like the American College of Obstetricians (ACOG) and Gynecologists statements that TRAP measures such as hospital admitting privileges are "medically unnecessary" and "jeopardize the health of women," conservative media nonetheless asserted that such restrictions "ensure safety" and deemed those who oppose them "executioners." They have even pushed discredited claims of a "post-abortion syndrome," the idea that choosing to have an abortion causes subsequent mental illness, ignoring experts at the American Psychological Association who make clear that there is "no evidence" that a single abortion "causes mental health problems."
Now a new crop of medically inaccurate falsehoods perpetrated by conservative media are threatening to translate into even more anti-abortion legislation. In both Arkansas and Arizona, new laws in the state will force doctors to tell patients that abortions can be "reversed" mid-procedure. But as The Washington Post reported, "abortion-rights groups and many doctors" say such rhetoric is based on "junk science" and condemned by women's health experts like ACOG:
But the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) was among those arguing against the measures, saying claims of "reversal" are unsupported by medical evidence.
"Claims of medication abortion reversal are not supported by the body of scientific evidence, and this approach is not recommended in ACOG's clinical guidance on medication abortion," says an ACOG fact sheet on the Arizona law.
Lawmakers in Kansas also recently passed a measure health experts say is "dangerous for some women," signing restrictions on dilation and evacuation procedures, a commonly used technique for second trimester abortions, on April 7. As The New York Times reported, similar bills are also "nearing passage in Oklahoma, and others have been proposed in Missouri, South Carolina and South Dakota." The measures' indifference to the opinions of health experts followed the conservative media's playbook of ignoring science and risking harm to women for ideological gain.
At the beginning of last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set in motion his plan to pressure Democrats to vote on the existing version of The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act without changes: he'd hold hostage the vote to confirm Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch.
Legislators from both parties overwhelmingly support the trafficking bill. But Senate Democrats oppose a provision added to the trafficking bill by Republican Senator John Cornyn that would apply the Hyde Amendment -- a legislative rider that has been attached to appropriations bills for decades that prevents the use of certain taxpayer dollars for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother -- to a victim's fund established by the legislation. Because the victims' fund would be paid for with both private dollars and federal funds, the Cornyn provision would therefore expand the scope of the Hyde Amendment; for the first time it would make private funding streams subject to federal restrictions.
Having filibustered the bill three times and blocked a Cornyn proposal to funnel the victims' fund through the appropriations process (where the Hyde Amendment would automatically apply), democrats made it clear they were not budging. At the same time conservatives were losing the argument against allowing a vote on the Lynch nomination as even former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined the calls to confirm her.
As you'd expect, while the right-wing media has long been opposed to Lynch, it shifted gears to focus on the trafficking legislation. Dog whistles sounded as not-altogether-accurate arguments worked to turn the once non-partisan human sex trafficking issue into a battle over abortion rights.
The emerging narrative falsely suggested that Democrats were trying to use taxpayer funds for abortion. The Federalist asserted democrats' filibuster was proof that the party is controlled by the "abortion lobby" saying, "the abortion lobby opposes this bill because it doesn't provide public funding for elective abortions." A report on Breitbart News blamed "abortion industry groups" for pressuring lawmakers to reject the legislation fearing that the legislation would put "the case for taxpayer funding of abortion at risk."
In their criticism of Democrats, some pretended that the abortion language was just an extension of "longstanding federal policy," while others noted the expansion of the Hyde Amendment to private funding streams, but downplayed the significance that shift could have in setting a new precedent.
Fox News' Dana Perino left out the expansion when she recently said that Democrats are "jerks" on the trafficking issue because Hyde language is even in the Affordable Care Act (which, unlike the victims' fund, is funded through the appropriations process). However, the Affordable Care Act is included in the appropriations process while the trafficking legislation is not.
In The Wall Street Journal, conservative commentator Kimberly Strassel noted the language expansion, but downplayed its significance in part because as Senate Republicans have said, the language had been in the bill all along and was approved on a bipartisan basis in committee. Democrats have said that at the time they were not aware of the change (the House version contained no such provision); regardless, while its unclear exactly when they knew, they now know in time to stop the bill from moving forward.
It's the men, women, and children who survive sex trafficking who have been largely absent in the conversation about why it matters if the Hyde Amendment is applied to the victims' fund in the trafficking bill. More than 100,000 American children and teens are victims of sex trafficking, according to a recent PBS report. Anti-trafficking advocates estimate the domestic number could be as high as 300,000, noting that there are 2.8 million kids (half are girls) who are living on the streets and are among the most vulnerable to sex traffickers. But it can happen to anyone, of any race or socio-economic background; rural, urban, or suburban.
Fox's Dana Perino lashed out at Senate Democrats, calling them "jerks" for preventing a Republican attempt to expand the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of taxpayer funded abortions, to include fees collected from criminal human traffickers. Republicans' latest anti-abortion manuever now jeopardizes the passage of a bipartisan anti-human trafficking bill.
The Justice For Victims of Trafficking Act, a bipartisan anti-human trafficking bill once fast-tracked for approval is now on hold after Senate Democrats discovered language in the bill "that would extend the longstanding Hyde Amendment barring the use of taxpayer funds for abortions to the new Domestic Trafficking Victims' Fund," according to the Washington Post. Senate Republicans have demanded that the bill, which would establish a fund for victims of human trafficking using money collected through fines levied against convicted smugglers, "be subject to the limitations" outlined in the Hyde Amendment.
During the March 12 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Dana Perino chided Senate Democrats for demanding the removal of the anti-abortion language from the bill, claiming that "the human trafficking bill is not moving forward today because Democrats are jerks on this issue":
Currently, the Hyde Amendment only forbids federal tax dollars from funding abortions. The Washington Post explained that although the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act does not specifically mention the word "abortion," the Hyde Amendment language would apply "to the new fund, which is supported by a proposed $5,000 assessment on those convicted of a wide variety of federal crimes related to sexual abuse and human trafficking." Furthermore, the anti-abortion language in the bill, unlike the Hyde Amendment which must be renewed each year, would be permanent, leaving trafficked victims of sexual violence cut off from abortion related services.
Conservative media attacked House Republicans for dropping plans to vote on a bill that included a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and attacked the female members, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who objected to the bill.
The right-wing media misinformation behind the 231 restrictions on abortion passed by state legislatures in the last four years has found its way into Congressional Republicans' latest strategy to roll back abortion rights nationally. Medical experts agree that such anti-choice legislation is often based on medically inaccurate or outright false information and that these regulations harm women. Here are the facts behind the myths underpinning the GOP's war on abortion rights.
Conservative media personalities have long ignored the public's overwhelming support for wider access to birth control, instead pushing long debunked myths that birth control is cheap and easy to access, is only about preventing pregnancies, and can cause abortion.
Here are the facts behind right-wing media's three biggest myths about birth control:
A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
Media are promoting Republican gains in the House and Senate in Tuesday's midterm elections as evidence that the country has shifted to the "center-right" on political issues, despite the fact that ballot initiatives and national polling reveal broad support for progressive positions.
National Public Radio's Morning Edition presented falsehoods about Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner (CO) as fact, misrepresenting his extreme policy positions on reproductive rights in a discussion on the battle for the women's vote in the midterm elections.
Fox News expressed outrage over a recently launched online course geared toward clinicians, health care workers, and students aimed at addressing the gaps in knowledge about safe, legal abortion. While Fox demands the course include abortion opponents' perspective, the network ignores the necessity of increasing knowledge about the legal but widely stigmatized and under-served procedure.
The University of California San Francisco recently launched a new online course to "address abortion care from both clinical and social perspectives." The course, "Abortion: Quality Care and Public Health Implications" will be taught under the university's Innovating Education in Reproductive Health program, and has the aim to "fill in the gaps left by the exclusion of abortion from mainstream curricula."
Fox's Adam Housley reported on the university's "web-based class focused on abortion," on the October 21 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, blasting the class as "propaganda" and lamenting that the publicly funded university is offering the "controversial" course. Housley's report accused the university of launching the course as a tool of propaganda aiming "to get into the minds of younger people" and "to get them interested to want to do abortions." Host Bill O'Reilly concluded that the course is an "in your face to all Californians who believe that abortion may be morally wrong" because it doesn't include anti-abortion perspectives for "balance":
From the October 21 edition of Fox News' Special Report With Bret Baier:
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National Review Online's Ian Tuttle disregarded history when dismissing fears that "personhood amendments" and fetal-homicide laws could open the door to criminal prosecutions for women who have miscarriages or abortions. Women have already been prosecuted for miscarriages in several states, and personhood advocates are explicitly pushing to end legal abortion.
In an October 21 article, Tuttle wrote that "liberals are lying about personhood amendments" like Colorado's proposed Amendment 67, which would define "'person' and 'child' in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings." Tuttle asserted that opponents are mischaracterizing personhood amendments to claim they would make abortion illegal and allow the prosecution of women who have had miscarriages:
That is the talking point of opponents such as Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and Vote No 67, the main opposition campaign, which says that "any woman who suffers a miscarriage would be open to investigation for murder."
This feverish scenario runs contrary to both experience and law.
Since 2006, Alabama has defined "person" in its homicide statute to include "an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability." No women have been investigated for miscarriages in Alabama. Or in Alaska, where a similar law also took effect in 2006. Or in Kentucky (2004). Or in North Dakota (1987). Or others.
But Tuttle ignored the fact that similar state laws have already been used to prosecute women -- in Indiana, a woman who attempted to commit suicide while eight months pregnant was charged with murder. In fact, in Alabama, cited by Tuttle as an innocent actor, the judiciary is no stranger to interpreting the law in a way that pushes a personhood agenda. In that state, two women were prosecuted for endangering their unborn children by ingesting illicit drugs during their pregnancies, even though their "behavior ... was not intended to be criminalized when the Legislature enacted the chemical-endangerment statute." According to RH Reality Check, these laws are increasingly "misused by overzealous prosecutors and judges to trample women's rights in favor of the nebulous personhood rights of fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses."
Tuttle also waved off concerns that Colorado's personhood amendment would effectively prohibit abortion, despite the fact that the Colorado amendment was proposed by Personhood USA's state chapter Personhood Colorado, a group explicitly pushing to end legal abortion:
And as in the Alabama Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Hamilton v. Scott in 2012, reaffirming Alabama's inclusion of unborn persons in its homicide statutes, the constitutional protections to abortion afforded by Roe v. Wade would almost certainly be read into Colorado's law. A "woman's right to terminate her pregnancy" (Roe's language) is not explicitly exempted from criminal prosecutions, but this is likely, as a practical matter, unnecessary.
The very case Tuttle cites has been described as an explicit roadmap for overturning Roe v. Wade. As ProPublica explained, the judge who authored the opinion in Hamilton is "a pivotal figure in the so-called personhood movement" who wrote that "a centerpiece of Roe -- that states cannot ban abortion before the point of viability -- was 'arbitrary,' 'incoherent,' and 'mostly unsupported by legal precedent.'"
George Will dismissed Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner's support for federal fetal personhood legislation that would outlaw abortions and some birth control measures nationwide, suggesting that Gardner's position is irrelevant because the legislation has "zero chance of passing."
In his October 17 syndicated column, Will sought to neutralize some of the most controversial parts of Gardner's record: his past support for a statewide personhood bill in Colorado and current co-sponsorship of the Life At Conception Act in Congress:
Gardner favors over-the-counter sales of oral contraceptives. In addition to being common sense, Gardner's proposal is his way of making amends for formerly advocating a state constitutional "personhood" amendment (it is again on the ballot this year and will be decisively rejected for a third time) and for endorsing similar federal legislation that has zero chance of passage. By defining personhood as beginning at conception, these measures might preclude birth control technologies that prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg.
While Gardner has denied that the federal bill is personhood legislation that would broadly roll back women's reproductive rights, independent fact-checkers and leading health organizations say he is wrong. The language of the Life At Conception Act would give rights to a "preborn human person," which is defined as "each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being."
Will's defense of Gardner's record on personhood is in line with The Denver Post editorial board's October 10 endorsement Gardner, which pardoned his history of opposing marriage equality and abortion rights. National women's group NARAL: Pro-Choice America blasted the Post for endorsing a candidate with positions "that deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances."
National women's organization NARAL: Pro-Choice America and MoveOn are calling out The Denver Post's recent endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner (CO), running a full-page ad in the paper's Sunday edition that highlights the Post's omission of Gardner's anti-choice policy positions that "deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances."
An October 17 announcement from NARAL: Pro-Choice America and MoveOn.org Political Action declared that the two organizations are teaming up in an effort to "rebuke" The Denver Post's recent "misguided endorsement" of Cory Gardner. Criticizing the news outlet for glossing over Gardner's extreme stance on personhood legislation as well as his positions on climate change and immigration, the organizations will run a full-page ad in the Post's Sunday edition as well as an online ad on DenverPost.com:
A hard-hitting, full-page ad from MoveOn.org Political Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America running inthis Sunday's Denver Post blasts the state's largest newspaper for endorsing Cory Gardner, a far-right candidate who holds views that deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances. MoveOn.org Political Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America are running the print ad as well as online ads on DenverPost.com.
The print ad highlights contrasts between previous positions from The Denver Post editorial board and Gardner's stance on issues including a woman's right to choose, global warming, and immigration reform.
Contrary to The Denver Post's refusal to hold Gardner accountable for his position on fetal personhood legislation, which would greatly infringe on women's access to health care and legal abortion, NARAL and MoveOn's recent ad follows the lead of other media figures unwilling to give Gardner's incomprehensible stance on personhood a pass.
A Colorado reporter called out Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner's efforts to conceal the fact that the federal personhood bill he co-sponsored would end abortion, a refreshing contrast to other media figures' refusal to hold Gardner accountable for his stance.
In the October 15 debate between Gardner and Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, Kyle Clark, a reporter for NBC-affiliate KUSA, pressed Gardner on his continued denial that the Life At Conception Act is a federal personhood bill that would effectively end abortion procedures, by granting human eggs at fertilization the rights of a living person. Clark emphasized the fact that Gardner is a co-sponsor of the bill, which independent fact checkers widely agree would end abortion, and asked what the candidate's denial says about his judgment and willingness to hide the truth:
CLARK: You continue to deny that the federal Life At Conception Act, which you sponsor, is a personhood bill to end abortion -- and we are not going to debate that here tonight because that's a fact. Your co-sponsors say so; your opponents say so; and independent fact-checkers say so. So let's instead talk about what this entire episode may say about your judgment more broadly. It would seem that a charitable interpretation would be that you have a difficult time admitting when you're wrong, and a less charitable interpretation is that you're not telling us the truth. Which is it?
Gardner's support for personhood legislation has previously been glossed over by many in the media. The Denver Post's editorial board endorsed the candidate by claiming he posed "no threat to abortion rights," a declaration that completely ignores Gardner's support of the federal personhood legislation that would severely handicap women's access to health care and legal abortion.
Syndicated Washington Post columnist George Will echoed the Denver Post's endorsement, claiming that the issue of reproductive rights had already been settled and would not be affected by Gardner's election.
Thankfully, as Clark made clear in his questioning of Gardner, not all media figures are willing to give Gardner a pass on his incomprehensible personhood stance.