Right-wing media have spent nearly a decade making false claims about birth control -- and now those falsehoods have found their way into the mouths of Supreme Court justices.
The Supreme Court on March 25 heard consolidated arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage based on the owners' personal religious beliefs, a radical revision of First Amendment and corporate law. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue they should not be forced by the government to provide their employees insurance which covers certain forms of contraception, because they believe those types of birth control can cause abortions.
The owners are wrong. Medical experts have confirmed they are wrong, repeatedly and strenuously, including experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology. The contraceptives Hobby Lobby objects to -- which include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term contraceptives like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) -- delay an egg from being fertilized, and as the former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA noted, "their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."
Despite this overwhelming medical evidence, the myth that some of the contested forms of birth control are "abortifacients" has gone all the way to the Supreme Court -- and now has been repeated by some of the justices themselves. During the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to a point made by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the lawyer for the government, by referring to "birth controls ... that are abortifacient."
JUSTICE SCALIA: You're talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That's not terribly expensive stuff, is it?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, to the contrary. And two points to make about that. First, of course the -- one of the methods of contraception they object to here is the IUD. And that is by far and away the method of contraception that is most effective, but has the highest upfront cost and creates precisely the kind of cost barrier that the preventive services provision is trying to break down.
Justice Stephen Breyer, while describing the position of the Hobby Lobby owners, also referred to "abortifacient contraceptives."
This misunderstanding matters because it could determine the outcome of the case. In order to win, a majority of justices may have to understand there is a compelling government interest in facilitating equal access to contraceptives across health insurance plans. It is an entirely different and more difficult question if the justices examine whether there is a compelling interest in the government facilitating access to abortion. Even though federal law explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion and these birth control methods are not abortifacients, if the justices mistakenly think abortion is involved, this case becomes far more dangerous.
So whether the employees of for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are guaranteed access to basic preventative health care could ultimately come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether for-profit companies are considered religious persons, a drastic change to constitutional corporate law, could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether the rights of gay and lesbian employees are respected, and whether taxes, vaccines requirements, minimum wage, overtime laws are all upheld could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions.
This simple lie about birth control could set up a chain of events that drastically alter health care by rewriting First Amendment and corporate law in this country -- and it's a lie that comes straight from the media, who have been pushing it for almost a decade.
Studies came out as early as 2004 pushing back on the idea that Plan B caused abortions, but Media Matters has repeatedly noted the tendency of journalists to get their facts wrong when addressing the issue. In 2005, CNN host Carol Costello gave a platform to a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills because she thought they were equivalent to "chemical abortion." In 2007, Time magazine called the morning-after pill "abortion-inducing," while an AP article pushed the false Republican claims that emergency contraception destroys "developing human fetuses." In 2010, The Washington Times repeatedly equated emergency contraception to abortion.
And there was Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist who in 2011 released videos heavily edited to deceptively portray practices at Planned Parenthood clinics, and who has equated contraception to "abortion-inducing drugs" which she claims exploit women. Rose and her mentor, James O'Keefe, defended their manipulation and falsification of evidence as "tactics" against the "genocide" of abortion, and she was supported and promoted on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity's America, The Glenn Beck Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, while her work was been featured by Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and National Review.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and medical experts including the Institute of Medicine recommended including comprehensive coverage for contraception as part of the preventative care provisions, right-wing media freaked out, calling it "immoral" and "a way to eradicate the poor." Fox News ignored the overwhelming support for the resulting contraception policy, instead pretending that Catholic hospitals and employers were being victimized -- even as exemptions and accommodations were included for churches and religious nonprofits. By 2012, Fox News' Michelle Malkin was referring to the contraception regulations as an "abortion mandate." Now, right-wing media figures have used the Hobby Lobby case and others to bring back this lie, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, while Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have become particularly fond of discussing these "abortifacients."
As Media Matters has previously explained, right-wing talking points demonizing birth control made their way into the amicus briefs presented to the court before the case was even argued, and Justice Scalia in particular has been known to repeat verbatim right-wing myths, such as the dubious idea that if the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the federal government could ultimately require consumers to purchase broccoli.
But the presence of the "abortifacient" lie during oral arguments takes this worrying tendency to a new level, raising the prospect that right-wing media's lies could potentially determine the outcome of a crucial case for religious and corporate law, hugely damaging reproductive rights in the process. If women lose the guarantee for their basic preventative health care, and corporations are granted even more flexibility as "persons" with religious rights, right-wing media will be partly to blame.
From the January 22 edition of CNN's Crossfire:
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The anti-abortion rights group Live Action released today an undercover video claiming to reveal "illegal and inhuman practices" at an abortion clinic in New York City, and accused a doctor at the clinic of committing murder. The video reveals nothing of the sort, and actually undermines Live Action's baseless allegations that the clinic is performing illegal procedures and endangering the lives of patients.
Live Action and its founder, Lila Rose, have a long, disreputable history of perpetrating hoaxes and concocting false allegations against abortion rights supporters, Planned Parenthood in particular. This latest "undercover video" project is timed to coincide with the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider facing multiple murder charges resulting from the monstrous and horrific procedures he is alleged to have carried out under the guise of women's reproductive health.
The Live Action video depicts a woman at Dr. Emily Woman's Health Center in the Bronx inquiring after an abortion in the 23rd week of her pregnancy -- a procedure that is legal in New York State. The woman speaks to both a clinician and a counselor at the facility, and the video is edited down to make it appear as though the clinician describes a procedure in which a baby that survives an abortion is killed using a toxic solution.
Based solely on this exchange, Live Action claimed that the doctor who performs abortions at the clinic "has violated" the state's law against murder in the first degree and called on the state's attorney general to launch a homicide investigation. But Live Action edited out from the video the portion in which the clinician makes clear that the situation they're talking about has never happened in her experience and the discussion is hypothetical, and the video shows the counselor explaining to the woman that the doctor would have to resuscitate the baby if that situation did occur.
Despite these flaws, the Live Action video has already been written up by the the New York Post, the Daily Caller, and Michelle Malkin's Hot Air. The story has spread to Fox News and will likely offer grist for other conservative outlets that have been using the Gosnell trial to attack legal abortion.
Anti-choice activist Lila Rose's campaign to stoke fears that America faces an epidemic of sex-selection abortion sputtered once again, as Rose released another video that utterly failed to alter the fact that sex-selection abortion is not a growing problem.
Rose and her group, Live Action, released a video showing a woman posing as a patient at abortion clinics in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. As with Live Action's previous videos, the fake patients claim that they want to have an abortion because the fetus is female and discuss their options.
Live Action is trying to use these videos to distort the reality about sex-selective abortion in America -- facts show that it is rare:
Rose's barrage of videos has coincided with an effort by House Republicans to outlaw some abortions on the false premise that sex selection is widespread problem. The end result of the movement behind the legislation, which was voted down, would be to eliminate abortion rights entirely.
Earlier today, anti-choice activist Lila Rose and her group Live Action released a heavily edited video designed to falsely portray a Planned Parenthood employee as having helped an activist posing as a patient get an abortion because of the sex of the fetus. While the edited video includes less than seven minutes of clinic footage, the full video runs for a more than an hour, and the activist's encounter with the employee featured in the video lasts for more than 30 minutes.
So, what did Live Action edit out of the finished product? That the Planned Parenthood employee brought up the idea of giving the child up for adoption, that the employee declined to refer the activist to an OB/GYN who "would be understanding of [the activist's] situation," and that the employee repeatedly noted that the activist's decision about whether to have a sex-selective abortion would be hers alone.
Despite Live Action's suggestions in the edited video, at no point did the Planned Parenthood employee encourage the activist to undergo a sex-selective abortion.
A Fox News promo indicates that tonight's edition of The O'Reilly Factor will answer the question of whether journalists are conspiring to "silence" the manufactured attack on Planned Parenthood that is being ginned up by anti-choice activist Lila Rose and her group Live Action:
VOICEOVER: Press protection of Planned Parenthood? Has the media intentionally silenced the story about the group's gender-specific abortion counseling?
If "the media" -- in Foxspeak, that means "every outlet other than Fox" -- chooses not to cover Rose's videos, perhaps it's because there is no story. Statistics show that sex-selective abortion simply does not happen with any regularity in the United States, as the vast majority of abortions are performed before gender is detectable, and the gender birth ratio in America is close to even. The videos Live Action has released thus far do not show a pattern of Planned Parenthood encouraging women to have sex-selective abortions.
What's really at work here is the Fox Cycle. As we've documented, this is a strategy Fox News uses to help right-wing activists and fringe figures catapult bogus stories into mainstream outlets.
Anti-choice activist Lila Rose and her group Live Action have released an undercover video of an activist in New York City pretending to want to abort a fetus if it's not a male. This is part their effort to manufacture evidence that Planned Parenthood facilitates gender-based abortion -- even though statistics show that sex-selective abortion simply does not happen with any regularity in the United States, as the vast majority of abortions are performed before gender is detectable, and the gender birth ratio in America is close to even.
In the video, the activist tells an employee at a Planned Parenthood clinic that her fetus "looks like it's gonna be a girl, another girl," and "we'd really like to have a son." The employee gives the activist advice on prenatal care and testing, and she explains the services the clinic offers.
Despite Live Action's suggestion, at no point is the Planned Parenthood employee in the video shown encouraging the phony Live Action "patient" to undergo a sex-selective abortion -- in fact, the employee specifically states that "it's not up to us to decide what is a good or bad reason for somebody to decide to terminate a pregnancy."
This is in line with Planned Parenthood's stated policy: "no Planned Parenthood clinic will deny a woman an abortion based on her reasons for wanting one, except in those states that explicitly prohibit sex-selective abortions (Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois)."
Sex-selective abortion is not something that exists in real life in America to any notable degree. But you won't hear that from Lila Rose, who has declared it her mission to "take out Planned Parenthood." And don't expect to hear that from those in the right-wing media who uncritically hype Rose's hoax videos and dishonest activism, of whom Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin are merely the latest.
Discredited anti-choice activist Lila Rose went on The O'Reilly Factor to push her latest hoax video attacking Planned Parenthood. Rose and host Bill O'Reilly want people to think that, in the words of Rose's group, Planned Parenthood is complicit in "widespread sex-selection by means of abortion." In fact, Planned Parenthood has stated that it "finds the concept of sex selection deeply unsettling" and the organization "does not offer sex determination services; our ultrasound services are limited to medical purposes."
Furthermore, Huffington Post reported that Planned Parenthood "condemns seeking abortions on the basis of gender, but its policy is to provide 'high quality, confidential, nonjudgmental care to all who come into' its health centers."
O'Reilly and Rose mentioned none of this. Instead, they aired footage from Rose's hoax video of a person walking into a Planned Parenthood office and pretending to be a patient. O'Reilly and Rose pretended that the actions of the employee were representative of the organization. O'Reilly even asked "Are we now China in this country? If Planned Parenthood is advising woman to abort because of gender choice, then we are China. And you should remember that the next time a politician or famous person endorses Planned Parenthood."
But Planned Parenthood has said that the staff member highlighted in the video was terminated "within three days of this patient interaction" and that "all staff members at this affiliate were immediately scheduled for retraining in managing unusual patient encounters."
Also unmentioned by O'Reilly and Rose is that fact that statistics show no evidence of systematic sex-selection abortion, since the majority of abortions are performed before the gender can be identified, and the gender-birth ratio in the United States is almost even.
Maybe that's because once the facts are known, Rose's and O'Reilly's attacks fall apart.
Planned Parenthood responded this morning to discredited conservative activist Lila Rose's bogus "gendercide" attack on the organization, stating that the staffer shown in the "hoax patient encounter" was fired after the incident and that the organization "condemns seeking abortions on the basis of gender." From The Huffington Post:
A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman told The Huffington Post on Tuesday the staffer in the video "did not follow our protocol" for dealing with "a highly unusual patient scenario."
"Planned Parenthood insists on the highest quality patient care, and if we ever become aware of a staff member not meeting these high standards we take swift action," she said in a written statement. "Within three days of this patient interaction, the staff member's employment was ended and all staff members at this affiliate were immediately scheduled for retraining in managing unusual patient encounters. Today opponents of Planned Parenthood are promoting an edited video of that hoax patient encounter."
This spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America also told The Huffington Post that the organization condemns seeking abortions on the basis of gender, but its policy is to provide "high quality, confidential, nonjudgmental care to all who come into" its health centers. That means that no Planned Parenthood clinic will deny a woman an abortion based on her reasons for wanting one, except in those states that explicitly prohibit sex-selective abortions (Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois).
In material accompanying the highly edited video, Live Action claimed that this proved Planned Parenthood is facilitating rampant "gendercide" in America. But statistics show that sex-selection does not happen with any regularity in the United States, as the vast majority of abortions are performed before gender is detectable, and the gender birth ratio in America is close to even.
Discredited anti-choice activist Lila Rose launched her latest video hoax, claiming that a highly edited video proves that Planned Parenthood is facilitating rampant "gendercide" in America. But statistics show that sex-selection simply does not happen with any regularity in the United States, as the vast majority of abortions are performed before gender is detectable, and the gender birth ratio in America is close to even.
Rose on Tuesday released undercover footage purporting to show a clinic worker in Austin, Texas, discussing health care options with a woman who claimed to want to terminate her pregnancy if she was carrying a girl. Live Action's accompanying petition suggests that Planned Parenthood is complicit in "Widespread sex-selection by means of abortion." This video hoax is part of a campaign aimed at "exposing the practice of sex-selective abortion in the United States and how Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry facilitate the selective elimination of baby girls in the womb."
But the first video demonstrates that Rose can show no such effort to facilitate rampant sex-selection abortion.
The Huffington Post reported on April 23 that Planned Parenthood has "reason to believe that anti-abortion activists are targeting it in a new organized sting operation" after a "string of suspicious incidents" at clinics across the country. According to the report, local clinics received "hoax visits" from women seeking "sex-selective abortions," putting Planned Parenthood officials on alert, especially after being the target of a deceptive smear campaign last year by anti-abortion activist group Live Action and its leader, Lila Rose.
While Live Action has not been connected to these recent incidents, in early 2011, Live Action released a video attempting to expose what the group described as "Planned Parenthood's cover-up of child sex trafficking." But that claim was quickly discredited after it was revealed that Planned Parenthood employees had already reported the "potential sex trafficking" incidents to law enforcement officials.
But despite Live Action's damaged reputation, conservative blog Big Government greeted the news of a possible new Live Action smear campaign by promoting the group's year-old, discredited charges, claiming the group "exposed victims" of "sex-trafficking."
From the April 24 Big Government post:
Planned Parenthood is worried that they may be targeted and outed again, this time for performing sex-selection abortions. They are accusing Lila Rose, the head of Live Action, the pro-life group that exposed victims of rape and sex-trafficking hiding their pregnancies by abortions through Planned Parenthood, of sending volunteers to various Planned parenthood clinics to ask about aborting a fetus because it's a girl.
Big Government's effort to promote a possible new Live Action smear campaign while hiding the group's past failures should come as no surprise. The blog heavily promoted similarly deceptive hidden-video campaigns by Rose's mentor, James O'Keefe, even after O'Keefe's accusations were debunked.
Live Action, the anti-abortion group headed by Lila Rose, has released a new video purporting to show a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin, Texas "encouraging a woman to obtain a late-term abortion because she was purportedly carrying a girl and wanted to have a boy." In light of the new video, Media Matters reviews Rose and Live Action's previous videos smearing Planned Parenthood, Rose's conservative activism, and her history with discredited activist James O'Keefe.
From the February 3 edition of KFTK's The Dana Show:
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From the July 1 Fox News special What's Great About America with John Stossel:
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Appearing on Fox News to push her most recent attack on Planned Parenthood, Lila Rose claimed that abortions are how Planned Parenthood of Indiana "makes money." In fact, abortions account for only an estimated 16 percent of its total annual revenue in 2010.