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Julie Tulbert

Author ››› Julie Tulbert
  • Wash. Post health care reporter has a history of spreading misinformation about abortion

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On February 14, Washington Post health care reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham garnered significant attention for tweeting that it was “super weird how people are blaming their diminished sense of well-being on the Trump administration” when “personal events determine [her] quality of life; not who’s in the [White House].” Beyond this insensitive tweet, Winfield Cunningham also has a history of spreading right-wing misinformation about abortion and reproductive health in her reporting.

  • David Brooks gets everything wrong about abortion after 20 weeks

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After The New York Times published an op-ed by columnist David Brooks claiming Democrats need to support a 20-week abortion ban to remain electorally competitive, several media outlets and pro-choice groups wrote responses that called out Brooks’ inaccurate assumptions. These responses not only highlighted how 20-week bans are based on junk science, but also underscored how the reality of later abortions makes support for abortion access a winning issue for Democrats.

  • Wash. Post falls for anti-choice talking points and spin on abortion polling

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Washington Post attempted to explore millennials’ supposed support for abortion restrictions after 20 weeks, but instead pushed anti-choice talking points and failed to account for the intricacies and challenges of producing accurate polling on abortion.

    On January 29, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill that would have banned abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy -- a bill that is based on the scientifically unsound premise that fetuses feel pain by 20 weeks. The Washington Post published an article on January 31 that claimed the bill’s failure “may have offended” a demographic group “both parties are highly interested in winning: millennial voters.” The Post argued that millennials “view later-term abortions differently than abortions overall” by pointing to a Quinnipiac poll from January 2017 that allegedly showed “nearly half — 49 percent — of 18- to 34-year-olds said they would support” a 20-week abortion ban, but that the same group polled at only 9 percent support for the complete outlawing of abortion.

    Accordingly, the Post zeroed in the outrage of younger anti-abortion activists about the failed bill, explaining that the outlet thought that was where “some of the loudest criticism” was originating from. To support this, the Post pointed to a tweet from Lila Rose, the founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action and comments by Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America (SFLA). Hawkins told the Post, “For those Senators who voted against the bill, millennials will be asking how they can embrace such an inhumane procedure for infants who soon can survive outside the womb, and the pro-life generation will hold them accountable.” The article concluded, “The culture battle over abortion is not over — and will continue with the youngest generation of voters.”

    The Post published the anti-abortion talking points of Hawkins and Rose without providing any opposing viewpoints -- giving them free reign to advance their assertions. Beyond quoting Hawkins and Rose, some media outlets have given them a platform to repeat their disingenuous narrative that millennials do not support abortion rights and will ultimately be the group that successfully outlaws abortion. Abortion opponents like Hawkins and Rose often point to polling to support their assertions that millennials, and Americans in general, either want to restrict or completely ban abortion after 20 weeks. Although, the Post and many outlets may attempt to objectively explore Americans' opinions on abortion access, when they do so by relying on decontextualized polling data, such pieces can easily slip into a flawed framing that misrepresents the range of opinions on this topic.

    Polling on abortion should be nuanced and not rely on narrow categories or labels

    As Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained, although “abortion usually gets framed as a two-sided debate” that “Americans support abortion rights, or they don’t,” people “don’t live in this world of absolutes.” Kliff stated that “what most discourse [about abortion] misses is the nuance — the personal factors and situations that influence how each individual thinks about the issue.” Indeed, as Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at PerryUndem -- a public-opinion research firm -- wrote for Vox, her experience as a researcher and pollster demonstrated to her that on abortion, “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” According to Undem, most “standard measures” that firms and outlets use across the spectrum “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue:

    The standard measures ask respondents about when or in what cases abortion should be legal. The question wording and response categories vary across pollsters. But when collapsed into two categories — legal and illegal — you tend to get a divided public.

    [...]

    When it comes to "real life" views on the issue — how people actually experience abortion — the numbers get even more intriguing. Among people who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases, 71 percent said they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion, 69 percent said they want the experience of having an abortion to be nonjudgmental, 66 percent said they want the experience to be supportive, 64 percent want the experience to be affordable, and 59 percent want the experience to be without added burdens.

    [...]

    We need to ask questions about how the public views abortion policy — but do so in a more real and accurate way. We shouldn’t, for example, simply ask "Do you support or oppose recent restrictions to abortion?" when we know most people aren’t aware of any trend or what the restrictions might be.

    Kliff's and Undem's criticisms of standard polling methodologies should greatly influence how outlets interpret and deploy the findings of polling about abortion. For example, the Quinnipiac poll cited by the Post gave respondents a limiting set of categories to express whether they support legal abortion or not; those categories were whether abortion should be “legal in all cases,” “legal in most cases,” “illegal in most cases,” or “illegal in all cases.” As one public opinion research specialist told ThinkProgress, these categories and reductive labels, such as 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' “are ‘very superficial,’ particularly because researchers have known for quite some time that the ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ labels don’t accurately reflect the American public’s complicated attitudes about abortion.” Indeed, Vox found that when polls gave people options beyond selecting just ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ “about four in 10 Americans” rejected the binary labels, including 18 percent who chose both.

    Vox’s polling also found that Americans have a variety of misunderstandings about the actual realities of abortion, including the prevalence of abortion (they think it’s rarer than it is) and whether the procedure is safe (they inaccurately think it’s more dangerous than it is). Vox suggested that polling about specific laws restricting abortion access could be misleading if questions do not provide an explanation for what those laws entail. For example, before the Supreme Court decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, only 15 percent of people polled had heard about the case, but when a polling question explained that the law in dispute led to abortions clinics being closed in Texas, 65 percent respondents said the law put “an undue burden on women who are seeking an abortion.”

    Thus, giving people static categories to choose from to express their opinions about abortion -- particularly ones that are divorced from “how people actually experience” the procedure -- leads to misleading findings that are often misused by outlets, intentionally or not.

    Polling on support for 20-week abortion ban should reflect individualized reasoning for access to later abortions

    Right-wing media frequently push the idea that the majority of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban -- often relying on polling as evidence of their claims. However, just as questions asked in narrow categories often fail to accurately reflect Americans’ actual opinions on abortion access, polling that merely asks whether people support a 20-week ban similarly misrepresents public opinion on the matter in a way that unduly bolsters right-wing and anti-abortion claims.

    There’s a drastic drop in support for 20-week bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study on the Zika virus found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, that flipped when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus -- with results showing “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks” in that situation.

    In other words, as Hart Research Associates found, “Once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them.” Polling by PerryUndem also showed that people believe that the the power to decide when to have an abortion should be with the woman, her doctor, and the larger medical community -- and not determined by politicians.

    Reporting on abortion polling should reflect that individuals support abortions access because of the reality that people obtain abortions for a variety of personal reasons -- and that when polling considers the specifics of a person’s experience, respondents are far more likely to support greater access to abortion care.

    Media should avoid the dangerous strategy of incompletely reporting on abortion viewpoints, oversimplifying (whether intentionally or not) public opinion polling, or propping up figures who self-servingly tout this talking point, as the Post’s January 31 article ultimately did.

  • The most extreme right-wing reactions to Cecile Richards' departure from Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 24, BuzzFeed reported that Cecile Richards plans to step down as president of Planned Parenthood. Richards confirmed the news on January 26, saying she is departing the organization some time this year. Immediately, anti-abortion and right-wing media and groups took the opportunity to smear Richards and Planned Parenthood in a number of outlandish ways.

    • The Federalist inaccurately claimed that Richards was leaving “amid an ongoing federal investigation.” The story pointed as evidence to the Department of Justice’s procedural request to the Senate judiciary committee in December 2017 for documents related to the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos, which purport to show Planned Parenthood engaged in illicit practices.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews published a piece that quoted CMP’s founder David Daleiden who alleged that Richards was leaving because “the secret is out that Planned Parenthood is a taxpayer-sponsored crime syndicate of industrial-scale child killing."
    • On One America News’ Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler said that although some might refer to her as "a conspiracy theorist,” her previous segment “about the legacy of Cecile Richards” was “666 words exactly.” She made the same point on Twitter.
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue’s Senior Vice President Cheryl Sullenger -- who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- posted on social media a series of photoshopped images of Richards wearing an orange jumpsuit in a prison cell and used a variety of hashtags, such as #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon. Sullenger’s use of the hashtags was likely an attempt to connect Richards’ departure to the right-wing campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller and the conspiracy theory thread on 8chan message board, respectively.

    • The Stream, an outlet founded by televangelist James Robison, posted a story titled “Can Cecile Richards Live With All the Ghosts?”

    • The Daily Wire called Richards “Planned Parenthood’s chief maniacal ghoul” and stated that “we can only hope Cecile Richards returns swiftly to the obscurity of whichever cavern of Hell spawned her.” The image accompanying the article -- titled “3.5 Million People Are Dead Today Because Of Cecile Richards” -- depicted Richards with devil horns and tail, photoshopped on an ultrasound image of a fetus with a halo.

    • Fake news purveyor Conservative Tribune responded to news of Richards’ departure, commenting, “It takes a special kind of evil to go to sleep at night knowing babies are being killed under your watch.”
    • Catholic newspaper National Catholic Register published a blog post that asked, “Does Richards sleep well at night, or are sleeping pills required to stop the nightmares of babies’ souls that come to visit?”
    • After Hillary Clinton tweeted at Richards thanking her for her work, far-right blog The Gateway Pundit published a piece titled, “Hillary Clinton Thanks Planned Parenthood Pres Cecile Richards For Overseeing the Murder of Millions of Babies - Twitter Responds.”

  • The 5 worst takes from coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.

  • Crisis pregnancy centers hurt people, and it's time the media noticed

    In 2018, the Supreme Court will hear a case about regulating the deceptive practices of crisis pregnancy centers

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In 2018, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to a California law requiring crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- anti-abortion organizations that erroneously represent themselves as comprehensive reproductive care clinics -- to inform patients about their eligibility for low-cost reproductive health services, including abortion. If previous abortion-related cases are any indication, before the Supreme Court even hears oral arguments, media will be inundated with attempts by abortion opponents to downplay CPCs’ deceptive tactics and instead promote CPCs as harmless institutions simply trying to protect their freedom of speech.

    On November 13, the Supreme Court agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case that involves a California statute called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. Under California’s FACT Act, licensed CPCs are required to display a notice at their facility and in their advertising materials that states that California provides “immediate free or low-cost” reproductive services, which includes abortion. Unlicensed CPCs are required to post a notice that they are not a medical facility and do not have a medical professional doing on-site supervision. The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) -- which represents both licensed and unlicensed CPCs in California -- challenged the law as a violation of their CPCs' free speech rights to not promote abortion or contraceptives. The lower courts ruled in favor of upholding the state law, and the case is now before the Supreme Court.

    Although the case will likely not be decided until summer 2018, right-wing media have already started to spin the California law as an attack on CPC’s free speech rights, as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson did during a November 15 segment of his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight. According to Carlson, California is “forcing” CPCs “to provide information on how to get a state-subsidized abortion.” Carlson also incorrectly implied that CPCs should not be regulated because they are “not hurting anybody.”

    CPCs are deceptive organizations that often rely on fearmongering, deceptive advertising, and medical misinformation to scare or persuade individuals into continuing pregnancies. As proceedings around NIFLA v. Becerra ramp up in 2018, here are some of the harmful tactics and impacts of CPCs that media should not ignore.

    The impact and tactics of crisis pregnancy centers

    CPCs have a significantly negative impact on access to comprehensive reproductive health care

    CPCs fail to provide comprehensive reproductive health services

    CPCs don’t address the health care needs of those most requiring low-cost service

    CPCs employ a variety of tactics meant to deceive individuals seeking abortion

    Deceptive advertising

    In-clinic misinformation and tactics

    Media manipulation and outreach

    CPCs have a significantly negative impact on access to comprehensive reproductive health care

    CPCs fail to provide comprehensive reproductive health services

    CPCs often position themselves as providing a full set of comprehensive reproductive health care services. For example, The Weekly Standard wrote that CPCs have such services as “pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and testing for sexually transmitted infections,” “onsite prenatal programs,” and “material assistance” for low-income individuals. Similarly, abortion opponents often advocate that Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics are unnecessary because some CPCs provide identical or even better care for less money.

    In reality, many CPCs fail to provide the same range of services that Planned Parenthood and other clinics do -- and, yes, that list includes abortion. Broadly’s Callie Beusman detailed the services of one CPC in Hartford, CT, called Hartford Women’s Center, which provided “no STI testing, no well women exams, no prenatal care, no birth control,” although these were all services (in addition to abortion) available at the actual reproductive health clinic, Hartford GYN Center, next door. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) stated that CPCs “use deceptive practices to entice women into the center,” which “purposefully lead women to believe that they will receive comprehensive health information.” However, as NWLC’s explained:

    However, many of the over 4,000 CPCs in the United States have no licensed medical personnel and provide no referrals for birth control or abortion care. What is worse, they fail to disclose this to women who are seeking accurate and timely health information. Once women are in the door, CPCs then give misleading and false information about birth control, emergency contraception, and abortion care in order to stop women from using or obtaining these critical health care services. This undermines women’s ability to make informed decisions about their pregnancies.

    CPCs don’t address the health care needs of those most requiring low-cost services

    The inadequate care provided by CPCs exacerbates the lack of access to health services experienced by already vulnerable communities. This problem is compounded by the fact that some CPCs receive federal and state funding through both direct or indirect avenues, depriving programs dedicated to facilitating actual health care access of resources.

    As Reproaction’s Erin Matson and Pamela Merritt explained, “Not only do the individuals seeking information and services from crisis pregnancy centers suffer, communities as a whole pay the price.” As but one example, the authors pointed to Missouri where “funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are diverted to go toward the Alternatives to Abortion Program,” which allocates funding to CPCs. As they described, although Missouri “has the second-highest number of food-insecure residents in the country,” funds for TANF are instead diverted to the deceptive work of CPCs to the tune of $2 million in 2016 and at least $4.3 million in 2017. Missouri is not alone: When Vice President Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, he signed a contract giving part of the funding for TANF to the state’s Real Alternatives CPC program.

    Perhaps the most illustrative example of how CPCs can take millions in state funding without providing any comprehensive reproductive services for low-income people can be seen in the failure of The Heidi Group in Texas. In 2016, Texas awarded a $1.6 million contract to The Heidi Group -- an anti-abortion organization run by serial misinformer Carol Everett -- for the purpose of providing low-cost reproductive health care. As Rewire reported, “The Heidi Group had never before provided health care services,” and had “focused predominantly on supporting anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.” Unsurprisingly, despite promising to improve health care access, The Heidi Group directed the funding to CPCs, which were unable or unwilling to rise to the challenge. In 2017, the Associated Press reported that the efforts of The Heidi Group were “quietly sputtering” and that the organization had “little to show for its work.” As the Dallas Morning News stated, the group had “no fresh initiative of social media outreach, no overhaul of outdated clinic websites, no public service announcements, no 1-800 hotline to help low-income women find affordable services in their communities.” As a result, in August 2017, Texas took back some of the money awarded to The Heidi Group.

    Low-income individuals who rely on a CPC for either health care needs or material support could find that such services stop once they reach a certain point in pregnancy. Elite Daily spoke with one abortion clinic provider in Connecticut who detailed the story of a woman who went to a CPC and was “promised money, baby clothes, and furniture,” but “once she got to her 24th week of pregnancy, the point at which abortion is illegal in Connecticut,” the CPC “discontinued contact with her.” According to the provider, this situation was not “a rare occasion.”

    Beyond CPCs’ inconsistent support for low-income patients, some of these centers go out of their way to target communities of color. In a 2013 report, NWLC identified that some national associations of CPCs emphasize outreach to black communities because “of the high rates of abortion in certain communities” -- a statistic that gets used by abortion opponents to suggest that abortion providers are engaged in so-called “black genocide.” As NWLC explained, high rates of abortion are due to high rates of unintended pregnancy which “reflect widespread disparities in health outcomes and access to health care which are in turn influenced by social factors such as income, education, employment and earnings, and neighborhoods” -- inequalities not addressed by CPCs.

    Access to reproductive services is already complicated by recent attacks on Planned Parenthood funding, as well as wider clinic closures that “leave low-income women with few alternatives for reproductive and preventive health care.” In addition, because the Hyde Amendment restricts Medicaid funding for abortions except under limited circumstances, many low-income people are left without a means to pay for abortions, which can reach staggering out-of-pocket costs. As Jessica Arons, the former president of Reproductive Health Technologies explained, “Women of color are particularly burdened by the Hyde Amendment, as they are disproportionately represented among those living in poverty, enrolled in Medicaid and at the highest risk for unintended pregnancy.”

    CPCs employ a variety of tactics meant to deceive individuals seeking abortion

    Deceptive advertising

    CPCs begin their deception before people ever step into their clinics, using deceptive advertising to imitate abortion clinics.

    On November 8, the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the Massachusetts attorney general about a CPC called Attleboro Women’s Health Center (AWHC), which the watchdog said “masquerades as an abortion clinic.” The complaint alleged that despite the AWHC not offering any abortion care, the website was full of misinformation suggesting otherwise:

    AWHC hosts a website, the home page of which includes tabs for “Abortion Pill” and “Surgical Abortion.” The site even lists costs for these services. Hidden in a different portion of the site is a disclaimer noting AWHC does not “offer, recommend, or refer for abortions or abortifacients.” In addition, the website is riddled with exaggerations and inaccuracies regarding abortion, listing psychological risks associated with abortion and advertising an abortion reversal option, all of which has been debunked by medical experts.

    As Rewire noted before the complaint was filed, AWHC’s website also contained “a near-verbatim repetition of the stated mission of the abortion clinic nearby: ‘to empower women to make informed decisions that support their privacy, dignity and self-respect.’” Later, AWHC deleted this passage and other misleading claims from its website.

    AWHC’s advertising and imitation tactics are, unfortunately, not an anomaly. In another striking example, the anti-abortion organization Human Coalition (which both supports and runs CPCs) centered its mission on using “internet search engine marketing” to target what it calls “abortion-determined” people in order to redirect them from abortion clinics to one of its CPCs. Human Coalition places ads on Google using “keywords” that people seeking abortions might use to locate a clinic, even though Human Coalition does not provide and will not refer anyone for an abortion. Those ads direct people to landing pages that have Human Coalition’s call center number, where Human Coalition employees then try to dissuade them from abortion. Although Human Coalition has become particularly adept at this tactic, Broadly detailed a similar practice used by Heartbeat International (HBI) -- a national association of CPCs. As Broadly found, in its “2014 annual report, HBI boasted that ‘a woman who makes a Google search such as “pregnant and scared” finds a local Heartbeat International affiliate or Option Line in her search,’” even though Heartbeat International’s CPCs do not perform or refer for abortions.

    Efforts to remove deceptive ads placed by CPCs have seen mixed results. A December 2017 investigation by Rewire found that in a Google search “for ‘abortion’ in 40 randomly selected mid-sized and major U.S. cities” there was “at least one anti-choice fake clinic ad nearly 40 percent of the time.” After Rewire reached out to Google with this information, “a Google spokesperson said it had taken down ads that violated its policy, but couldn’t say how many CPC ads it had removed.”

    Even if patients do find their way to an actual abortion clinic, some CPCs are still able to reach them with targeted advertising and misinformation. In 2016, it was reported that advertising firm Copley Advertising was using geofencing to target those on their phones at abortion clinics and send them ads for CPCs. (Geofences are technological "fenced-in" area that advertisers use to ping smartphones with ads when people enter those areas.) As Rewire explained, a national association of CPCs, RealOptions, hired Copley Advertising “to send propaganda directly to a woman’s phone while she is in a clinic waiting room,” a tactic that “presents a serious threat to the privacy and safety of women exercising their right to choose, as well as to abortion providers and their staff.” In April 2017, Massachusetts reached a settlement with Copley Advertising that prohibited the company from geofencing around clinics, although, according to Rewire, Copley operates in other states as well, and it is unclear whether it is still using geo-fencing in those states.

    In-clinic misinformation and tactics

    Once patients seeking or thinking about abortion come to a CPC, staff then try to coerce, scare, or deceive them into carrying their pregnancies to term. Amanda Schwartz, who works at a reproductive justice non-profit in West Virginia, wrote in HuffPost that CPCs “offer ‘counseling,’ which essentially consists of an untrained volunteer asking probing questions and pressuring the person to carry their pregnancy to term.” Schwartz said that CPCs have “also been known to separate people from their clothes or personal belongings to make it more difficult for them to leave, tell people abortion causes breast cancer (it doesn’t), encourage people not to abort because the likelihood of miscarrying is so high (generally speaking, it isn’t), ‘schedule’ someone for an abortion to keep them from seeking real care and so much more.” Caitlin Bancroft, an intern for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, experienced this situation first-hand when she went undercover at a CPC. As Bancroft wrote for HuffPost, the “counseling” given to her at a CPC consisted largely consisted of probing questions designed to determine how to best dissuade her from seeking an abortion:

    As I sat there having my life probed, the purpose of the questions dawned on me. In case the test was positive, my “counselor” wanted to know which tactic to use to persuade me to continue the pregnancy — exactly where my resolve was the weakest. Was there a loving Christian boyfriend who would make a great dad? Did I have kind supportive parents who would be excited by the idea of a grandchild? I knew I wasn’t pregnant — knew exactly what she was doing — knew she wasn’t a doctor. But my body reacted instinctively to her questions with guilt and shame. It felt like a kick in the gut when she asked if I had told my brother about the baby, and I felt a creeping sense of selfishness as I imagined the door slamming on my shared apartment, my twenties, my life. Would my parents want me to have this child? Would it matter?

    Other CPCs may attempt to position themselves as legitimate, licensed medical centers. As journalist Meaghan Winter wrote for Cosmopolitan, when “confronted with criticism that they are running deceptive fake clinics, pregnancy center directors have begun acquiring medical equipment and affiliating with doctors and nurses who share their ideological message,” a trend Winter says pregnancy center counselors describe as “going medical.” This approach “allows centers to market themselves as a trusted source for health advice” about the alleged “health risks of abortion.” These types of CPCs, Winter explained, “often operate under the direction of unlicensed staff … and the license of a physician who doesn’t actually see clients at the center.” The centers also “generally … only offer ‘limited ultrasounds,’ meaning they can only confirm a pregnancy, not diagnose.”

    Beyond “going medical,” CPCs have increasingly attempted to rely on so-called “scientific” research in order to deter individuals from having an abortion. Human Coalition uses its CPCs “as laboratories to test everything from marketing techniques and counseling strategies to what color to paint the walls.” These efforts also included an experiment focused on “increasing a client’s perception of her baby as a unique person” by having pregnant patients listen to a muffled Adele song -- imitating how it might be heard in utero -- to help “establish this maternal-fetal bond.” Another anti-abortion organization the Vitae Foundation uses research to “help Vitae better understand the psychological dynamics that motivate women to feel the way they do about abortion” and “learn how to better communicate with those who may support abortion as a solution to an unwanted pregnancy and move them to a more life-affirming position.” Vitae Foundation shares the resulting data with CPCs “across the nation.”

    Media manipulation and outreach

    Beyond manipulating targeted digital advertisements, CPCs also engage in outreach through both traditional and new media platforms to bolster legitimacy for their claims of being “health care” providers.

    In early 2017, Human Coalition succeeded in placing two op-eds in The New York Times that espoused anti-abortion viewpoints. Media Matters found that Human Coalition had significantly increased its staff’s media appearances during 2016 before the op-eds were even published in the Times. In an August 2017 interview with Urban Family Talk’s Stacy on the Right, Human Coalition’s public relations manager Lauren Enriquez explained about how they’ve “kept up our media presence” after the The New York Times op-eds and “are still working with any paper that’s really willing to post our view.”

    CPCs also attempt to use “new media” for outreach by creating either their own platforms, outlets, or applications. In one example, Heartbeat International created its own media outlet, Pregnancy Help News, when its reliance on traditional publications proved insufficient for spreading the group’s misinformation. In another instance, California-based CPC chain Obria Medical Clinic created an app called “Obria Direct.” Obria’s founder Kathleen Eaton Bravo told Eternal World Television Network’s Pro-Life Weekly, a program created and sponsored by anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, that “abortion today is on the smartphone.” Bravo said she saw Obria as a “brand” that serves as “an alternative to Planned Parenthood.” Since Planned Parenthood already has an app for its California affiliates called “Planned Parenthood Direct,” Obria’s branding suggests its app is meant to emulate or replace legitimate reproductive care resources.

    CPCs will deceive and the media should remember that

    It should be noted that not every CPC engages in every one of these tactics. But regardless of how a CPC brands itself, one thing remains clear: CPCs do not perform or refer for abortions, and they will try a variety of tactics to deter individuals from obtaining one. Abortion is a personal choice, and should be treated as an essential option of comprehensive health care. As the Supreme Court debates and decides NIFLA v. Becerra in 2018, the media should call out CPCs when they use deceptive tactics, and resist promoting the inevitable right-wing spin that free speech of such organizations is being unduly impeded.

  • "Late-term" abortion is made up and so is Doug Jones' so-called abortion "extremism"

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After reports surfaced that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted and harassed several teenagers when he was in his 30s, right-wing media outlets rushed to characterize Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones as supporting “partial-birth” abortions, abortions up to the moment of birth, or so-called “late-term” abortions. Other outlets have adopted the right-wing media spin, claiming Jones is too “extreme” for Alabama voters.

  • Fox News is firing up the right-wing spin machine for the Supreme Court's new abortion case

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson fearmongered about a reproductive rights case that the Supreme Court just decided to hear -- signaling the start of another right-wing misinformation campaign about abortion.

    On November 13, the Supreme Court agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case that involves a California statute called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. Under California's FACT Act, licensed crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- which are anti-abortion organizations that represent themselves as reproductive care clinics -- are required to display a notice at their facility and in advertising materials which states, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women,” and directs people to call a number to determine if they qualify for such services. CPCs not licensed by the state of California are also required to post a notice stating that they are “not licensed as a medical facility” and that they have “no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.” The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) -- which represents both licensed and unlicensed CPCs in California -- challenged the law as a violation of CPCs' free speech rights to not promote abortion or contraceptives. The lower courts ruled in favor of upholding the state law and the case is now before the Supreme Court.

    The Supreme Court’s last major abortion case -- Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- involved a Texas law that placed, under the guise of supposedly protecting women’s health, medically unnecessary requirements on facilities that perform abortions. The Supreme Court ultimately found that the law created an undue burden on abortion access. While some outlets reported on the law’s substantial harmful effects after it caused many abortion facilities in Texas to close, right-wing outlets ignored its impact to push a myth that the measure was necessary to protect the health of those accessing abortion in the state.

    During a November 15 segment on the NIFLA v. Becerra case, Carlson defined California’s FACT Act as an attack on CPCs' freedom of speech -- rather than as a necessary restriction because many centers utilize deceptive tactics or medical misinformation to dissuade patients from having an abortion. During the segment, Carlson mischaracterized the law as “forcing” CPCs “to provide information on how to get a state-subsidized abortion” and said that it “would force pro-life centers to literally advertise and tell people who come in, ‘Hey, there is a free abortion waiting for you if you want one.’” Carlson also incorrectly implied that CPCs should not be regulated because they are “not hurting anybody.” Classifying facilities that offer abortion as part of “an industry,” Carlson said that the law “is really about an industry trying to shut down its opponents,” ultimately concluding that pro-choice advocates “worship” abortion “like a God.”

    Despite much grandstanding, Carlson failed to accurately describe either the factual basis of the California law or the nature of the lawsuit. (Carlson has a history of failing to accurately address abortion issues throughout his tenure as a prime-time Fox News host.) While Carlson described CPCs as “not hurting anybody,” they actually use multiple deceptive tactics to convince individuals to utilize their services, ultimately dissuading many considering abortion. A yearlong investigation by Cosmopolitan found CPCs “increasingly look just like doctor’s offices with ultrasound rooms and staff in scrubs. Yet they do not provide or refer for contraception or abortion. Many pregnancy-center counselors, even those who provide medical information, are not licensed.”

    As Teen Vogue reported, some CPCs also lie about state restrictions that prohibit abortion past a certain week of pregnancy and about the risks of abortions -- including making inaccurate claims that abortion makes a person infertile or causes breast cancer. Some CPCs also lie before people even get in the door -- posing as comprehensive reproductive care clinics or suggesting in their advertising that they offer abortion services or contraceptives, when in reality many CPCs provide neither. Some CPCs also receive direct funding from states. For example, Texas awarded a $1.6 million contract in 2016 to The Heidi Group, an organization led by anti-abortion extremist Carol Everett, for the purpose of providing low-income reproductive health services. Earlier this year, the Heidi Group was found to have failed to deliver on any of its proposals. On the federal level, Rewire found that the Trump administration has awarded “at least $3.1 million … to religiously affiliated organizations and crisis pregnancy centers.”

    Similarly, while Carlson decried the FACT Act as an attack on free speech, anti-abortion proponents have long pushed the so-called “informed” consent laws that often require medical providers to lie to patients about the risks of abortion, or provide them information with no basis in science, such as the viability of “abortion reversal” methods. Many have noted that if the Supreme Court's decision falls in favor of CPCs on free speech grounds, it could have unintended consequences for such efforts by the anti-choice movement. As Slate’s Dahila Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “If the FACT Act falls ... it would not necessarily be an unmitigated victory for abortion opponents” given the number of deceptive “informed consent” laws that various states have already passed.

    Although the Supreme Court just agreed to hear NIFLA v. Becerra, Carlson’s segment demonstrates that right-wing media are already gearing up to push misinformation about the case and support CPCs' efforts to block abortion access.

  • Lessons from coverage of the Trump administration's attempt to block an undocumented teen's abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media widely covered the case of an undocumented minor whom the Trump administration tried to stop from having an abortion this month. While Fox News focused on a made-up story that taxpayers are funding abortions of illegal immigrants, several other news outlets provided comprehensive coverage about the implications of the case, thus identifying key facets of the Trump administration’s extreme push against the right to an abortion.

    On October 18, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow abortion access to an undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who is being held in federal custody in Texas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had argued that the government was not impeding Doe’s access to an abortion because, as Mother Jones reported, she was “free to return to her home country for the procedure.” But the DOJ appealed the ruling to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which eventually ruled on October 24 that the government could not stop Doe from having an abortion. On October 25, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that Doe had successfully obtained an abortion.

    Doe was forced to jump through all of these legal hoops because, according to the ACLU, the Trump administration made a policy change in March 2017 that shelters could not take facilitate abortion access for minors in their care without “direction and approval” from the director of ORR, Scott Lloyd. The ACLU originally filed this lawsuit as a class action for all Jane Does in ORR’s custody who are seeking an abortion, and further litigation for the class is currently pending.

    Before the appeals court’s October 24 ruling, Vice News’ Antonia Hylton obtained an exclusive interview with Doe in which she emphasized her certainty about the decision to have an abortion.

    Beyond Vice News' interview, several media outlets highlighted crucial details of Doe’s case that will likely shape the course of abortion access as the Trump administration’s policies continue to follow an increasingly extreme trajectory. Here are four important points that media made about the case:

    HHS employs an anti-abortion extremist to look after undocumented minors

    Trump’s HHS is full of anti-abortion extremists like Charmaine Yoest, Teresa Manning, and Valerie Huber. But Doe’s case exposed another anti-abortion personality in the agency -- one who has direct control over the lives of pregnant minors in custody who may seek an abortion.

    During the October 20 edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow detailed the ways Scott Lloyd, the director of ORR, is pushing his anti-abortion agenda onto undocumented minors. According to Maddow, Lloyd “has argued forcefully” that anti-choice groups should not just focus on making abortion illegal in the U.S., but also on opposing the use of contraceptives. Maddow additionally pointed to allegations in Doe’s lawsuit that Lloyd “directed employees underneath him in his agency to tell girls’ parents about their pregnancies against the girls’ will" and that he had "directed federal employees to physically take girls to Christian counseling centers in Texas, so anti-abortion activists at those counseling centers could try to talk them out of having abortions.” Maddow concluded that Doe’s access to a doctor was “being blocked by an anti-abortion activist who somehow got this job that gave him the kind of personal individual control over women’s lives and bodies that he previously could have only dreamed about as an anti-abortion activist.”

    As Univision News’ Fernando Peinado further explained, Lloyd’s appointment to ORR “surprised many immigration activists and lawyers” since he has “little experience in immigration.” Peinado stated that Lloyd’s previous experience with refugees “was during his work as chief policy coordinator for the Knights of Columbus” -- a self-identified pro-life group that is popular with right-wing media -- where Lloyd worked with “Christian refugees and other minorities persecuted by the Islamic State in the Middle East.”

    BuzzFeed News’ Ema O’Connor linked Lloyd’s current actions with previous writings in which he said that access to contraceptives increases abortion rates; in reality, the opposite is true. Lloyd declared in an article for the National Catholic Register that “American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does.” Lloyd also rejected the idea of funding from the Title X family planning program supporting access to contraceptives because he argued that the “truckloads of condoms” purchased would fail and lead to more abortions.

    The immigration system in the US is “a harbinger of ... ‘anti-choice fanaticism’”

    Rewire immigration reporter Tina Vasquez reported that the anti-abortion agenda being promoted via the United States' immigration system didn’t start with the Trump administration; in fact, anti-abortion policies of the George W. Bush administration contributed to HHS’ current ability to deny abortion access to undocumented minors. Vasquez talked to Susan Hays, the legal director of a nonprofit called Jane’s Due Process that provides legal services in Texas to pregnant minors. Hays stated:

    Under Bush, social workers working with minors [in ORR shelters] could make legal decisions because the shelters had legal custody of the minors. But after two social workers helped an unaccompanied immigrant minor obtain an abortion, it really upset the Catholic-run shelter where they were employed and where the child was housed. … In response, Bush changed who has custody of minors.

    The change gave ORR legal custody of unaccompanied minors who cross the border. In March 2017, the Trump administration tweaked this policy to require minors to get the specific consent of the ORR director, leaving them subject to Lloyd’s rabid anti-abortion agenda. Vasquez noted that advocates say Doe’s case is a “harbinger of the ‘anti-choice fanaticism’ working its way into the immigration system since Trump’s presidential inauguration.”

    The Trump administration is using religion to deny people the right to an abortion

    The Trump administration recently made a sweeping change to the federal contraception mandate that enabled practically any business to claim either a religious or moral exception to providing contraceptives to its employees. Such actions suggest that the Trump administration will place the objectives of religious groups above the choices -- and constitutional rights -- of Americans.

    As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explained, the government’s obstruction of Doe’s planned abortion happened “because the federal government now believes it has a right to promulgate its own quasi-religious viewpoint” and to change “the law to subordinate [Doe’s] choices to government power.”

    According to Lithwick, lawyers for the DOJ relied on “a very sweeping view of facilitation” in their argument that they shouldn’t have to “facilitate” the abortion by saying they would be required to offer her post-procedure medical support -- the most elementary of obligations for a government to perform. Lithwick likens the argument to “claims we’ve been hearing in courts from religious objectors for years.” These religious objectors include the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby, who did not want to “facilitate” the coverage of birth control for their employees, or those arguing against federal funding for Planned Parenthood because of the inaccurate claim that “money is fungible” and thus taxpayers will be paying for abortions.

    The Trump administration’s use of religion to delay an abortion for Jane Doe caused her unnecessary anguish. As The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan reported, “By delaying her abortion, they subjected her to increased medical risks, dramatically increased costs, and the general physical discomfort of pregnancy for much longer than necessary. The mechanisms behind this fight are nothing but cruel.”

    This case is a “preview” of the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the abortion rights of the most vulnerable

    Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern used Doe’s case to explain the reality of a future without Roe v. Wade, which then-candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail he would try to overturn. Stern wrote, “If Roe goes, there will be thousands more Jane Does—detained women who would be denied access to abortion by their government. It is these detainees, then, who are on the front line of the abortion battle. That’s because it is their pregnancies that the state can most easily control.”

    Stern also highlighted the impact such precedent would have on another vulnerable community in the United States -- the incarcerated -- who are already sometimes denied abortions in federal and state prisons. As Stern explained, the process for getting a court order to have an abortion for someone in prison “is onerous and time-consuming, and officials can drag it out until the pregnancy is viable, rendering an abortion illegal.” Post-Roe, “without a constitutional right to abortion, all women in custody could be forced to carry pregnancies they do not want—then have their children taken away from them while they serve out their sentences or face deportation.”

  • Fox's Tucker Carlson is mad about an undocumented teen paying for her own abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson and guest Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America (SFLA), on Wednesday repeated the right-wing myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded abortion,” alleging that a recent judicial ruling requires taxpayers to pay for abortions for undocumented immigrants.

    On October 18, a federal judge in Texas ordered the Trump administration to quit barring abortion access for an undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who is being held in federal custody in the state by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement. During the hearing, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) argued that the government was not impeding Jane Doe’s access to an abortion because she was “free to return to her home country for the procedure." Judge Tanya Chutkan said she was “astounded” by DOJ’s argument. “She can leave the country or not get her abortion. That’s your position,” she replied. On October 19, the DOJ appealed the ruling, and a federal appeals court in D.C. announced that it would hear oral arguments on October 20. The D.C. court also issued an administrative stay temporarily blocking the teen from having an abortion.

    Rather than discuss the facts of the case, on October 18, Carlson hosted Hawkins to repeatedly lie that the ruling would require taxpayers to fund abortions for undocumented immigrants. Carlson claimed, “Liberals are arguing that U.S. taxpayers somehow have an obligation to fund abortions for illegal aliens.” Hawkins agreed, stating that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) -- which argued the case on behalf of Jane Doe -- “sees this opportunity, along with their abortion allies, to mandate that taxpayers facilitate her abortion.” She also said that the organization was attempting to claim that the teen has a “constitutional right to have a taxpayer-funded abortion.” Hawkins alleged that the ruling would set a “dangerous precedence” (sic) for other people to “come to the United States illegally or legally” because the country would “fund a taxpayer-funded abortion for you.”

    Unfortunately for Carlson, the facts of the case run contrary to his and his guest’s claims. Despite Carlson and Hawkins’ allegations, Jane Doe requires no government support to receive an abortion. According to BuzzFeed News, Jane Doe did not ask for “the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation.” Instead, as Politico reported, Jane Doe “has [already] obtained the money to pay for” the abortion. But rather than acknowledge those facts, Carlson and Hawkins instead joined in the Fox News chorus of xenophobic scare tactics about undocumented immigrants in the United States. Carlson also has a history of advancing anti-choice misinformation, often by hosting anti-abortion leaders.

    Beyond Carlson, right-wing media frequently push the myth that taxpayers fund abortions. Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funding for abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is in danger.

    During the October 18 segment, Hawkins additionally talked about the importance of having a “pro-life HHS” because “they’re the ones trying to protect this young girl from the ACLU, from Planned Parenthood who are just simply using her.” However, as Rewire’s Tina Vasquez detailed, this so-called protection is actually harmful: She explained that there are numerous allegations of HHS using underhanded tactics to impede access to abortion for Jane Doe and other undocumented immigrants -- often in direct opposition to the individual’s wishes. As Vasquez noted, this interference is so extreme that some advocates have called Jane Doe's case “a harbinger of the ‘anti-choice fanaticism’ working its way into the immigration system since Trump’s presidential inauguration.”

    For example, according to the ACLU’s complaint, Jane Doe and other undocumented immigrants have been forced to go to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which employ deceptive tactics and push medical misinformation to dissuade or intimidate individuals from receiving desired abortion care. And unlike abortion providers, CPCs actually can receive taxpayer funding, despite providing little that resembles genuine health care. The ACLU also alleged that Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, “personally contacted” one or more pregnant undocumented minors in order to dissuade them from having abortions. In one related incident, the ACLU found that an undocumented minor was taken to the emergency room after she had taken the first of two pills used in a medical abortion in order “to determine the health status” of the “unborn child” and potentially stop the procedure.

    The stark reality is that, as the complaint stated, many of the undocumented pregnant minors who cross the Mexico border have an “acute need” for reproductive health care; studies have shown that many are pregnant as the result of rapes committed in their home countries or during the dangerous journey across the border. But instead of acknowledging that reality, Carlson and Hawkins opted to advance lies about immigrants and abortion access in order to vilify undocumented minors seeking medical care.