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Julie Tulbert

Author ››› Julie Tulbert
  • Anti-abortion ad aired before Democratic debate was fueled by right-wing media talking points

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    MSNBC aired an ad from the anti-choice group March for Life Action before the first Democratic presidential debate that repeated inaccurate right-wing media talking points about abortion, alleging Democratic candidates are “extreme” for supporting abortion access. In reality, the ad cited polling data that was not only commissioned by an anti-abortion group, but that has also been soundly criticized by other polling experts as misleading.

    March for Life Action, the political arm of the anti-abortion group March for Life, ran a “six-figure ad-buy” starting on June 26 to promote a common right-wing media talking point that “the American pro-life consensus, and even the pro-life consensus among Democrats, contrasts sharply with the official position of every Democratic candidate involved in the debate.” In the ad, March for Life Action relied on February polling from the Marist Institute for Public Opinion commissioned by the anti-abortion group Knights of Columbus to claim that “8 in 10 Americans agree abortion should have” legal restrictions and that “6 in 10 pro-choice Americans support limiting [abortion] to at most the first trimester.”

    These anti-abortion talking points match the messaging strategy being deployed by right-wing media and prominent conservatives ahead of the 2020 election to paint Democrats and those who support abortion rights as “extreme” and out of touch with voters -- despite considerable evidence showing support for affirmative abortion polices. Right-wing media and other outlets have cited polling commissioned by Knights of Columbus in the past to criticize or draw attention to the Democratic Party’s stance on abortion. The March for Life Action ad also received substantial right-wing media attention, with Fox News host Laura Ingraham airing excerpts from the ad and interviewing March for Life President Jeanne Mancini during a segment with this chyron:

    Knights of Columbus has previously faced significant pushback on the claims made by their abortion-related polling due to the explicit anti-choice stance of the organization -- something that is often reflected in the framing of their polling questions. In particular, the February poll garnered criticism from pollsters and data analysts who pointed to the ideological bent of the Knights of Columbus, the relative stability of voters’ views on abortion, and the fact that the findings of the February poll in particular seemed to be an outlier when compared to similar assessments.

    Despite general attitudes about abortion legality remaining relatively stable from poll to poll, critics have argued that the results of abortion-related polling are highly dependent on the language used in framing or asking the questions. For example, polling firm PerryUndem replicated a question asked in the February Knights of Columbus poll to demonstrate the impact that question framing can have on results. When initially using the Knights of Columbus language, PerryUndem’s results showed a similar level of support for abortion restrictions. However, when “asked a follow up to clarify” if “voters want lawmakers to pass new laws that reflect their responses” on the legality of abortion, the firm found that “a majority of voters (68%) think it’s better if lawmakers stay out of the issue” -- contradicting the Knights of Columbus results and the explanations of the data's meaning by right-wing media.

    It’s not surprising that March for Life Action would run an anti-abortion ad, or that the group would want to target Democratic debate viewers. But those viewers should know that the data behind this poll -- and the widespread deployment of its findings by right-wing media -- are part of a larger effort by abortion opponents to inaccurately suggest that support for abortion access is “extreme” when there is substantial evidence to the contrary.

  • Debate moderators asked about abortion. Right-wing media reacted with predictable spin.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (6/28/19): This piece has been updated to include reactions to abortion-related comments during the July 27 debate.

    After moderators asked about abortion during the first 2020 Democratic primary election debate, right-wing and anti-abortion media demonstrated their commitment to the inaccurate talking point that candidates’ support for abortion access is “extreme.”

    During the June 26 debate, moderators asked several questions about abortion. Moderator Lester Holt initially asked former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro if he would “support some version of a government health care option” that would “cover abortion.” In addition, Holt asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) whether she would support “any limits on abortion.” Though not substantial, these questions are a slight improvement over the 2016 election cycle, when moderators often either failed to ask candidates about their positions on abortion or explicitly framed the abortion discussion around inaccurate right-wing talking points.

    Going forward, moderators can and should do more to ask the candidates specific and nuanced questions about abortion. However, even if they do, right-wing media’s response will seemingly remain the same: alleging that in their support for abortion rights, candidates are out of touch with voters, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Conservatives have already demonstrated that anti-abortion misinformation will be a core part of their messaging strategy in 2020. Since the beginning of the year, right-wing and anti-abortion media have been promoting the allegation that support for abortion access is “extreme” -- whether in discussing candidates’ positions or state laws attempting to codify or expand abortion rights.

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media reactions to the first Democratic debate were not much different. Here are some of the predictable attacks launched by right-wing media:

    1) Repeating the allegation that Democrats are “extreme” for supporting abortion access

    • The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway: 

    • Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen:
    • Anti-abortion group Priests for Life’s Bryan Kemper:
    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh:
    • Anti-abortion organization Students for Life of America (SFLA):
    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro:
    • Anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List):

    • A Twitter account managed by President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign team:

    2) Attacking Warren for allegedly avoiding an abortion question -- a common right-wing media claim about candidates’ abortion-related comments

    • National Review’s John McCormack:

    • The Washington Free Beacon alleged that Warren “did not directly answer a question at Wednesday night's Democratic primary debate about whether she'd support any abortion restrictions.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra:
    • SFLA:

    3) Attacking Castro for his answers about reproductive justice and trans-inclusive abortion care

    • Mollie Hemingway:
    • SBA List:
    • TheBlaze’s Jason Howerton:

    • Fox News’ Todd Starnes:
    • Right-wing and anti-abortion media also exploited the opportunity of the debate to use anti-trans language of "biological men" to misgender and demean trans folks. Following a comment from Castro about trans-inclusive abortion care (during which, many advocates noted, he misspoke or used inaccurate terminology), The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh tweeted, “Never forget that a Democratic politician on a national stage claimed that biological men can get pregnant.” And LifeNews.com's headline stated, “Julian Castro says biological men have the right to kill babies in abortion too.” The Gateway Pundit wrote, “Democrat candidate Julian Castro says biological men must be granted abortion rights.” BlazeTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey said, “People are saying Castro stood out the most last night. I didn’t see that at all. Maybe it happened after he said biological men could get pregnant and I turned the TV off.”

    During the second Democratic debate held on July 27, right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates continued to criticize candidates’ answers about abortion and similarly argued that candidates expressing support for abortion were “extreme.”

    Moderators during the second debate asked only one abortion-related question (with a follow-up question restating the initial premise). Moderator Rachel Maddow asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) what he would do as president if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Sanders discussed nominating judges who “will defend Roe” and additionally argued that his healthcare plan would ensure abortion access regardless of patients’ income. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) also addressed the question and explained the harms of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts government funding of abortion services. Here are some of the additional attacks from right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates in response to these abortion-related comments from the debate:

    4) Attacking Sanders’ comments about the Supreme Court and characterizing his healthcare plan as “extreme” for ensuring abortion access

    • Anti-abortion organization National Right to Life:
    • The Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra:
    • SBA List:
    • The Rubin Report’s Dave Rubin:
    • LifeNews.com:

    • SFLA:

    5) Berating Gillibrand for speaking to “America’s women” about abortion and current threats to abortion access

    • Townhall’s Guy Benson:
    • SBA List’s Mallory Quigley:

    • Abby Johnson, president of the anti-abortion organization And Then There Were None:
    • SBA List:

    Additional research by Chenay Arberry and Maddy Webb

  • Here's how debate moderators can avoid perpetuating right-wing media misinformation about abortion

    Right-wing media keep lying about Democratic presidential candidates’ positions on abortion. Here’s what moderators should ask to set the record straight.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On June 26 and 27, Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls will take the debate stage on NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo to answer questions about their positions on a variety of topics, and, to set the standard, moderators should ask specific and nuanced questions about abortion while avoiding right-wing media misinformation.

    In previous election cycles, activists campaigned to ensure candidates were asked debate questions about their positions related to abortion. It will be even more crucial to understand candidates’ positions this year as states continue to restrict abortion access and right-wing media relentlessly spread misinformation and stigma around reproductive health care. Conservatives have already made clear that anti-abortion misinformation will be a core part of their messaging strategy in 2020, from the presidential election down to candidates in state legislative races. Given this, moderators should not only ask specific questions about abortion, but also ensure that they do not repeat harmful right-wing media tropes in the process. This is particularly important as debate moderators (and even mainstream media personalities) have repeated sensationalized and inaccurate language about abortion in the past.

    Indeed, as a recent Planned Parenthood forum with many of the Democratic candidates demonstrated, asking reproductive health questions that are fact-based and span a variety of topics -- without falling for anti-choice misinformation -- is a valuable practice for candidates and viewers alike. The moderators of the first Democratic primary debates should follow this example in framing questions about abortion.

    Ask candidates about the misinformation surrounding proactive state-level abortion protections and whether they would support these laws

    After New York and Virginia proposed proactive legislation to protect or expand abortion access, right-wing media responded with a bevy of misinformation. Contrary to right-wing media allegations that states passing proactive abortion laws supposedly endorsed “extreme” positions such as allowing abortion up to the “moment of birth,” these bills actually codified existing abortion protections in Roe v. Wade or removed harmful barriers to later abortion access. More recently, other states have taken similar steps to protect abortion access in light of the very real threat that the Supreme Court will overturn or further weaken Roe. But the inaccurate allegations have already transitioned from a predictable right-wing media talking point about Democrats’ alleged “extremism” to an oft-repeated attack by conservative politicians -- including the president himself.

    Candidates should not only be asked about their position on these proactive state-level abortion protections, but they must also be given an opportunity to respond to the inaccurate and sensationalized allegations about these measures.

    Ask candidates about the harmful impacts of fake health clinics and whether they would allow these deceptive groups to receive federal funding

    Fake health clinics -- also known as crisis pregnancy centers -- pose as comprehensive reproductive health care providers using deceptive tactics to prevent and dissuade people from having abortions. Despite the very real harm inflicted by these fake health clinics, right-wing media have heralded the supposed benefits of these groups and defended the centers as legitimate alternatives to clinics that actually offer the full range of services, including abortion.

    Under Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services, new rules have allowed anti-abortion groups and fake health clinics to receive federal Title X funding. Typically, Title X funds are meant to subsidize family planning services for low-income patients -- making the extension of such funds to anti-abortion organizations that openly oppose providing contraceptive services very concerning.

    Candidates should be asked how they would ensure patients seeking abortion or contraceptive care receive accurate information and if they would support the continued provision of Title X funds to anti-abortion groups that have no intention to provide full reproductive health services.

    Ask candidates how they would respond to allegations from right-wing media and political opponents that abortion is unsafe and should be restricted or outlawed

    Despite myriad allegations from right-wing and anti-abortion media that abortion is unsafe (and should therefore be restricted or outlawed), abortion care in reality is a common and safe medical experience in the United States. In fact, a 2018 study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that the vast majority of abortions in the U.S. are safe -- noting that “serious complications are rare and occur far less frequently than during childbirth” -- and that attempts to restrict abortion access “create barriers to safe and effective care.”

    Given these facts, candidates should be asked how they would respond to persistent conservative misinformation that abortion is unsafe and should be disproportionately regulated compared to similar health care procedures. In particular, candidates should be asked what they would do to protect safe and legal abortion care in the face of widespread attacks on abortion access at the state level.

    Ask candidates what they would do to fight anti-choice misinformation and ensure that abortion isn’t criminalized for either patients or providers

    As part of the recent wave of state abortion restrictions, Republican legislators have introduced measures that would criminalize both patients seeking abortion care as well as abortion providers. Research shows that these types of restrictions are harmful and do not actually reduce the rate of abortion, yet some right-wing media figures have expressed their support for these measures. Others in right-wing media have downplayed the likelihood that abortion care would be criminalized or that such measures would ever be enforced. In reality, people in the United States have already “been prosecuted and jailed on suspicion of self-managing their abortions” -- a trend that will likely increase as abortion care becomes increasingly difficult to access.

    Candidates need to be asked how they will stop state efforts to criminalize abortion access and how they plan to stem prosecutions of people who self-manage abortion care due to the inaccessibility of what should be a standard medical procedure.

    Ask candidates what they would do about the Trump judiciary -- an active threat to abortion rights despite right-wing media’s assurances otherwise

    After Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement last year, right-wing media celebrated Trump’s opportunity to appoint a second conservative justice to the bench during his first two years in office. In order to generate support for Trump pick Brett Kavanaugh, some right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates argued that confirming Kavanaugh would not threaten Roe v. Wade or abortion rights in general -- either by downplaying his record on abortion-related cases or by claiming that it was unlikely the Supreme Court would support overturning or weakening the Roe decision. Additionally, Trump has also appointed anti-abortion judges at all levels of the federal judiciary “at a record pace,” and these appointments are a very real threat to abortion rights that will continue to affect federal policy for generations.

    Candidates should be asked about their plans for addressing the monumental challenge posed by Trump-appointed judges and justices whose rulings could make abortion illegal or even more inaccessible.

    Ask candidates if they support repealing the Hyde Amendment and if there is anything else they would do to increase access to abortion care in the face of right-wing media lies

    The Hyde Amendment -- a budgetary restriction on federal funding for abortion services, including through Medicaid -- gained broader media attention after Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden announced he would no longer support it. Notably, this move put Biden in agreement with most other Democratic primary candidates. Right-wing media’s coverage of the Hyde Amendment has focused on the claim that Democrats’ position is unpopular with American voters and will hurt their electoral chances. However, a recent HuffPost/YouGov survey shows that the Democratic Party’s base is also largely opposed to the Hyde Amendment. This shift may be due in part to the discriminatory nature of the Hyde Amendment, which creates significant barriers for marginalized communities to be able to access abortion care.

    Candidates need to not only be asked whether they support repealing the Hyde Amendment, but also about what other steps they would take to increase abortion access for communities of color, immigrants, and low-income, rural, indigenous, or incarcerated populations -- all of whom are disproportionately impacted by the Hyde Amendment.

    Ask candidates how they would respond to the persistent allegation from conservative figures and right-wing media that supporting abortion rights is “extreme” or “out of step” with voters

    As part of the 2020 presidential election, right-wing media continue to push the idea that Democratic candidates hold “extreme” positions on abortion. Candidates who appeared at Fox News town halls have faced inaccurately framed questions about whether they support abortion up to “the moment of birth” or if they would support “any limit” on the procedure. Right-wing media will continue to follow this playbook by badgering Democratic candidates with inaccurate questions throughout the 2020 election cycle, as will Trump and the Republican Party. Right-wing media and anti-choice misinformation needs to be addressed, particularly given the proven dangers of allowing extreme rhetoric about abortion to continue unchecked.

    Candidates should be asked fact-based questions about abortion in order to combat persistent right-wing spin about Democrats’ positions that is sure to continue as media discuss the 2020 election.

    In several debates during the 2016 presidential election, moderators failed to ask a single question about abortion. Given the already perilous nature of abortion access, it is difficult to believe that moderators would make that same mistake again. These seven questions can serve as a guide for how moderators can ask specific and nuanced questions about abortion -- helping audiences to understand candidates’ abortion-related positions without repeating right-wing media misinformation.

  • Right-wing media melt down over Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's comments about pro-choice judges

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) spoke about her commitment to nominate only pro-choice judges to the Supreme Court if she became president, right-wing media responded by leveling personal attacks against Gillibrand and by alleging she was trying to censure abortion opponents.

    On June 10, The Des Moines Register asked Gillibrand about her proposal to nominate only those judges to the Supreme Court who would vow to uphold Roe v. Wade, questioning whether “imposing a litmus test” would be “seen as an encroachment on judicial independence.” Gillibrand responded:

    I think there’s some issues that have such moral clarity that we have, as a society, decided that the other side is not acceptable. Imagine saying that it’s OK to appoint a judge who’s racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic. Telling -- asking someone to appoint someone who takes away basic human rights of any group of people in America, I think that we are, we’ve -- I don’t think those are political issues anymore.

    And we believe in this country in the separation of church and state, and I respect the rights of every American to hold their religious beliefs true to themselves. But our country and our Constitution has always demanded that we have a separation of church and state. And all these efforts by President Trump and other ultra radical conservative judges and justices to impose their faith on Americans is contrary to our Constitution, and that’s what it is.

    And so, I believe that for all of these issues -- they are not issues that there is a fair other side. There is no moral equivalency when you come to racism. And I do not believe there is a moral equivalency when it comes to changing laws that deny women reproductive freedom.

    Gillibrand later reiterated her position during an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, explaining that her statement “had nothing to do with” the personal views of abortion opponents, but it was rather about the importance of appointing judges who support the “settled precedent” established in Roe. She concluded: “The question and my answer was specific to what kind of judges I would appoint.” Still, right-wing media responded with vitriol, saying that her comments were "shocking and stunning," that they were "just dumb and over the top," and that she was suggesting anti-choice people "should never be granted access to polite society." The meltdown is yet another example of right-wing media’s ongoing effort during the 2020 election cycle to characterize Democrats’ support for abortion rights as “extreme.”

    Right-wing media had a meltdown over Gillibrand’s comments

    • On Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, Fox News contributor Charlie Hurt said he didn’t know whether Gillibrand is “evil or ignorant,” but that he felt comparing anti-choice views with racist views was “just absolutely shocking and stunning.”
    • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs attacked Gillibrand, asking, “Has she taken complete leave of her remaining senses?”
    • On Fox Business’ Trish Regan Primetime, guest host Gregg Jarrett characterized Gillibrand’s comments as calling someone “a racist … if you happen to be pro-life.” He continued that this was “a stupid, idiotic comparison” and claimed her comments were “just dumb and over the top.” He concluded, “If you had any doubt that Kirsten Gillibrand is obtuse on her best day, she removed all doubt.”
    • On his program, Tucker Carlson claimed that Gillibrand was equating holding anti-abortion views as being “on par with racists, maybe even the Nazis.” Carlson’s guest Lila Rose, the founder and president of the anti-abortion group Live Action, said, “This idea that it's not even justified to have the pro-life position -- you're even a racist. I mean, that term is just thrown around today. But saying that you're even a racist to be pro-life -- half of America is pro-life.”
    • Fox host Sean Hannity named Gillibrand “Villain of the Day” because of her comments.
    • Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said on his No Spin News show that Gillibrand’s comments demonstrated that she was “a dangerous person” and “a demagogue.” He continued that “Gillibrand is basically saying as a sitting senator, all the pro-life people in America are not supposed to be heard. You shut up because you’re just like a racist. How vile is this? Now that should disqualify the woman from public office.”
    • National Review called Gillibrand’s comments “more sinister than pandering” and characterized them as “irresponsible, malicious rhetoric.”
    • The Washington Times claimed that Gillibrand was “demonizing millions of pro-life citizens” with her comments.
    • Townhall accused Gillibrand of being “desperate to score some political points amongst the progressive base in hopes of boosting her ranking from dead-last in the presidential primary.”

    Other outlets published opinion pieces echoing right-wing media’s attacks and allegations

    • Philip Boas, the editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic, claimed in an opinion piece that Gillibrand’s comments “revealed her authoritarian instincts.” He wrote:

    Gillibrand added that opposition to abortion should be regarded in the same way we regard racism. In other words, critics of abortion need to be banished from the public square. They need to be treated with all the loathing and disdain we reserve for racial bigots.

    They should never be granted access to polite society. Never hold corporate jobs. Never rise to any position of legitimate authority. They should be shunned and ignored and otherwise marginalized – made so radioactive that their views are no longer to be considered. Only condemned.

    And that especially goes for federal judges one suspects may harbor anti-abortion views.

    • Syndicated columnist Michael Gerson wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post saying, “Few would accuse [Gillibrand] of seriousness in her presidential run.” He characterized Gillibrand’s comments as saying that, “pro-life people are not only wrong; they are bigoted theocrats who threaten democracy.”
    • In The Chicago Tribune, columnist John Kass summarized Gillibrand’s comments as her saying that “if you oppose abortion, then you’re equivalent to a racist” and that these views reflected the Democratic Party writ large because “her bigotry was met with silence. And silence is consent.” Kass also wrote, “In her world, babies don’t have rights. Even thinking of them as human would get in the way of politics that grant power to those who would end their lives.”
  • Fox News town halls give right-wing media new fuel for inaccurate abortion “extremism” talking points

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During the latest Fox News town hall, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called out the network's oversized role in mainstreaming inaccurate and sensationalized information about abortions that take place later in pregnancy. One of the ways the network and other right-wing media outlets have spread such misinformation is by asking candidates misleading questions about abortion rights and spinning their answers as “extreme." The town hall events have served as yet another chance to deploy this deceptive tactic.

    As at previous Fox News town halls, during the June 2 event, Gillibrand was asked by an attendee about her position on “late-term abortion or last trimester abortions.” In response, she explained that “the debate about whether or not women should have reproductive freedom has turned into a red-herring debate,” thanks in part to highly inaccurate allegations by Fox News and other right-wing media that support for later abortion access amounts to promoting “infanticide.”

    Gillibrand also cited research from Media Matters showing that Fox News “talked about infanticide for 6.5 hours” in the run-up to President Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address and that, in the last week of January, Fox News hosts and guests used the word “infanticide” 35 times when discussing state measures intended to protect abortion access.

    Indeed, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have seized on these sensationalized talking points about “infanticide” to hound candidates with falsely framed questions or to attack their support for abortions later in pregnancy. This tactic is a crucial part of right-wing media’s playbook for the 2020 elections which relies on the use of anti-abortion misinformation to gin up controversy and support among conservative audiences.

    During Gillibrand's town hall event, moderator Chris Wallace (allegedly representing Fox’s “news” division, although he himself has a history of spreading anti-abortion misinformation) attempted to defend Fox in response to her comments, suggesting she shouldn’t criticize the network that was hosting her. But Fox has been far from friendly to the candidates it has hosted; after previous town halls, network personalities have spent the next day attacking the candidates for their comments.

    In particular, the network, other right-wing media, and anti-choice advocates have used these town halls as a mechanism to falsely characterize Democratic candidates as having “extreme” abortion positions. To begin with, the hosts of these events -- Wallace and another of Fox News’ supposed “straight news” personalities, Martha MacCallum -- have presented abortion-related questions in misleading ways. MacCallum asked both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) during their town halls whether they supported abortion up to “the moment of birth.” Wallace also asked a misleadingly framed question to South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg about whether he believes in “any limit” on when a person could get an abortion.

    After the town halls, Fox News and other right-wing media spun the candidates’ answers to allege that they support abortion up to birth or “infanticide.” For example, after Buttigieg said he trusts “women to draw the line” on when to have an abortion during his town hall event, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume claimed that Buttigieg’s position was “not widely held in this country.” Hume further argued that Buttigieg’s position was extreme because he said “there is no moment before birth when he wouldn't support a woman's right to an abortion.” Other Fox News personalities repeated a similar refrain: treating Buttigieg’s comments as evidence of alleged Democratic “extremism” on abortion, a talking point further echoed by other right-wing media and those in anti-abortion circles.

    Sanders’ answer that abortion in the third-trimester "happens very, very rarely” and “the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician” predictably evoked the ire of right-wing and anti-abortion media, with one headline proclaiming “Bernie Sanders Supports Abortions Up to Birth, Okay to Kill Babies Up to Birth Because ‘It’s Rare.’” During the April 16 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson attacked Sanders, arguing that “Like 10 years ago, that would be considered like an extreme position. Today, it's the moderate position in the Democratic Party. Some are defending ‘infanticide’ just flat-out. Safe, legal, and rare. No. That's not at all the position today. It should be free, frequent, and horrifying.”

    Klobuchar received less right-wing media attention after her Fox News town hall and very little of that attention focused on her abortion-related comments. Instead, outlets focused on attacking her claim about Planned Parenthood offering mammograms as a lie -- although the provider does facilitate this care through referrals. For her part, Gillibrand has drawn criticism (including on Fox News) that she was incorrect to attack Fox News because, critics claimed, Democrats do indeed support “infanticide.”

    No matter the focus of right-wing media’s outrage, it is undeniable that Fox News’ abortion-related coverage, including the network’s town halls, has served as the jumping-off point for inaccurate and dangerous rhetoric about abortion access. And whether or not Democrats continue to appear on the network, personalities on both the “news” and opinion sides will undoubtedly continue to deploy this tactic throughout the 2020 election cycle.

  • MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow hosts abortion provider to explain impacts of losing abortion access in Missouri

    Missouri’s last abortion clinic may lose its license this week if a court doesn’t intervene

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Missouri abortion provider Dr. Colleen McNicholas joined Rachel Maddow on her May 28 show to discuss the negative impact on patients if the state loses abortion access at the end of the week.

    As first reported by CBS News, Missouri’s only remaining abortion clinic could lose the ability to provide abortion care this week -- pending a legal challenge on Wednesday. Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services is refusing to renew Planned Parenthood’s license to perform abortions, meaning that although the clinic would not close, it would be unable to provide abortions -- making Missouri the first state since Roe v. Wade was decided to have no access to legal abortion care. Missouri has also been pushing anti-abortion restrictions for years, including an eight-week ban on abortion signed by the governor last week.

    Here are three important things Maddow did when discussing abortion access in Missouri:

    1. Hosted an abortion provider

    Unlike in much of cable news' discussions of abortion, Maddow actually talked to an abortion provider, McNicholas, who was able to speak to what’s happening on the ground in Missouri, including the intricacies of the licensing fight and the negative impact losing legal abortion care would have on patients. McNicholas told Maddow, “Missouri is certainly poised within the next 72 hours to be the only state in our nation to not have access to abortion.”

    2. Provided context to explain that revoking the Missouri licenses is part of a larger conservative strategy

    McNicholas put Missouri’s situation in context and explained that the license fight is part of an ongoing strategy by anti-choice lawmakers to eliminate abortion access in Missouri and across the country. McNicholas said:

    We have been subject to inspections every year for as long as I can remember, and each year, the sort of stakes get higher and higher and the tactics get more aggressive. We certainly have found this year that we are competing with what seems to be a never-ending, changing interpretation of their own regulations, which really just make it impossible for us to even be able to comply.

    When Maddow asked about the potential that other states will face a similar situation, McNicholas underscored the scope of the threat, saying, “We are not the only state who has been subject to sort of state-sanctioned weaponization of the oversight and licensing process. The Department of Health is generally staffed by politically appointed individuals, not elected officials. And so, this has long been a weapon of the anti-choice movement, to try and shut down clinics.”

    3. Highlighted the impacts on marginalized communities in the state

    Maddow and McNicholas debunked the inaccurate talking point that people seeking abortions in Missouri (or any state without care) could travel to another state to access abortion care. In particular, McNicholas noted that marginalized communities would further struggle to access abortion services if the state loses legal abortion care. McNicholas rightly noted that traveling to access care is an option of “the privileged” and explained:

    We have seen across the states that have these most restrictive laws that people who are most disadvantaged, people of color, people who live in rural areas, people who struggle to make ends meet, already have limited or no access to abortion. Eliminating that care in states like Missouri means that those women, those people, are not going to be able to access abortion at all. It's never been a problem for people of means to be able to access abortion. But it is the most disadvantaged people that are going to have the most trouble.

  • The AP promoted anti-choice misinformation about abortion access and Roe v. Wade. Here are the facts.

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On May 27, The Associated Press’ David Crary and Clara Johnson wrote an article that uncritically repeated talking points from anti-abortion advocates to claim that if the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade, the impact will not be as drastic as pro-choice activists allege it would be. In reality, overturning Roe could have detrimental impacts on low-income communities’ ability to access care and could spur a reinvigorated anti-choice movement pushing to restrict access to contraceptives and abortion in states where these reproductive rights are currently protected.

    Crary and Johnson began the piece by stating that recently adopted state restrictions on abortion access have “set off speculation” about what would happen if the Supreme Court overturned Roe, thereby reverting abortion policy to individual states. The article explained some of the “abortion-related changes that have unfolded since 1973,” the year Roe was decided, and quoted a few abortion rights advocates. But Crary and Johnson also talked to two anti-abortion advocates, and the journalists failed to fact-check the anti-abortion misinformation they offered.

    Dr. Donna Harrison, the executive director of the anti-abortion group American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told the AP that advancements in ultrasound technology mean pregnant people who view ultrasound images -- as some states mandate they do -- change their minds about having an abortion. However, research shows that viewing an ultrasound “does not alter decisions of the large majority of women who are certain that abortion is the right decision.”

    The AP also spoke to Michael New from the anti-abortion group Charlotte Lozier Institute, who “said the debate [about abortion] is far more polarized now than in 1973, with fewer Republicans favoring abortion rights and fewer Democrats opposing them.” However, Crary and Johnson failed to provide the context that, when talking about the overturning of Roe specifically, polling shows that a majority of Americans -- including most Republicans -- support upholding the decision.

    While Crary and Johnson also simplified a post-Roe world as just “a patchwork map” of states choosing whether to ban abortion completely, limit access, or uphold complete access, they failed to take into account the power of the present-day anti-abortion movement. The movement has already attempted to close clinics in states such as in Missouri, which may not have a single clinic by the end of this week that provides abortion. Right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have also pushed lies that states are promoting “infanticide” when legislators there only want to protect access if Roe is overturned.

    In addition, while Crary and Johnson pointed to the ability of people to self-manage medication abortions or to have access to an increased range of contraceptives, the Trump administration seems likely to block the purchase of abortion pills from other states or overseas or to otherwise curtail access to birth control. Perhaps most egregiously, the authors overlooked the significance of abortion regulation returning to states for low-income communities' ability to access care. The picture the AP article painted of a post-Roe world is a fairly rosy one -- and it’s unlikely to be our reality.

  • Right-wing media's anti-abortion misinformation playbook for 2020

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump and other conservative candidates have already signaled that anti-abortion lies will be a core part of their 2020 playbook -- tactics that right-wing media are certain to amplify in order to fearmonger and rally support ahead of the election. In line with this, right-wing outlets have already been badgering Democratic candidates about their stances on abortion access, in some cases smearing them with sensationalized and inaccurate tropes about later abortions.

    Following the introduction of measures in New York, Virginia, and other states to ensure abortion access if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, right-wing media generated a firestorm of coverage that mischaracterized Democrats’ efforts to protect abortion rights as promoting “infanticide” or so-called abortion “up to birth.” In reality, the idea that abortions happen up to the “moment of birth” is a fiction fueled by right-wing media and does not reflect any actual medical procedures performed in the U.S. Rather, abortions that happen later in pregnancy are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons, with the people anti-choice advocates compare to murderers often having to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy. In other instances, people need abortions later in pregnancy due to anti-choice restrictions prohibiting or greatly delaying earlier access.

    Beyond broadly alleging that Democrats support abortion “up to birth,” right-wing media have also promoted the false claim that pro-choice candidates are in favor of denying care to babies “born alive” after so-called “failed abortions.” These alleged “born alive” abortions that right-wing media protest are not based in any medical practice or standard of care, as Rewire.News reported in 2013. Nevertheless, Republicans in Congress recently introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to aid so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the bill would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could also be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have used these manufactured controversies as part of a playbook for attacking abortion rights supporters and have already proven they'll deploy the same strategy against candidates. The playbook involves:

    1) Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    2) Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    3) Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    1. Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    The tactic

    Although right-wing media have long represented Democratic positions on abortion in bad faith, the campaign trail has given these outlets more opportunities to hound candidates with inaccurate and sensationalized questions about abortion to intentionally generate outrage. In addition, others in the right-wing and anti-abortion media echo chamber are then able to pick up these comments -- or really any comment from candidates on abortion -- and spin them to fit predetermined anti-choice narratives. Thus far, those anti-choice narratives have been focused on Democrats’ alleged support for abortion “up to birth” or even after.

    Unfortunately, this has permeated beyond right-wing media and several outlets outside of this ecosystem have adopted this inaccurate framing. Already in 2019, non-right-wing outlets have uncritically repeated dangerous lies about abortion from Trump’s State of the Union address and echoed the language used by right-wing media and Republicans about efforts to secure a vote for the so-called Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

    Examples

    Beto O’Rourke

    Presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) received a flurry of inaccurately framed questions about his stance on abortion in March. On March 18, at a campaign event in Ohio, Millie Weaver (also known as “Millennial Millie”), a staffer from the far-right conspiracy outlet Infowars, questioned O’Rourke about his support for abortion access later in pregnancy. Relying on an inaccurate right-wing framing of the topic, Weaver asked:

    Are you for third-trimester abortion or are you going to protect the lives of third-trimester babies? Because there is really not a medical necessity for abortion. It’s not a medical emergency procedure because typically third-trimester abortions take up to three days to have. So, you would -- in that sense, if there was an emergency, the doctors would just do a C-section, and you don’t have to kill the baby in that essence. So, are you for or against third-trimester abortions?

    In her subsequent article about the event, Weaver continued to distort the premise of the question, as well as misrepresenting O’Rourke’s answer. Weaver claimed that she asked “if he supports up-to-birth abortions” and that his answer that abortion should be “a decision that the woman makes” showed he “endorses third-trimester abortions.”

    After that, O’Rourke was peppered with similar questions about abortion from other right-wing outlets and reporters. For example, after Weaver's question, The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito -- known for producing “revealing dispatches from Trump country” that have drawn claims of fabrication and plagiarism -- asked O’Rourke whether he supported access to third-trimester abortions “to make sure” there was “clarity” about his previous answer. Zito ultimately wrote that “O’Rourke has refused to rule out abortions more than six months into a pregnancy,” but she noted on Twitter that supporters’ “cheers” in reaction to his answer “told me so much about the state of what Democrats want from their eventual nominee.” Apparently dissatisfied that his answer didn’t garner broader coverage, Zito followed up with another piece about O’Rourke’s “extreme abortion stance” days later, complaining:

    It is hard to find any D.C. reporters in a mainstream news organization writing about a viewpoint professed by a Democratic presidential candidate as being “extreme” or “radical.” Yet had this been a Republican candidate coming out in support of something the majority of Americans find impossible to support, it would be a headline for days, followed by asking every Republican running or holding office if they support that radical position as well.

    Right-wing media used O’Rourke's answers to these bad faith questions to claim that he supports abortion “up to birth” or beyond and to say that this view represents the Democratic “party line” on abortion. Fox News, Townhall, and The Daily Wire published articles condemning the alleged position of O’Rourke and the Democratic Party on abortion access. Right-wing media figures echoed this approach, with the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro saying on Fox & Friends that “Beto O'Rourke and every other major Democrat feel forced to embrace this position, that you have to be for abortion up to and sometimes beyond the point of birth. It just demonstrates the radicalism of the Democratic Party.”

    Fox News host Sean Hannity dedicated an entire opening monologue on March 19 to this claim. Hannity claimed that O’Rourke’s comments were further evidence of the Democratic Party’s “barbaric abortion agenda” and said, “If Democrats get their way, well, third-trimester abortion, including infanticide during and after birth -- well, that would be perfectly legal and readily available. Sadly, they’re fighting for that. They would protect infanticide seemingly above all else.” To further his point, he also displayed this on-screen graphic:

    Anti-abortion groups and other conservative figures signal-boosted right-wing media’s claims about the alleged “extremism” of O’Rourke’s position (and by extension, the Democratic Party’s). For example, American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp presented the comments as part of Democrats’ efforts to allow so-called “post-birth abortion.” Anti-abortion group Live Action claimed O’Rourke “barbarically defends abortion until birth." Kristan Hawkins, president of anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, tweeted:

    Anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List even sent supporters a fundraising appeal citing O’Rourke’s comment, saying the organization needed followers to make “a pro-life contribution” to help the group “fight back in the name of saving ALL babies and to STOP Beto O’Rourke’s extreme pro-abortion and pro-infanticide agenda.”

    Outlets outside of the right-wing media ecosystem have also adopted this framing at times without offering pushback. Newsweek published Weaver’s question to O’Rourke (but identified her as “a crowd member”) and O’Rourke’s response, but did not provide adequate context about what support for abortions later in pregnancy means or dispute the flawed premise of Weaver’s question. The Hill also reported on O’Rourke’s responses to Weaver and to the Washington Examiner, but focused on his “fundraising status” and "national prominence” without noting the flawed basis of the questioning itself.

    Bernie Sanders

    During a Fox News town hall event, candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was also asked an inaccurate question based on anti-abortion misinformation. Notably, Fox News is attempting to leverage Democratic candidate town halls to sanitize the network’s image, which is currently suffering as companies become less willing to associate with its toxic commentary. During Sanders’ town hall, anchor Martha MacCallum -- who works on Fox’s “news” side but has a history of pushing anti-abortion lies -- asked Sanders, “With regard to abortion, do you believe that a woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment of birth?”

    Sanders’ answer that abortion in the third-trimester "happens very rarely” and “the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician” predictably evoked the ire of right-wing and anti-abortion media, with one headline proclaiming “Bernie Sanders Supports Abortions Up to Birth, Okay to Kill Babies Up to Birth Because ‘It’s Rare.’” During the April 16 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson said of Sanders’ comments, “Like 10 years ago, that would be considered like an extreme position. Today, it's the moderate position in the Democratic Party. Some are defending ‘infanticide’ just flat-out. Safe, legal, and rare. No. That's not at all the position today. It should be free, frequent, and horrifying.” Anti-abortion advocate Lila Rose similarly (and inaccurately) summarized Sanders’ response:

    Elizabeth Warren

    In March, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) received a question about the so-called “Born Alive” bill when someone in a crowd shouted at her, “What about the babies that survive abortion? How come they can’t have health care?” Warren replied that “infanticide is illegal everywhere in America” and moved on. Despite Warren’s accurate characterization of the bill, right-wing outlets spun the answer as Warren defending her “abortion extremism” or intentionally avoiding answering the question.

    Cory Booker

    In April, candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said people have started to ask him if he voted for a bill that allows “us to kill babies when they’re born.” Booker responded by saying, “That is a felony” and explaining that the bill (meaning the “Born Alive” bill) was “put forth to try to create schisms and differences between us.” Predictably, anti-abortion and right-wing media claimed Booker was “defending voting for infanticide.”

    Pete Buttigieg

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media utilized comments from South Bend, IN, Mayor and candidate Pete Buttigieg about abortion and reproductive rights to push misinformation -- with at least one outlet outside of right-wing media circles falling for this false premise in subsequent coverage.

    Following comments from Buttigieg in March that he supported measures introduced to protect abortion access in Virginia and New York, National Review’s David French argued that Buttigieg “has zero appeal to religious conservatives so long as he holds to the Democratic party line on the right of a woman to hire a doctor to kill a viable, living unborn baby.” During Buttigieg’s candidacy announcement speech, he said that “women’s equality is freedom, because you’re not free if your reproductive health choices are dictated by male politicians or bosses.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham argued during the April 15 edition of her show that Buttigieg’s vision of “reproductive freedom” apparently does not include “the unborn child in the womb or, for that matter, the child born ... after a botched abortion in this new Democrat Party. I don't see the freedom there.”

    This framing spread beyond the right-wing media echo chamber on the April 18 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. During the segment, co-host Willie Geist asked Buttigieg about third-trimester abortions, and, after Buttigieg noted that it can be an “incredibly painful set of decisions in these horrifying medical cases,” Geist said, “But to people who would criticize that, they’d say, ‘Actually there is a pretty easy answer -- that’s a fundamental child in the third term … of pregnancy, that is a human being who could be born alive and have a great and full life,’ and so it is a pretty easy question to people who would criticize your answer.” Geist’s question relied on right-wing framing and anti-abortion misinformation that he and the other hosts did not refute. The back-and-forth was picked up by right-wing and anti-abortion outlets, which spread further misinformation about Buttigieg’s answer, with LifeNews.com tweeting that Buttigieg “is perfectly fine with killing defenseless unborn babies in abortions right up to birth.” 

    In each instance, right-wing media relied on either inaccurately framed questions or dishonest spin to generate outrage and drive additional news cycles about alleged Democratic extremism on abortion.

    2. Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    The tactic

    Beyond peppering Democratic candidates with incendiary and inaccurately framed questions about abortion, right-wing media have also attempted to propagate the idea that there is “grassroots” opposition to supporting abortion access. Following the introduction of Virginia and New York’s recent measures, right-wing media heavily promoted the narrative that Democrats are pushing an “extreme” position on abortion that is not supported by their base. This is an approach that the Republican Party -- including Trump himself -- has adopted as part of a 2020 election strategy at both the federal and the state level. Right-wing media and Republicans previously deployed this strategy during the ultimately failed 2017 special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama.

    Right-wing media have also attempted to extrapolate about voters’ probable opposition to a candidate’s position on abortion based on polling about specific abortion policies or viewpoints. Most frequently, right-wing media have touted polls claiming to represent likely voters’ support for bans on abortion after 20 weeks -- which would include procedures performed in both the second and the third trimester. While some polls have suggested that support for abortion access decreases as a pregnancy advances, polls that provide adequate context about the specific circumstances surrounding why a person would choose to have an abortion after 20 weeks don’t show the same results. In fact, as experts have explained, these polls better reflect the reality of abortion later in pregnancy and thus show that people support maintaining this health care option.

    Examples

    To prove allegations of so-called Democratic extremism, right-wing media have cherry-picked examples of people opposing abortion and presented these views as being widely held. For example, after O’Rourke responded to Infowars' question, Fox & Friends First aired two segments that shared the thoughts of random Twitter users who disliked his answer:

    On Fox News’ Hannity, Fox News contributor Lawrence Jones was sent to Texas to ask voters about O’Rourke’s alleged position on abortion, with many in the resulting segment claiming he was problematically extreme.

    Some right-wing media also specifically noted when questions came from non-media participants in an effort to imply that those questioners represented the views of many voters. For example, on One America News’ The Tipping Point, host Liz Wheeler applauded a “student who asked a question” about abortion, saying “professional reporters” wouldn’t do it “because Beto’s a Democrat, and the mainstream media wants to protect the left.” Conversely, many right-wing media outlets failed to note that Weaver, who asked O’Rourke if he would “protect the lives of third-trimester babies,” works for Infowars. The Daily Caller, Fox News, TheBlaze, Washington Free Beacon, and National Review credited either an “attendee” or “a woman” at the event for the question.

    Right-wing media have also pointed to imprecise polling on abortion and a supposed lack of public support for the health care staple in discussions of candidates' answers. Townhall’s Lauretta Brown wrote that O’Rourke’s answer about abortion to Infowars “marks a significant departure from public opinion and state laws.” CBN News said the Democratic presidential candidates “are out of step with the public.” After candidate Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) answered a question on abortion during MSNBC’s Morning Joe by saying “the reality of it is that you got to protect the woman’s right to choose,” Townhall’s Guy Benson tweeted that Ryan was “pandering to” a supposedly extreme position that he claimed was only “shared by roughly one-fifth of the electorate.” The Washington Free Beacon also wrote that Booker had cast votes against anti-abortion legislation “despite popular public opinion” supporting them.

    These assertions are largely based on polling that asks generic questions about abortion. However, polling that puts into context why someone would have an abortion after 20 weeks shows a different result. 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 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.”

    In each instance, right-wing media have relied on selective samples of public opinion and opinion polling to give the appearance of widespread opposition to Democratic support for abortion access. In reality, right-wing media have been intentionally fearmongering about so-called Democratic extremism on abortion as part of a 2020 strategy being pushed by Trump and other members of his administration.

    3. Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    The tactic

    Anti-abortion groups and right-wing media have also tried spinning non-abortion comments from candidates to fit anti-abortion groups' stereotypes about Democrats. Right-wing media relied on this approach to spread misinformation and stigma before, employing similar spin to try to connect abortion to the Parkland school shooting, the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and Christine Blasey Ford’s report that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.

    Examples

    At a CNN town hall, when Warren said her “favorite Bible verse” includes the lesson that “there is value in every single human being,” the anti-abortion group Concerned Women for America asked, “But only the ones that are wanted? What about the ones who survive an abortion?” Warren repeated this comment on her Twitter account, prompting The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh to claim that her comment proved Democrats “will actually jump on any opportunity to extol the virtue of human life and the value of human life,” but “you would think they would avoid talking about that because they know 60 million babies have been slaughtered in the womb and they are perfectly OK with that.” He also asserted:

    Even though the Democratic Party is the party of Satan, and even though it has embraced satanism and it has embraced infanticide and all of these forms of just the most -- the darkest, most debauched, evil you can imagine, even in spite of all that, still most Democrats feel the need to pretend to be Christian.

    In response to a tweet from candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) explaining her belief that “housing is a basic human right,” anti-abortion activist Lila Rose replied, “If housing is a basic human right, then I imagine you’re even more passionate about the right for a child to be born?” Following comments from Buttigieg about Trump’s religion, Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy dismissed his criticism because Buttigieg “is a guy who is on the record as a supporter of late-term abortion.” Tucker Carlson said on his show of Buttigieg, “This is a guy telling us what a great Christian he is, who’s for abortion up until birth and for sex-selection. Spare me your Christian talk, please. It's absurd.”

    Similarly, when candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called Trump “a coward,” right-wing radio host Stacy Washington replied, “You believe in abortion up to birth, gun confiscation, open borders and limp-wristed governance. You have no room to call anyone a coward.” When Gillibrand later tweeted about legislation she introduced that would “limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 7 days,” Fox News’ Brit Hume replied with an inaccurate comparison between her comments and the idea that abortion should be between a patient and a doctor. He wasn’t the only one to make this inaccurate “joke.”

    Anti-abortion activist Alveda King wrote a piece for Newsmax claiming that “Booker is touting a new reparations bill for African Americans while secretly supporting an agenda of genocide and infanticide by abortion of millions of black babies.” After comments from candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) that the “number one cause of death for a black child in America today is gun violence,” LifeNews.com tweeted, “Actually @ericswalwell the #1 killer of black children is abortion.”

    Right-wing media regularly dominate the conversation about abortion -- so it is unsurprising that these outlets are working overtime to drive an inaccurate narrative in advance of the 2020 election. Trump and the GOP have emphasized anti-abortion misinformation as a core part of their electoral strategies, and right-wing media have already shown their willingness to manufacture or signal boost these attacks. It is crucial for other media outlets to recognize these tactics and provide important context, rather than repeating lies and misinformation from these sources.

    Graphics by Melissa Joskow

  • Right-wing media and abortion opponents celebrate and defend Alabama law banning abortion

    The law will likely be challenged before it takes effect

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On May 15, Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law banning nearly all abortions in the state with no exceptions for rape and incest. While the law will likely be challenged before it takes effect, right-wing media and abortion opponents defended the lack of exceptions and celebrated it as a sign of Roe v. Wade’s end.

    The Alabama law prohibits abortion with only limited exceptions for “serious health risk” to the life of the pregnant person or because of a “lethal” fetal anomaly. As CNN noted, before the law’s signing, Democrats in the state legislature had “re-introduced an amendment to exempt rape and incest victims, but the motion failed on an 11-21 vote.” In addition to allowing for few exceptions, the law would also it a felony “punishable by up to 99 years in prison for doctors” to perform an abortion. Given patients’ concerns about the immediate accessibility of abortion care, it is important to note that abortion is still legal in Alabama. As Vox’s Anna North noted, the law has been signed by the governor but “does not take effect for six months,” and there are already plans underway to challenge it in court.

    As Republicans and right-wing media have repeatedly fearmongered about Democrats advocating for expanded abortion access and the codification of Roe’s protections at the state level, anti-choice politicians have pushed increasingly extreme anti-abortion bills -- likely as an attempt to capitalize on the opportunity for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe with conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch both now confirmed.

    Here are some of the extreme reactions and celebrations of right-wing and anti-abortion media to the Alabama law

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, celebrated the law as a “landmark victory for the people of Alabama who, like most Americans, overwhelmingly reject the extreme status quo of abortion on demand imposed nationwide by Roe v. Wade.” She added that she believed that “the time is coming for the Supreme Court to let that debate” on the legality of abortion “go forward.”
    • Fox News’ Tucker Carlson responded to outrage over the law’s passage by characterizing it as being indicative of "the modern Democratic orthodoxy: If you love women, you will encourage them to kill their own offspring.”
    • Anti-abortion group American Life League responded to an article saying the law bans “nearly all abortions” by arguing that the law didn’t go far enough. The group tweeted: “All of them should be banned.”
    • Former Turning Point USA Communications Director Candace Owens repeated the myth that Planned Parenthood and pro-choice advocates are promoting “genocide for black America” in a tweet about the Alabama law.
    • Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed on Fox & Friends that abortion opponents believe that “the time is now” to dismantle Roe and therefore return regulation of abortion to the states. Napolitano repeated the false claim that states like “New Jersey or New York” allow “infanticide.”
    • Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson:

    Caption

    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh repeatedly defended the law’s lack of a rape exception, claiming on his podcast that “abortion helps rapists cover up their crimes.” Walsh also said on Twitter that “abortion restrictions protect rape victims” and argued (inaccurately) that Planned Parenthood uses abortion to “assist an abuser in covering up abuse.” As an example, Walsh tweeted a hypothetical scenario alleging that denying an abortion to a “12 year old” who was “raped by her father” meant that there was a better chance that “his crime will be discovered.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro also defended the law’s lack of exceptions, saying on his podcast that those “concessions with regard to rape and incest” are only “a sop to public opinion rather than a principled stand about the value of human life.”
    • On Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt speculated about whether abortion laws like Alabama’s are a potential solution to address the declining U.S. birth rate, asking, “Will we see the numbers go up because more people won't be able to have access to abortions?”
    • LifeNews.com’s Steven Ertelt tweeted, “Democrats are so determined to make sure babies conceived in rape are killed in abortions. If only they were as concerned with putting the rapist in prison.” Ertelt’s outlet LifeNews.com responded to outrage over the draconian Alabama law with a tweet saying, “Funny how everyone complaining about Alabama banning abortions has already been born.”
    • National Review also praised the law:

    • On Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, celebrated the law as a sign that Roe was on the way to becoming “a historical footnote in our country.” Hawkins also tweeted that “abortion is a war on preborn women and men” and offered an inexplicable take on why people were “freaking out” about Alabama’s law:

    • Hawkins’ organization celebrated the Alabama law as “a great step for abolishing abortion and protecting the civil rights of all people, born and preborn!”
    • The Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson tweeted in defense of the law’s lack of exception, writing: “Btw the reasoning behind no exceptions for rape/incest in abortion bans is that an unborn child shouldn't lose their right to life on account of the circumstances that produced them.”
    • One America News Network’s Liz Wheeler asked, “Two questions to ask about the Alabama abortion bill. 1) When does life begin? Science says human life begins at conception. 2) If life begins at conception, what right to do we have to end that life? We don't, therefore abortion cannot be legal.”
    • On Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, conservative writer Eric Metaxas celebrated the Alabama law and other state abortion restrictions. He said these bans are “exactly what's supposed to happen. That's why Roe v. Wade is an abomination. It is not itself constitutional.”
    • Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, lauded Alabama and other states pushing anti-abortion bills and wrote, “We will make our states a safer home for mothers & children.” Rose went on to defend the Alabama law’s lack of exceptions, saying, “It’s disgusting to use the horrific trauma of child rape as pretext for the barbaric 1M legal abortions.” Rose’s organization also claimed that the law does not “go too far” even without the exceptions.
    • Religious media outlet Eternal World Television Network tweeted:

    • Michael Brown, a senior contributor to right-wing Christian site The Stream, wrote about the Alabama law in the context of a literal “civil war” that he alleged was “coming to America” and would be fought over abortion rights. Brown said that although “I hope with all my heart that it will not be a physically violent war,” he expressed concern about “violent attacks by pro-abortion extremists leading to retaliation by those being attacked. (By definition, if you are pro-life, you will not seek to take the life of an innocent person.)”
    • Kimberly Ross, a Washington Examiner contributor, tweeted that supporting rape exceptions “is not pro-life” because “You do not ‘unrape’ a woman by taking an innocent life. This confers worth on another based on feelings, not facts. What’s next?”
    • On Anderson Cooper 360, CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum said that “it does make sense” for abortion providers to get more jail time for performing an abortion than a rapist under Alabama’s law.

    What right-wing media and abortion opponents ignore or attempt to downplay is that the impact of a post-Roe Alabama will be felt mostly by marginalized communities, including poor people and people of color, who may lack the resources to access abortion care by leaving the state. As Rolling Stone’s Alex Morris explained, this new ban -- and the disparities it would exacerbate -- adds to a health care landscape in Alabama where “over a quarter of mothers don’t receive adequate prenatal care and less than half the counties have a delivery room.” In addition, he noted that “not once but twice in the past five years,” Alabama “has ranked 50th in the country in infant mortality.”

    Despite the celebrations of so-called "pro-life" figures, these terrible outcomes are likely to be more common if Alabama's law is allowed to take effect.

  • National Review writer’s distortion invites harassment of an abortion clinic director

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    As abortion clinic director Calla Hales highlighted the numerous potential legal inconsistencies of an anti-abortion bill making its way through the North Carolina legislature, National Review writer Alexandra DeSanctis selectively pulled a tweet from Hales’ Twitter thread to wrongly claim the clinic director didn’t believe infants were legal persons until 30 days after birth. This willful misrepresentation sparked harassment of Hales by right-wing and anti-abortion media -- once again demonstrating the dangerous consequences of incendiary anti-abortion rhetoric.