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Madelyn Webb

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  • Missouri media provide a model for local outlets when covering breaking abortion-related news

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 28, the last remaining abortion clinic in Missouri announced that it would be forced to stop providing abortion services within the week, after the Department of Health and Senior Services refused to renew the clinic’s license. Following the announcement, coverage from many local media outlets accurately and effectively reported on the breaking news. 

    Though a judge issued a temporary restraining order that allows the clinic to continue providing abortion care until at least June 21 -- when the state would have to "decide whether to renew Planned Parenthood's annual license" -- the status of abortion access in Missouri is still uncertain. Putting aside the increasing likelihood that the Supreme Court will overturn or further weaken Roe v. Wade, abortion rights are already under attack at the state level, and newsrooms must be prepared to provide accurate coverage of the stakes and impacts.

    Coverage from local Missouri media could serve as a model for other local media as these outlets cover continuing attacks on abortion rights. 

    1) Talk to abortion providers or people who have had abortions about their experiences and needs

    Too often, reporting about abortion or reproductive rights ignores or downplays the voices of those most central to the discussion: providers and patients. In contrast, while reporting on the imminent threat that Missouri’s last clinic providing abortion care may lose its license, Missouri media made an effort to talk to abortion providers and the patients who had relied on the clinic’s abortion services. For example, NBC affiliate KNDU aired a segment featuring a national NBC journalist talking to Jennifer Box, a local Missouri woman who had gotten an abortion at the clinic:

    ANN THOMPSON (NBC CORRESPONDENT): Two years ago, Jenny Box says, this is where she went to have an abortion.

    JENNIFER BOX: I know that we made the best choice for her.

    THOMPSON: But with no clinic and a new law the governor signed Friday banning abortions after eight weeks, she and her husband would no longer have that option. They ended her pregnancy at 15 weeks after learning their daughter had a genetic disorder and would die soon after birth. Now they are expecting another child.

    BOX: I believe my greatest act of love as her mother was to suffer myself instead.

    When asked by CBS affiliate KMOV about the clinic’s announcement, Box explained, “As someone who has lived through an abortion and has had Planned Parenthood doctors provide those services for her, it’s terrifying.”

    Missouri CBS affiliate KOLR 10 also aired a segment featuring an interview between a CBS national correspondent and Box:  

    JENNIFER BOX: We learned that the fetus had a fetal anomaly and would be born into a life of agony and so in March of that year, we decided to terminate the pregnancy.

    KATE SMITH (CBS CORRESPONDENT): And how far along were you at that point?

    BOX: I was 15 weeks when I had the termination.

    SMITH: That’s when she was introduced to Missouri’s abortion regulations.

    BOX: My husband and I refer to that as the book of shame.

    SMITH: The Missouri informed consent booklet is given to each woman at an abortion clinic before her mandatory 72-hour waiting period beings.

    BOX: You know, it’s a book to intimidate you, and to share their personal beliefs about gestation, not to give you medically accurate information when making a decision about having an abortion.

    Several local outlets also spoke to abortion provider Dr. Colleen McNicholas. On Fox affiliate KTVI, McNicholas highlighted the process for maintaining a clinic license and explained how anti-abortion activists were weaponizing the process to prevent patients from accessing abortion care:

    COLLEEN MCNICHOLAS: We have found from year to year that a practice that we were using in our delivery of care all of a sudden was no longer acceptable. And so obviously, by continuing to move the goalposts, by continuing to change the way they’re interpreting their own rules, it makes it impossible for us to be able to comply, because we’re just guessing on what they think.

    Many outlets provided a nuanced depiction of the impacts on the community should the clinic lose its license to perform abortions. Even so, outlets should be cautious about including comments from anti-abortion protesters without context -- particularly when these comments are juxtaposed with the lived experience of those who would be most impacted by a lack of access to abortion care. 

    2) Report accurately on the current state of abortion access -- including the impacts of losing access to this care

    After Planned Parenthood announced that its Missouri clinic may be forced to stop providing abortions, a number of national media outlets mistakenly reported that the clinic would be closing entirely. While some local Missouri stations also made this mistake, others were careful to explicitly note that the clinic would remain open and able to provide other services. In addition, a few Missouri outlets highlighted the impact on the state should the clinic lose the ability to provide abortion care. For example, KCTV 5 used a map to illustrate the geographical inaccessibility of abortion in Missouri. By contextualizing the state of abortion access in Missouri -- both in the status quo and beyond -- outlets ensured audiences understood the impact of the clinic losing its license to provide abortions. 

    3) Avoid broadcasting anti-choice talking points

    Missouri media largely did a good job reporting the facts of licensing fight without repeating anti-choice talking points or downplaying the impact that losing abortion access would have. In but one example of this misstep, NBC affiliate KOMU implied that losing abortion access would be inconsequential, with the correspondent saying that if the clinic couldn’t provide care, “people can still travel to neighboring Planned Parenthoods in Kansas and Illinois.” Suggesting that people travel out of state to access abortion care is a longstanding right-wing media talking point that ignores the numerous economic and logistical barriers making such a journey impossible for many. Most Missouri media made sure to highlight that such a situation would be unprecedented for any state since the passage of Roe v. Wade and would drastically change the accessibility of care in Missouri.

    Missouri may soon be without abortion care, and other states are likely to follow. In reporting on these issues, it is imperative that outlets include voices of people most knowledgeable about and impacted by the loss of abortion care: patients who have the procedure and the providers who perform them. Local and national media could learn from Missouri media’s coverage when reporting on the status of abortion care in a community.

  • Misinformation dominates abortion news coverage on Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    When it comes to abortion-related coverage, right-wing media excels at monopolizing the conversation and inserting harmful or inaccurate talking points that spread anti-choice misinformation. Despite widespread cries of censorship by right-wing and anti-abortion outlets, a new Media Matters study found that in April, Facebook audience engagement with U.S. abortion news coverage from right-wing sources far outpaced the engagement with neutral or left-leaning sources.

    Of the top-engaged U.S. abortion news coverage on the platform, over 63% of web links with the most Facebook interactions came from right-leaning websites, and 72% of the Facebook page posts with the most interactions were from right-leaning pages. and Live Action, two of the larger anti-abortion media sites accounted for almost 30% of viral links. The two main Facebook pages affiliated with these sites also made up a quarter of the most popular Facebook posts. Facebook’s newsfeed ranking algorithm determines a post's visibility by accounting for interactions (likes, reactions, shares, and comments) which means that top performing anti-abortion content from these outlets -- that have a long history of spreading anti-choice misinformation -- or other right-leaning sources have the potential to permeate user's newsfeeds and reach followers’ extended networks.

    Anti-abortion misinformation on the platform is not the only type of content that has critics concerned. Facebook has claimed several times, to mixed results, that the company is attempting to address its role in disseminating misinformation of various sorts. The platform has struggled to control the spread of conspiracy theories and white supremacy, and this misinformation problem also extends into content related to health and medicine. Facebook recently announced a plan to curb the spread of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and misinformation on Facebook and Instagram. Anti-abortion misinformation deserves the same effort from the platform -- particularly in light of the sheer volume of pseudoscience about abortion that is promoted using social media.

    Even before April, sensationalized and inaccurate stories about Democrats supporting “infanticide” went viral on Facebook. This false narrative quickly spread beyond the right-wing media echo chamber, garnering enough outrage that President Donald Trump made the (inaccurate) allegations a key talking point during his State of the Union address as well as in subsequent campaign rally speeches across the country. This misinformation chain from right-leaning and anti-abortion sources to the president is unsurprising. Anti-abortion outlets and right-wing media often work in tandem to push sensationalized narratives, manufacturing the illusion of widespread interest in or support for otherwise insignificant or inaccurate stories. Considering Trump’s media diet (which relies heavily on Fox News programming), it is unsurprising to see talking points from right-leaning sources finding a home in his speeches. Given the attention from the president, and the ease with which this misinformation can be spread online, it is also unsurprising that the same inaccurate narratives were dominant in April.

    Right-wing media have never been shy about promoting anti-abortion misinformation. And there’s been no shortage of topics for these sites to capitalize on because of the increasing push to pass anti-abortion legislation at the state level. Media Matters’ study found that beyond spreading misinformation, viral right-leaning abortion coverage also frequently advocated for anti-abortion legislation. Twenty-three percent of links from right-leaning websites reviewed by Media Matters promoted the idea of six-week bans on abortion. Most often, these links referred to six-week abortion bans as “heartbeat bills,” based on the scientifically unfounded claim that the fetal cardiac activity around this point signifies a viable pregnancy. Despite six weeks gestation being before most people know they’re pregnant and the lack of scientific support for such bills, several states have moved forward with these restrictions. While the phrase “six-week abortion ban” is more accurate, right-leaning media’s use of "heartbeat bill" has permeated broader coverage and caused other outlets to adopt the inaccurate and sensationalized framing even when criticizing these bills.

    In contrast to the dominance of right-leaning sources on abortion-related news in April, a Media Matters analysis of data from the 24 hours (6:30 p.m. May 15 to 6:30 p.m. May 16) after Alabama’s passage of a near total abortion ban shows a different dynamic at play.

    Using the same methodology as before, Media Matters collected and coded web links on Facebook and Facebook posts related to all U.S. abortion news published in the 24 hours following the passage of Alabama’s anti-abortion law. The results demonstrated a reversal in outlets that dominated the conversation: Of the 52 links related to abortion news that earned at least 10,000 or more Facebook interactions each, 45 (86.5%) came from left-leaning websites or websites without political alignment. These links earned over 3.1 million Facebook interactions (93% of all interactions from the top-engaged links about abortion coverage). Just seven top-engaged links came from right-leaning websites (13.5%), and they earned just under 239,000 interactions on Facebook (7.1%).

    In addition, posts from left-leaning Facebook pages and pages without political alignment also fared better in the wake of Alabama’s near total abortion ban. Of the 110 Facebook page posts from the same 24-hour period -- each with at least 5,000 or more interactions -- 94 (85.5%) of all top-engaged abortion news posts came from pages without political alignment and left-leaning pages, with posts earning almost 1.3 million interactions total (84.3% of all interactions from top-engaged posts about abortion). In contrast, right-leaning pages only had 16 (14.5%) of the top-engaged Facebook posts, which earned just over 239,000 interactions total (15.7%).

    This data suggests that although right-leaning links and pages typically dominate abortion-related coverage, left-leaning and non-aligned sources surpass them when reacting to negative abortion-related news. The practical effect of this is that many readers on Facebook do not get the opportunity to learn about threats to reproductive health before these restrictions are enacted. This spike in engagements with left-leaning and non-aligned sources was not enough to correct for the massive amount of anti-abortion misinformation preceding the passage of Alabama’s abortion ban, but it does suggest that an audience exists for such content.

    Right-wing media’s continued repetition of inaccurate talking points has enabled anti-abortion misinformation to drive policy making and poltical strategies. Republicans are already weaponizing the issue to undermine Democratic presidential candidates as part of a broader 2020 election strategy -- a strategy with potentially deadly consequences. The absurd anti-abortion rhetoric that dominates on Facebook exacerbates this problem, and abortion patients and providers are bearing the consequences.

    Natalie Martinez contributed research to this report.

  • Study: Right-wing sources dominate abortion-related news on Facebook

    In the month of April, 63% of links and 72% of posts on Facebook related to abortion news in the U.S. came from right-leaning sources.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In 2019, right-wing media have dominated abortion-related coverage with sensationalized anti-choice rhetoric and harmful misinformation. And on Facebook, anti-abortion misinformation is consistently outperforming all other coverage of abortion-related news.

    A Media Matters study of top-engaged U.S. abortion-related coverage on Facebook in the month of April found that 63% of links with the most Facebook interactions came from right-leaning websites, and 72% of the Facebook page posts with the most interactions came from right-leaning pages. Two anti-abortion websites, and Live Action, made up almost 30% of viral links, and the two main Facebook pages affiliated with these sites made up more than a quarter of the most popular Facebook posts.

    Top-engaged content from right-leaning sources often pushed anti-abortion misinformation. Twenty-three percent of links from right-leaning websites reviewed in this study pushed for six-week bans on abortion (also inaccurately referred to as “heartbeat bills”) based on the anti-choice claim that abortion should be banned as soon as fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically by six weeks. Medical experts, however, say "cardiac activity isn't a credible measure of fetal viability." Right-leaning websites and pages also shared false stories about Democrats supporting “infanticide” (they don’t) and anti-conservative censorship by social media platforms (there is none).

    Sixty-three percent of the top links related to abortion news on Facebook came from right-leaning websites.

    Media Matters reviewed 278 top links related to abortion news which collectively earned 13.6 million interactions on Facebook. Right-leaning websites had 175 links (63%), which earned over 8.6 million interactions (63.6%). Websites that aren’t politically aligned had 80 links (28.8%), which earned 3.8 million interactions (27.8%). And left-leaning websites had just 23 links (8.3%), which earned 1.2 million interactions (8.6%).

    Many of the most widely shared links referenced debunked or misleading narratives about abortion, like the idea that Democratic politicians are endorsing “infanticide” by supporting abortion access later in pregnancy. Twenty-three percent of top right-leaning links related to abortion news in April celebrated the passage of six-week abortion bans. The most popular link during the time frame analyzed was from the right-wing Christian site The Stream, directing Facebook users to an article that quoted a Republican Ohio state representative calling Ohio’s six-week ban “the most compassionate bill we’ve ever passed.” It earned over 904,000 interactions on Facebook. In reality, these six-week abortion laws are effectively a ban on abortion access that will have devastating consequences for patients seeking care.

    Few articles from left-leaning websites and those without political alignment contained any significant discussion of what these bans would mean for patients seeking abortion care.

    One source, the anti-abortion website, amassed 24% of all top link interactions had by far the most top-engaged links at 58 links (20.9%) and received the highest number of Facebook interactions at 3.2 million (23.9%). Ben Shapiro's The Daily Wire followed at 21 top-engaged links (7.6%) with 943,000 interactions (7%). Live Action came in third with 18 top-engaged links (6.5%), but the interactions it received, 816,555 (6%), were not the third highest in the list. The Stream had only one top-engaged link but received the third-highest number of interactions -- 904,000 (6.7%).

    Overall, 10 of the top 13 domains with the most viral links related to abortion belonged to right-leaning sources; three belonged to websites without political alignment. Seven of the 10 websites whose top-engaged links got the most Facebook interactions were right-leaning; of the other three, two were without political alignment and one was left-leaning. This trend is consistent with data that shows that across all types of content, right-wing publishers dominate on Facebook., founded by the president of Colorado Citizens for Life, exists explicitly to advocate against abortion and to report “news that affects the pro-life community.” The site regularly publishes sensationalized headlines and misleading stories as part of anti-abortion misinformation campaigns. Almost half of’s top-engaged links made some reference to Democrats allegedly supporting “infanticide,” a debunked claim misrepresenting later abortion procedures that are often necessary in instances of fetal abnormality or threats to the life of the pregnant person. These inaccurate allegations about “infanticide” have been consistently amplified by right-wing media. One article on -- which earned 281,000 interactions on Facebook -- falsely asserted in its headline and body that Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam “supported infanticide.” Another article claiming in its headline that Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) was “tired of Republicans trying to stop infanticide” earned over 174,000 interactions. This false narrative is not just inaccurate; it also actively villainizes abortion providers, fueling incidents of anti-choice harassment and even violence.

    Over 72% of top Facebook page posts related to abortion news in the U.S. came from right-leaning Facebook pages

    The 261 top Facebook page posts related to abortion news earned over 4.5 million interactions in total. Of the 261 posts, 190 were posted by right-leaning pages (72.8%) and they earned almost 3.2 million interactions (70.5%). Thirty-eight posts came from pages without political alignment (14.6%); they earned almost 723,000 interactions (16%). And just 33 posts came from left-leaning pages (12.6%), and they earned over 614,000 interactions (13.6%).

    Just two anti-abortion pages earned 25% of all Facebook interactions from top Facebook posts

    As with links, the page associated with dominated in terms of abortion-related Facebook page posts. Forty-two of the top-engaged posts came from’s main Facebook page (16.1%), and they earned almost 689,000 interactions (15.2%). Live Action’s main Facebook page had 26 top-engaged posts (10%) that earned over 523,000 interactions (11.6%). The Facebook page affiliated with Live Action President Lila Rose had the fourth highest number of top-engaged posts at 14 (5.4%) and fifth highest number of interactions with over 179,000 interactions (4%). Ben Shapiro’s Facebook page had the third highest number of top-engaged posts at 21(8%) that earned almost 342,000 interactions (7.6%).

    Overall, the top eight Facebook pages with the most top-engaged posts about abortion were all right-leaning; the following two top-engaged pages were both without political alignment. And seven of the 10 Facebook pages that earned the most interactions on posts we reviewed were right-leaning; of the remaining three, two pages did not have political alignment and one was left-leaning.

    Right-leaning sources and anti-abortion sites are still claiming their content is being censored even though they are outperforming left-leaning sources and sources without political affiliation on Facebook

    Some of the highest-performing Facebook pages that regularly discuss abortion belong to groups that routinely claim that tech platforms censor anti-abortion or conservative content. Live Action has sent multiple fundraising emails to supporters alleging that the organization’s content is “being suppressed” by Twitter and Facebook. However, posts from Live Action and the organization's founder, Lila Rose, together accounted for a larger share of top Facebook posts related to abortion coverage (15.3%) than all left-leaning pages combined (12.6%).

    These censorship claims fall in line with right-wing media’s claim that tech companies are supposedly censoring conservative voices. Two Media Matters studies about political content on Facebook, published in July 2018 and April 2019, found no evidence to support these claims. And yet, right-wing outlets and anti-abortion media have inspired Republican lawmakers to hold congressional hearings on the matter.


    Using Newswhip’s social media monitoring program Spike, Media Matters searched for links published online between April 1, 2019, and April 30, 2019, that included any of the following words or phrases in the headline: abortion, abortions, abort, pro life, pro-life, partial birth, partial-birth, fetus, crisis pregnancy, late term, late-term, infanticide, unborn, preborn, Roe v Wade, Roe v. Wade, pro choice, pro-choice, anti-abortion, Planned Parenthood, Title X, gag rule, anti-choice, and anti choice. Researchers filtered search results on Spike by the amount of Facebook interactions and exported data for the 300 links with the most interactions. The search was repeated for Facebook page posts published between April 1, 2019, and April 30, 2019. Data for the top 300 Facebook page posts with the most interactions was also downloaded.

    Researchers individually reviewed all links and posts to exclude irrelevant content, including that which had nothing to do with English-language abortion news coverage in the U.S., coverage that mentioned abortion in the U.S. only tangentially, or content published by satire sources like The Onion or The Babylon Bee. After exclusions, the final sample size analyzed was 278 links and 261 Facebook page posts.

    The political affiliation of most sources had been previously coded as part of earlier Media Matters studies, and the previous political-alignment codes for those pages were applied. For sources without previous coding, two researchers independently coded each domain and Facebook page as either “left-leaning,” “right-leaning,” or without political alignment, as determined by the source’s name and an analysis of its published content. Sources that expressed opposition to President Donald Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at liberals (e.g., protecting abortion rights, calling for action against gun violence, etc.) were coded as left-leaning. Sources that expressed support for Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at conservatives (e.g., restricting abortion rights, downplaying gun violence, etc.) were coded as right-leaning. All right-wing and left-wing media outlets and organizations were automatically coded as right-leaning or left-leaning, respectively. Pages that did not have an ideological leaning were coded as nonaligned. Coding conflicts were resolved by a third researcher.

  • Media highlight how to help people in states passing restrictive abortion laws

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Thursday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law banning almost all abortions in the state, without exemptions for cases of rape or incest. Other states (including Missouri and Louisiana) are working to pass similarly draconian bans. Importantly, none of these bans have yet gone into effect, and abortion is still legal in every state in the U.S. Media have responded to their audiences’ desires to protect abortion access and support people living in these states -- what follows is a roundup of these outlets' advice.

    Support groups already doing work on the ground

    In every state working to pass restrictive new abortion bans, there are already organizations on the ground that have been working to protect abortion access, fight anti-choice laws, and support patients seeking abortions. These groups are best positioned to know and support the needs of patients in their communities, as InStyle explained:

    Abortion funds are organizations that help people pay for and access abortion care. This can include the cost of the procedure itself; transportation and lodging before, during, and after; funds to alleviate the financial pressure of taking off work, paying for childcare, and so forth. While some have started GoFundMe’s and the like to individually fundraise for people who need abortions, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. There are many abortion funds and grassroots initiatives that already exist and need your help.

    Here are other suggestions: 

    • Glamour: “Here’s How You Can Help Women in States With Extreme Abortion Bans Right Now”

    In addition to supporting national organizations leading the fight to protect women's reproductive rights—like Planned Parenthood—there are many grassroots organizations helping women on the ground. Here are a few organizations to consider that are providing resources and access to local women looking to obtain abortions:

    The Yellowhammer Fund: Located in Alabama, the Yellowhammer Fund offers funding for women seeking treatment at one of Alabama's three remaining abortion clinics. The fund will also help with other barriers to access, such as travel or lodging.

    National Network of Abortion Funds: NNAF is a network of funds—including the Yellowhammer Fund—across 38 states that helps eliminate economic for low-income women looking to obtain an abortion. They work with funds everywhere from Georgia to Texas to Ohio.

    Magnolia Fund: A Georgia-based organization that provides resources to support the reproductive choices of women in the South, as well as to help defray the cost of abortion fees for women in Georgia.

    Access Reproductive Care—Southeast: ARC helps people in the South—in states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, or Tennessee—receive access to safe and affordable reproductive care by offering financial and logistical support. [Glamour, 5/15/19]

    • Teen Vogue: “Where to Donate and How to Help Keep Abortion Legal”

    Give your money and time to organizations that are led by women of color, who are most affected by abortion bans.

    Causes like Sister Song, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, National AsianPacific American Women’s Forum, and Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (URGE), to name a few, are doing the vital work of centering on women of color, who are often the most endangered by abortion bans and restrictions to reproductive rights. [Teen Vogue, 5/17/19]

    • Complex: “How You Can Help Women Living in States Facing Extreme Abortion Bans”

    Donate directly in states most affected. While Planned Parenthood is a well-known abortion provider and an incredible organization, many women go to local clinics for their procedures. HuffPost published a list of clinics in each state, which included Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Kentucky, A-Z Women’s Center in Nevada, Capital Care Network in Ohio, and Alabama Women’s Center LLC. [Complex, 5/16/19]

    • HuffPost: “Here’s What You Can Do (Other Than A Sex Strike) To Fight Draconian Anti-Abortion Laws”

    Alabama has just three [abortion clinics]: the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives (fundraiser here), Reproductive Health Services of Montgomery and the West Alabama Women’s Center, both of which told HuffPost that those who wish to donate should give to the Yellowhammer Fund.

    If you have time you’d be willing to give, consider becoming a clinic escort. (If you’re in the Montgomery area, P.O.W.E.R. House is a great place to start.)

    You can find a clinic in your area through the National Abortion Federation. [HuffPost, 5/15/19]

    Don’t create “auntie networks” without talking to groups already facilitating abortion access

    Although it may be tempting to respond to the latest wave of anti-abortion legislation by creating new support groups, animated pro-choice supporters should defer to those organizations already working in these communities. The rise of so-called “auntie networks” are but one example of such a well-meaning but misguided attempt to help people seeking abortion care. As The Boston Globe explained, these networks are made up of volunteers who see themselves as “preparing for the possibility that abortion will be severely restricted” by “extending a hand and offering to open their doors to women who may find themselves in need of assistance.” In reality, as other outlets noted, these networks not only undermine groups that have been doing this work for decades, they are also potentially dangerous. As tempting as it may be for abortion rights supporters to get creative, the most helpful thing people can do is support existing organizations:

    • Truthout: "The 'Auntie Network' Already Exists"

    Yamani Hernandez is the executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a network of organizations across the United States and three other countries that are funding abortion and building power to fight for cultural and political change. Hernandez was among those who took to Twitter in recent days to point out that abortion funds provide the framework that is needed for these efforts, saying “we need folks to join not reinvent.” [Truthout, 5/19/19]

    • The Daily Dot: "Nonprofit groups express concern with pop-up abortion networks"

    The nonprofit groups are claiming that even if pop-ups are well-intentioned, they pose a safety risk to participants and divert much-needed resources from established organizations.

    The Midwest Access Coalition, for example, provides women with transportation, places to stay, medicine, and emotional support.

    “I would caution anyone from doing this, both for their own safety but first and foremost for the patient’s safety,” Marie Khan, director of operations for the Midwest Access Coalition, told the Daily Dot. “Advertising free housing on Reddit, Imgur, and Facebook is incredibly dangerous.” [The Daily Dot, 5/17/19]

    Share abortion stories, and help spread the word to combat abortion stigma

    As several outlets noted in the wake of Alabama’s anti-abortion bill, people can only help defend abortion access in their states if they know that it is threatened -- and if they understand the impacts of such harmful legislation. By having conversations online and in their own communities, people can share stories to reduce abortion stigma and express their concerns about these dangerous bills:

    • Well+Good: “Anti-abortion Legislation is About All of Us—Here’s How You Can Fight It.”

    You can advocate for abortion rights now without leaving your home state. (This Twitter thread provides suggestions based on your geographical location.) Start by circulating a message championing reproductive rights throughout social media, and to any acquaintances, relatives, or friends you may have in Alabama and Georgia. [Well+Good, 5/15/19]

    • Paper: “How to Help Women in States With Severe Abortion Bans”

    Abortion is one of the most divisive topics in the country right now, and one of if not the most highly stigmatized medical procedures a person can obtain. If you have the courage and privilege to speak out, on whatever platform you choose or among your own circles, please do. For many reasons, abortion (and reproductive health in general) is mired in misinformation, dogma and stigma. So educate yourself on the consequences of extreme abortion bans, which aren't going anywhere and may only get worse, and help the people around you understand them too. Don't panic and give up — look to the people who have been doing reproductive rights work for years, give them the resources (money and time) that they need, and wherever you can, amplify their work. [Paper, 5/15/19]

    • The Cut: “What You Can Do to Help Women in States With Extreme Abortion Bans”

    If you can’t donate to organizations or volunteer, you can still vocally condemn attacks on abortion rights, and speak to those around you who may not fully grasp the chilling effect these laws have.

    “Have the critical conversations with your family members and friends to activate them in the fight for abortion access and reproductive justice,” Quita Tinsley, the deputy director of ARC, told the Cut. “Being clear about our beliefs not only challenges stigma, but it also shows the people that have had abortions that they have allies and supporters in their community.” [The Cut, 5/17/19]

  • Fox News gave anti-abortion film Unplanned over $1 million in free promotion this year

    One of the film’s funders is also one of Fox News’ most loyal advertisers

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News and the anti-abortion film Unplanned have more in common than elevating anti-choice misinformation: They’ve both been heavily subsidized by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell. Despite Fox’s aggressive advertiser losses in the past year, Lindell has remained one of the network’s most loyal supporters -- and the network appears to be rewarding his loyalty, providing over a million dollars in free promotion to Unplanned since the beginning of 2019.

    Between January 1 and April 12 of this year, Fox News has aired 33 segments about or including discussion of Unplanned -- equal to roughly $1 million in promotional value. Given that Unplanned reportedly cost $6 million to produce, Fox provided free promotion equivalent to at least one-sixth of the film’s total budget. During Unplanned’s opening week alone, Fox provided the film with approximately $470,310 in free promotion based on Media Matters analysis of the network’s advertising value from March 29 to April 5.

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    MyPillow has remained one of Fox News’ most consistent advertisers, even as others have fled the network after increasing awareness by many companies that being associated with Fox is bad for business. MyPillow is not only the biggest sponsor of Tucker Carlson Tonight, but the company was also recently cited by Fox News host Laura Ingraham as evidence that advertising with the network is still lucrative. Beyond continuing to advertise on Fox, Lindell also invested $1 million in the film Unplanned, an anti-abortion movie rife with inaccurate information about abortion clinics and procedures. Notably, Lindell makes an appearance in the film as a construction worker "'bulldozing a Planned Parenthood site to make way for the headquarters of an anti-abortion group.'"

    Fox has gone above and beyond in promoting the film. The network not only aired clips from the movie and urged viewers to see it, but also granted five interviews to the film’s lead actress, Ashley Bratcher, three with its directors, and one interview with the musician behind the film’s title track, complete with a live musical performance. Unplanned’s marketing has also relied heavily on alleging that the film has been censored, a technique for generating outrage and attention perfected by right-wing and anti-abortion media. Fox News has helped amplify this the inaccurate narrative, repeating the completely unfounded claim that the movie’s Twitter account and wider social media roll-out plan were censored.

    It is in Fox’s best interest to keep their advertisers happy, especially as pressure mounts for companies to reconsider associating their products with the network’s reliably toxic content. Just this past weekend, Lindell was granted an episode-long interview on Fox News’ Life, Liberty & Levin -- a rare privilege for an advertiser. By promoting Unplanned, Fox News was able to accomplish two goals at once: spreading anti-abortion misinformation and rewarding one of the network’s most loyal advertisers.


    Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for mentions of “abortion” in close proximity to either “unplanned” or “pro-life” on Fox News Channel between 4 a.m. and midnight starting January 1, 2019 and ending April 12, 2019.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances in which speakers mentioned the movie Unplanned, or alleged “censorship” of the movie’s social media accounts. Segments that were about abortion but did not mention Unplanned or it’s social media accounts were not included. Teasers for upcoming segments were not included. For discussions of the movie in segments generally about abortion, we only timed the relevant speech. Segments included host monologues, news reports or packages, interviews, movie clips, and guest panels. We did not include rebroadcasts.

    After determining the amount of time in each segment spent talking about Unplanned, we utilized the media monitoring service iQ media to calculate the amount of advertising value each segment was worth.

  • Lessons to learn from Oklahoma media’s insufficient coverage of an abortion criminalization bill

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Since November, Oklahoma Republican state Sen. Joseph Silk has aggressively promoted a now-tabled bill that would criminalize all abortions without exception. Silk is deeply tied to an extreme anti-abortion community that supports the “abolition” of abortion rights, but Oklahoma media's reporting on his abortion criminalization bill failed to identify or explain these extreme affiliations -- to the detriment of pregnant people in the state.

    Silk introduced SB 13 to reclassify abortion as homicide, making felons of both the doctors who perform them and the patients who receive them. The bill makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, and it carries harsh punishments for patients who use many forms of contraception and even some forms of fertility treatment. Though the Oklahoma bill is likely unconstitutional, it has already inspired similar legislation in other states, including Texas, Colorado, and Indiana.

    Oklahoma media repeatedly stumbled when reporting on this extreme bill -- failing to adequately contextualize Silk’s extreme anti-abortion position and its consequences, downplaying his supporters’ history of harassment, and repeating anti-choice talking points without pushback. Although the bill did not make it out of committee, news outlets covering similar extreme anti-abortion bills in other states should learn from these mistakes.

    Media should contextualize connections between abortion criminalization bills and the extreme          anti-abortion communities supporting them

    Silk’s anti-abortion advocacy and support for so-called abortion “abolition” is not a recent development. He has a history of introducing anti-abortion legislation in the Oklahoma Senate, and he spoke at a March 2018 campaign rally for then-gubernatorial candidate Dan Fisher that was hosted by Operation Save America, an extreme anti-abortion group with a history of making threats and perpetuating harassment. Fisher’s campaign platform stated that he is “an abolitionist,” and it included a commitment to “defy the federal government” and “make Oklahoma the first abortion-free state.” After his campaign failed, Fisher’s staff founded the abortion abolition organization Free the States, which frequently hosts events supporting Silk and his bill.

    Abortion abolition groups differ from other anti-abortion groups by advocating for the immediate criminalization of abortion without any exceptions for cases of rape or incest. In addition to this extreme view, these so-called abolitionist groups also oppose most forms of birth control or reproductive intervention, including Plan B and in vitro fertilization. Silk is not an unwitting participant in the activities of this extremist community. In the past year alone, he has given multiple exclusive interviews to Free the States and endorsed the group’s extremist ideology. In return, the group announced that it will “gather our resources and put all hands on deck to demand that [Silk’s] bill is passed.”

    Almost no reporting on Silk's efforts to promote SB 13 included information about his ties to the abortion abolition community, despite the fact that he titled the bill the “Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act.” Media’s failure to note both the extremism of Silk’s supporters and his individual endorsement of their ideology obscures the threat that bills like this present. 

    Outlets should avoid promoting or uncritically repeating anti-choice euphemisms and talking points

    Beyond the failure to note Silk’s involvement with the abortion abolition community, Oklahoma media also allowed Silk and his supporters to use these platforms to repeat anti-choice talking points. After Silk held a rally to promote his bill at the state Capitol, multiple Oklahoma outlets allowed Silk and his supporters to compare abortion to slavery and the holocaust with no pushback or context about why these statements are problematic.

    One segment featured a member of Free the States saying, “We have five free-standing child sacrifice centers. A lot of people call them abortion clinics.” Although this quote was irrelevant to the substance of the bill, its inclusion without pushback actively editorializes and fearmongers about abortion. Free the States later posted this clip to the group’s Facebook page, writing, “We can’t afford to run TV ads supporting #SB13 and our campaign to Free the States from their participation in the American Abortion Holocaust. But if we could, we would run them during the nightly news. Good thing they are running brief ads for us.”

    Outlets should be cautious about including quotes that do not provide information about the substance of criminalization bills. Quotes that reiterate anti-choice talking points -- scattered throughout articles with no counterpoint or pushback -- legitimize these extreme viewpoints and misrepresent the material harm these bills would have.

    Media should describe what these bill would actually mean for pregnant people’s ability to access desired health care options, including abortion

    Outlets reporting on abortion criminalization bills need to describe the realities of these policies, including the repercussions such extreme measures would have for pregnant people and abortion providers. For example, Oklahoma media published a series of articles covering Silk’s rally at the state Capitol, but the only pro-choice perspective included in many of these pieces was a brief quote from a Democratic lawmaker stating that the bill is unlikely to go anywhere. Some stories did not include any pro-choice perspectives at all. One exception to this trend was a February 13 article from The Oklahoman, which included a quote from the board president for Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice highlighting the dangers of the bill. Most news coverage of Silk’s event did not include the voices of people who provide or receive abortions, and many stories had no explanation of the consequences should the bill go into effect in Oklahoma. In covering Silk’s bill, some Oklahoma media outlets simply said that it would take “past efforts against abortion a step further.” While true, this characterization omits critical information and downplays the harmful impact such bills have.

    Already, patients across the country are being prosecuted for either miscarrying or self-managing abortions. In Indiana, a woman who attempted suicide when she was eight months pregnant was charged with murder. In Iowa, a pregnant woman was charged with feticide after she accidentally fell down the stairs. And bills such as Silk’s which further codify the criminalization of abortion care are guaranteed to exacerbate this problem. Under the Oklahoma bill, doctors who provide abortions could be charged with homicide. Silk’s bill would also criminalize selective embryo reduction, a common practice among patients who have received in vitro fertilization, making it more difficult for patients with fertility difficulties to receive treatment in Oklahoma.

    Reporting on abortion criminalization bills should center these kinds of consequences -- focusing on what happens if these harmful bills take effect, and specifically what they would mean for pregnant patients and their doctors. As more states introduce abortion criminalization bills, outlets can learn lessons from where Oklahoma media fell short. By providing context about the extreme background of the groups promoting these bills and ensuring that readers have access to information about their harmful impacts, outlets can avoid advertising for anti-abortion extremists.

    Correction (2/20/19): In the original version of this post, Media Matters incorrectly linked to a story from The Oklahoman when describing outlets that had failed to quote any pro-choice voices in coverage of SB 13. The link should have directed readers to a story from the Tulsa World.

  • Right-wing media used state abortion measures to villainize people who have abortions

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After several states promoted measures protecting abortion access, right-wing media not only spread an immense amount of misinformation about the efforts, but also lashed out at people who have had abortions, stigmatizing and denigrating them for making a personal health care decision. In particular, these outlets and media figures targeted people who have had abortions later in pregnancy -- by suggesting that they are heartless murderers, misrepresenting them as callous and irresponsible, and even calling them “satanic.”

    The bills that instigated this outrage are far from radical: Democratic lawmakers in New York and Virginia were attempting to protect abortion access at the state level, not to legalize “infanticide” -- as some right-wing media alleged. Right-wing media seized on clips of Democratic Virginia lawmakers Rep. Kathy Tran and Gov. Ralph Northan alledgedly describing later abortion procedures, spurring the spread of further hyperbole and misinformation about proactive state abortion protection bills. In reality, these measures would legalize abortions later in pregnancy “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk,” a far cry from right-wing media’s allegations that such procedures (and the people who have or provide them) are “demonic.”

    Here are just some of the examples of right-wing media misrepresenting people who have received abortions, a legal and sometimes necessary medical procedure:

    • Fox News contributors and right-wing internet personalities Diamond and Silk (Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson) tweeted that Democrats were trying to allow “abortions up to the birth” of a baby (they aren’t) and that this was “murder”: 

    • During the January 31 edition of his radio program, Fox News’ Sean Hannity claimed that people should take advantage of “birth control options” to avoid getting pregnant. He concluded that because of these options, someone who needs an abortion later in pregnancy is irresponsible because they either should have prevented the pregnancy or gotten an abortion “in the first three months.”
    • On Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program, Justice with Judge Jeanine, political columnist Amy Holmes said, “There are women who kill their kids for selfish reasons."
    • In a series of tweets, Washington Examiner contributor Kimberly Ross attacked people who support access to abortions as "morally weak,” and accused patients who have received them of being “predatory” and of “stand[ing] on the backs of the unborn dead”:

    • During the January 31 edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee alleged that people who have abortions later in pregnancy are doing so because they think having a child is “going to be an inconvenience.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro also pushed the narrative that people who have abortions later in pregnancy are doing so callously, saying that people might argue “I’d be healthier if I didn’t have this 9-month-old baby right here that’s about to enter my vaginal canal. Cut its brains out,” and claiming, “That’s what this law now allows.”
    • During President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative group Turning Point USA, tweeted that later abortions are “despicable” and that anyone who supports efforts to protect or expand abortion access was endorsing “this savagery”:

    • After New York illuminated One World Trade Center with pink lights to honor the passage of abortion protections, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that New York was celebrating “legalized murder, calling it abortion."
    • During his Fox News program, Hannity, host Sean Hannity stated that because several laws that allow later abortion in order to protect the pregnant person’s health don’t further define what’s entailed in protecting health, “If someone says hours before [giving birth], ‘Oh, I'm having emotional second thoughts,’ and a doctor says, ’OK,’ then they're allowed to commit infanticide."
    • On Twitter, Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens said people celebrating state abortion protection measures -- which she said allow “slaughtering babies” -- were “satanic”:

    • During the January 31 edition of Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, actor Kevin Sorbo compared people who have abortions later in pregnancy to Nazis, saying: “You know, there's a group of people about 70 years ago that decided what lives were worth living, what lives were not, and they were called the Nazis.”
  • Media should avoid these traps in covering this year's March for Life


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The annual anti-abortion March for Life will take place on January 18 this year

    Every year in January, anti-abortion groups and individuals gather in Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life -- a series of events protesting the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion in the United States. This year, the January 18 march will celebrate the theme “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science.” That theme echoes a common argument from anti-abortion groups that “medical and technological advancements continue to reaffirm the science behind the pro-life cause” including “that life begins at fertilization, or day one.”

    Last year, media coverage of the March for Life demonstrated that some outlets were unable to handle the necessary fact-checking or provide the needed context about the extreme history of many anti-abortion groups, the deceptive science behind many of their claims, and the alleged popularity of anti-abortion policies. This year, media can learn from these mistakes before the annual protest kicks off.

    Three lessons media should learn from the coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    #1 Avoid whitewashing the extremism of anti-abortion groups and spokespeople

    During the 2018 March for Life, there were several examples of outlets whitewashing anti-abortion groups and spokespeople by downplaying these organization’s long histories of extreme rhetoric and activism.

    For example, leading up to the 2018 event, NPR highlighted two anti-abortion leaders -- Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, and Abby Johnson of And Then There Were None. In both reports, NPR failed to provide critical context about these anti-choice activists and the efforts of their organizations to oppose abortion access. In one piece, NPR asked Hawkins to comment on the status of various anti-choice movement priorities but failed to mention her long history of extreme comments about abortion, contraceptives, and more. These comments include her statement that certain forms of birth control should be illegal or are “carcinogenic” or “abortion-inducing,” as well as her claim that being an "abortion abolitionist" is "just like the slavery abolitionists." Similarly, NPR’s profile of Johnson and her organization focused on the group’s effort to “persuade as many [abortion clinic] workers as possible to leave the field.” Although NPR did note that the circumstances of Johnson’s departure from her own job at a clinic have been disputed by Planned Parenthood, the outlet did not substantively explain the details, which suggest there’s more to Johnson’s “conversion” story than meets the eye. NPR also didn’t explore the full spectrum of misinformation that Johnson regularly spreads about her former employer -- including the inaccurate claim that Planned Parenthood performs abortions on people who aren’t pregnant.

    Johnson is scheduled to speak during this year’s March for Life rally -- giving outlets ample opportunity to fact-check her inaccurate claims. In addition to Johnson, outlets must also avoid downplaying the extremism of other right-wing media and anti-abortion figures scheduled to speak during the event. These figures include Fox News commentator Alveda King and The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, who will be recording an episode of his podcast before speaking at the rally on January 18.

    #2 Prevent anti-abortion groups from promoting junk science and unqualified “experts” to support anti-abortion policies

    During last year’s March for Life, outlets legitimized the false narrative of scientific support for anti-abortion policies by repeating unsubstantiated claims and manipulative terminology and by promoting so-called “scientific experts” without disclosing their ties to anti-choice organizations. For example, The Atlantic published an article the day before the 2018 March for Life quoting several representatives of the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) without noting that the group was founded by the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) specifically to produce research supporting the anti-choice movement. Perhaps more concerning than CLI’s origins, the group is still operated as part of SBA List -- filing federal 990 tax forms as “The Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund.” The Atlantic’s failure to identify CLI’s ties to the wider anti-abortion movement earned the outlet a place in Rewire.News’ 2018 “Hall of Shame” for inaccurate or deceptive reporting on reproductive rights. Other outlets such as CNN and The Birmingham News have also made the mistake of either downplaying or omitting CLI’s affiliations when citing the anti-abortion group in reporting.

    Beyond failing to identify CLI’s anti-abortion affiliations in reporting, outlets have also continued to reiterate anti-abortion talking points and signal-boost partisan science. In March, The Associated Press published an article that repeated the discredited claim that there is a pathological link between having an abortion and developing “depression, anxiety and sleeping disorders.” In April, The Washington Post reported on a study that purported to show the effectiveness of a junk science anti-abortion procedure referred to as “abortion pill reversal,” but the journal that published the study was later forced to withdraw it after widely reported methodological concerns.

    The consequences of allowing anti-abortion junk science to go unchecked can already be seen in several states’ anti-choice laws. The unscientific concept of fetal pain was influential in passing an anti-abortion bill in Missouri, even though many medical experts have disputed the validity of the studies and claims used to support such laws. In other states like Ohio and Iowa, anti-abortion lawmakers are promoting bans on abortion as early as six weeks (before many people know they’re pregnant), on the grounds that abortion should be illegal if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat. Already in 2019, Kentucky lawmakers have proposed a similar ban -- despite previous arguments from doctors that such policies actually do more harm than good.

    Given the theme of this year’s march, media have a responsibility to accurately report on reproductive science and not to elevate pseudoscientific talking points from anti-abortion organizations without providing necessary context and pushback. In particular, media should:

    • Avoid using, or letting guests use, the phrase “partial-birth abortion,” which is not a medical term. Anti-abortion groups, in fact, invented the term to inspire shame and stigma. In reality, the term and the nonexistent medical practices to which it refers are a favorite right-wing and anti-choice media talking point when attacking access to later abortions.
    • Be skeptical of claims about so-called “post-abortion syndrome.” Although right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have long claimed that people experience regret or develop depression after having an abortion, the supposed evidence supporting such claims has been consistently refuted.
    • Provide ample context about the lack of evidence supporting so-called “abortion pill reversal,” an anti-choice medical procedure which supposedly allows a patient to reverse an abortion induced via pill. This procedure has been largely discredited as junk science, with one of the major studies supporting it having been pulled from a medical journal after ethical concerns were raised.
    • Identify and disclose the affiliations of Charlotte Lozier Institute’s “associate scholars” and staff. Given the theme of this year’s march, CLI will likely play a prominent role in promoting anti-abortion talking points and misinformation. Media have a responsibility to identify these so-called experts’ affiliation with an organization that has an explicit mission statement to eliminate “the scourges of abortion.” 

    #3 Avoid signal-boosting misinformation about the alleged popularity of anti-abortion policies and positions

    During the 2018 March for Life, several outlets spread misinformation about the American public’s alleged support for anti-abortion policies by sharing polling data without proper context or analysis. For example, in an article about the anti-abortion policies promoted by President Donald Trump’s administration, Politico shared a poll commissioned by the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus to support the anti-choice argument that Americans want greater restrictions on abortion access. However, as MSNBC’s Irin Carmon has previous explained of the Knights of Columbus poll, a simple shift in phrasing or question style could substantially alter the findings:

    You could ask Americans if they want Roe v. Wade overturned, as the Pew Research Center did in 2013, and learn that 63 percent want to see it stand. Or you could ask Americans to choose between two vague statements, like the recent poll the Marist Institute for Public Opinion conducted for the Knights of Columbus, a group that opposes abortion. Asked to pick between “it is possible to have laws which protect both the health and well-being of a woman and the life of the unborn; or two, it is necessary for laws to choose to protect one and not the other,” 77 percent said it was possible to do everything. The policy implications of the first statement are unclear.

    Further examining this phenomenon, Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained that “the public has diverse views on abortion” that cannot neatly be categorized or assessed. In another piece for Vox, Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at a public-opinion research firm, thoroughly explored how much of “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” For example, Undem wrote, even those “who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases” when polled about the legality of abortion expressed a higher level of support for abortion access when questioned about their “‘real life’ views on the issue”:

    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.

    Additional polling by Undem’s firm, PerryUndem, has also found that most people believe that the decision to have an abortion should be made by a patient and their doctor (and, to a lesser extent, the larger medical community) -- and not by politicians.

    There will be no shortage of claims during this year’s March for Life about the supposed popularity of anti-abortion positions. Given the theme of this year’s march, media should be prepared to provide audiences with the necessary context about polls, organizations, and anti-abortion media personalities included in their reporting about the march. Media must avoid oversimplifying public opinion polling or repeating inaccurate talking points in ways that uplift anti-choice misinformation.