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Sharon Kann

Author ››› Sharon Kann
  • Fox News almost single-handedly manufactured anti-abortion outrage before Trump’s State of the Union

    Before the State of the Union, Fox News devoted over 6 and a half hours to inaccurately saying state abortion measures allow “infanticide”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & ROB SAVILLO


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News has responded to the recent state measures protecting abortion access in the only way the network knows how: with a barrage of inaccurate, bizarre, and sensationalized coverage. The network's coverage has driven misinformation about the realities of legal and medically necessary abortions later in pregnancy straight into President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, and Fox has continued this harmful narrative about abortion care beyond the speech.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law criminalizing abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy to now allow abortions with the consent of a doctor “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” This law sparked a meltdown at Fox News, with hosts and guests decrying its allegedly “Hitlerian” nature. When a Virginia lawmaker’s comment about a pro-choice bill went viral, the Fox News spin machine went into overdrive, manufacturing a scandal about Democratic lawmakers pushing legislation that supposedly allows “infanticide.”

    Between January 22 and February 5 (before Trump's State of the Union speech):

    • Fox News discussed abortion in the context of the New York and Virginia measures for over six and a half hours.
    • CNN, in comparison, covered these topics for only about eight and a half minutes, while MSNBC’s coverage clocked in around four minutes.

    Between February 5 (after Trump's State of the Union speech) and February 6:

    • Fox News still led coverage on these issues, discussing abortion for around 13 minutes.
    • CNN and MSNBC covered it for approximately five and a half minutes and nine minutes, respectively.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Given Trump’s reliance on Fox News for his talking points and policy proposals, it’s unsurprising that he would soon take cues from the network’s breathless coverage. Indeed, both before and during the State of the Union address, Trump repeated several inaccurate right-wing media talking points.

    The consequences of allowing Fox News to rile up viewers -- including the president -- into adopting inaccurate and extreme rhetoric about abortion cannot be overstated. Trump is already calling for legislation based on right-wing lies about abortion and reportedly planning to center abortion-related fearmongering in his 2020 election messaging. Beyond this, incidents of anti-abortion violence and harassment have been on the rise, driven in part by right-wing hyperbole about abortion providers and patients.

    Media have a responsibility to correct Trump’s -- and by extension, Fox News’ -- inaccurate and sensationalized arguments about abortion. If the current response to this manufactured Fox News misinformation cycle is any indication, other outlets have some work to do.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for any mentions of “abortion” in close proximity of “New York” or “Virginia” on Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC between 4 a.m. and midnight starting January 22 and ending February 6. (We included special post-State of the Union address coverage on February 5 and 6 that fell outside of this time range.)

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances in which either the New York or Virginia legislation or Trump’s comments about either legislation initiated a discussion about abortion. These included instances when abortion was the stated topic of discussion. We also timed as segments “substantive discussion,” which we defined as instances where two speakers discussed abortion with one another. For substantive discussion, we only timed the relevant speech. Segments included host monologues, news reports or packages, interviews, and guest panels. We did not include teasers for upcoming segments or passing mentions of abortion in segments about other topics. We did not include rebroadcasts.

  • The anti-abortion lies media must correct from Trump's 2019 State of the Union

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News spent the better part of last week lying about abortion, so it was only a matter of time before those talking points found their way into President Donald Trump’s hands. Now, during his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump gave that right-wing misinformation about abortion an even bigger platform -- and media have a responsibility to correct these lies.

    Right-wing media have manufactured a scandal about Democrats supporting bills that supposedly allow “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In reality, state lawmakers in New York and Virginia (and to a lesser extent Rhode Island) raised right-wing and anti-abortion media ire by advocating laws that either remove unnecessary restrictions on abortion access or codify abortion protections in case the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. With the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that threat looks increasingly credible by the day.

    It’s no secret that Trump takes his cues from Fox News for everything from talking points to policy proposals and personnel. The Trump administration has enjoyed a similarly close relationship with anti-abortion groups and leaders. Thus it doesn’t take much work to identify both the source of, and audience for, the anti-abortion misinformation in Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address.

    Trump’s reference to New York’s and Virginia’s abortion measures was steeped in right-wing misinformation and sensationalized rhetoric. In addition, Trump repeated his inaccurate allegation that such measures "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth." Although many outlets will be fact-checking the State of the Union address, fact-checkers are not always equipped to handle anti-abortion misinformation -- whether it comes from anti-choice groups or the president of the United States. Rather than uncritically repeat the misinformation Trump recycled from Fox News, media and fact-checkers should use this information to set the record straight:

    FACT: Pro-choice politicians aren’t advocating for “infanticide” or abortion at “the moment of birth.”

    Prior to the State of the Union, Trump tweeted about so-called “‘super’ late term abortion.” This phrase is intentionally sensationalized and does not reflect any medical reality, much like right-wing media’s claims that pro-choice politicians are promoting “infanticide” or abortion “at the moment of birth.” The truth is pro-choice politicians want to remove medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion care and codify state protections because of the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned.

    FACT: Bans on abortion at 20 weeks, based on right-wing misinformation about fetal pain, are scientifically inaccurate and harmful.

    During his State of the Union address, Trump demanded legislation that would "prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb." Right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have repeatedly pushed for such a ban at 20 weeks. Despite claims by anti-abortion lawmakers and media, abortion restrictions based on the idea that a fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks into a pregnancy are not supported by science. According to testimony from people who have had abortions after 20 weeks, these measures, such as the oft-introduced “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” often do more harm than good. 

    FACT: There’s no such thing as “late-term” abortions (a term used by anti-choice activists). People have abortions later in pregnancy for a variety of complex and urgent reasons.

    “Late-term abortion” is a medically inaccurate and intentionally vague phrase used by anti-choice activists to mislead about a variety of medical procedures, and it is not used by high-risk obstetricians. These bills refer to abortions that happen after 20 weeks, which can occur for many reasons, including serious threats to a person’s health (such as high blood pressure or bleeding), diagnosis of grave fetal conditions, and barriers to abortion access put in place by anti-abortion politicians that unnecessarily delay the procedure. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare; just over 1 percent of abortion procedures are provided after 21 weeks.

    People who have abortions -- including abortions later in pregnancy -- are making a personal health care decision that's between them, a doctor, and their families. The accounts of people who decided to have an abortion later in pregnancy show the complexity and necessity of being able to access the full range of treatment options to get the best care, including abortion. In addition, people seeking later abortions are often ending wanted pregnancies. Instead of uncritically repeating right-wing media misinformation and attacks on these individuals, media should recognize that pregnant people need access to timely, high-quality care -- and obstacles to access can jeopardize their health.

  • Donald Trump used a Daily Caller interview to recycle abortion misinformation and stoke right-wing outrage

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a flurry of Fox News-driven outrage over recent state measures protecting or expanding abortion access, President Donald Trump used an interview with The Daily Caller as an opportunity to recycle anti-choice misinformation and further stoke right-wing frenzy about abortion.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law protecting abortion access in the state should the Supreme Court weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade. Right-wing media initially seized on a provision of the law decriminalizing abortions “after 24 weeks when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” Virginia lawmakers also recently introduced a measure that would remove some restrictions to abortion care, though it has since been tabled. After a video of a lawmaker discussing the bill went viral, the right-wing and anti-abortion media outrage machine pointed to both measures as evidence that Democratic lawmakers support abortions being performed “all the way to the day of birth.”

    On January 30, Trump spoke with The Daily Caller about the Virginia measure and related comments from Gov. Ralph Northam. Predictably, Trump used the interview to repeat right-wing media talking points -- including many from Fox News -- about so-called “partial-birth” abortion and alleged support for anti-choice policies. Given Trump’s utter dependence on Fox for both talking points and policy proposals, it’s unsurprising he would take cues from the network’s rampant misinformation and sensationalized rhetoric about these abortion measures.

    This isn’t the first time Trump has repeated right-wing media lies about abortion. During the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Trump invoked the myth of “partial-birth” abortion to falsely allege that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month" of pregnancy. Trump returned to this talking point during his conversation with The Daily Caller, saying: “Do you remember when I said Hillary Clinton was willing to rip the baby out of the womb? That’s what it is, that’s what they’re doing, it’s terrible” -- echoing language that had been a prominent part of Fox News’ coverage of the Virginia bill. Trump also inaccurately alleged the Virginia measure would “lift up” the popularity of the anti-abortion movement, which he claimed was “a very 50-50 issue” -- recycling an inaccurate talking point about a supposed lack of public support for abortion access.

    Trump’s talking point about so-called “partial-birth" abortion or “abortion in the ninth month” is based on a lie:

    • So-called “partial-birth" abortion (often used by right-wing and anti-choice media to describe later abortions) is not a medical term, but one invented by anti-abortion extremists to shame and villainize people having abortions later in pregnancy.
    • The procedure that the term “partial-birth" abortion supposedly references was outlawed in 2003.
    • Later abortions happen because of medical necessity, risks to the life and health of the pregnant person, or because of a nonviable fetus. The decision to have one should be between a patient and their doctor.

    Trump also falsely claimed that there isn’t broad support for abortion rights in the United States:

    • Right-wing media love to mislead about polling on abortion to claim that people don’t support abortion access. This inaccurate framing has also influenced coverage outside of the right-wing media sphere -- a trend that has been repeated during coverage of other political fights.
    • Polling on abortion is notoriously difficult, but polling that uses clear language and real-life scenarios indicates that most people want abortion access to remain legal.
    • Support for later abortions goes up when people are presented with realistic scenarios about the procedure and why someone would need to have one.

    The anti-abortion movement has enjoyed a close relationship with Trump and his administration, with Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, having previously led Trump’s “Pro-Life Coalition.” Given the escalating rhetoric from anti-abortion groups and Trump’s steadfast allies on Fox News, it was only a matter of time before the president seized the opportunity to spread misinformation and stigma about abortion, throwing fuel on the fire of manufactured right-wing media outrage.

  • Fox & Friends goes all in on misinformation and shame about state efforts to expand abortion rights

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

    New York recently passed a law protecting and expanding abortion rights in the state, and a similar bill was just introduced in Virginia. Fox News has led the charge of right-wing media outlets that have responded by pushing a steady stream of anti-choice misinformation. And the January 30 edition of Fox & Friends exemplified exactly how not to cover abortion rights by airing segments with a number of absurd and baseless allegations that not only misinformed viewers but also shamed those who need access to later abortions as a necessary part of health care.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law that criminalized abortions after 24-weeks of pregnancy to now allow abortions “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk” with the consent of a doctor. Right-wing media responded by framing the law as a “barbaric” action by Cuomo and the New York legislature.

    Legislators in Virginia also introduced a bill in January that would protect abortion rights by eliminating some restrictions on abortion care, including one currently requiring three doctors to consent for a patient’s third-trimester abortion. On January 29, a video of the bill’s Democratic sponsor discussing the legislation went viral, with right-wing media and anti-abortion figures falsely claiming it as evidence that both Virginia and New York were promoting abortions up until the moment of birth.

    On January 30, Fox & Friends put on a masterclass in misinformation, airing multiple segments with inaccurate and stigmatizing claims about both the legislation in New York and Virginia, and about later abortions more broadly.

    Falsely claimed New York’s law and a newer Virginia bill allow abortions “up to the moment of birth”

    During Fox & Friends’ January 30 coverage of the Reproductive Health Act and the bill introduced in Virginia, the hosts repeatedly alleged that such measures allow abortions “right up to the moment of birth.”

    For example, in one segment, co-host Ainsley Earhardt argued that both New York’s law and the Virginia bill would let someone “carry a child all the way to the day of birth and then decide not to have that baby.” In a second segment, Earhardt repeated this claim, saying each would allow an abortion to happen “all the way up until the very day you are supposed to deliver.” In each segment, co-host Steve Doocy agreed with Earhardt’s inaccurate claims, saying that he believed each measure would allow abortions to be performed “up until the moment of birth.” Doocy also added his own misinformation, claiming that these procedures could happen “as you are dilating, right there at the time of birth,” or when someone was “on the table, … you could abort the baby right then.”

    Abortions at “the moment of birth” are not a thing that happens, no matter how much Fox News repeats this false claim as if it were fact. As Forbes’ Tara Haelle explained in 2016, “Those who seek late-term abortions are seeking them before a pregnancy reaches full term but often and unfortunately after they have discovered in the second or third trimester some problem with the fetus or danger to the mother.” Later abortions, although often medically necessary, are extremely rare, with slightly more than 1 percent of procedures performed past the 21-week mark. In other words, later abortions are not entered into lightly or often, and are almost certainly not occurring with the frivolity and carelessness that Fox & Friends’ coverage suggests.

    Used or accepted stigmatizing language characterizing later abortions as “murders”

    Beyond spreading misinformation, Fox & Friends’ January 30 coverage also used extreme language to stigmatize people for having later abortions.

    In a segment focused on responses to viewer questions, all three co-hosts read and agreed with viewer messages containing stigmatizing and inaccurate language. For example, co-host Brian Kilmeade read a comment claiming these measures were “out of control” and that it should be considered “murder at this point in the pregnancy” to have an abortion. These sentiments were echoed in comments read by Earhardt and Doocy, who in turn shared and supported viewer messages calling it “mortifying” to “terminate a child who is able to cry” and lamenting that “these folks have no heart. It’s a disgrace.” In a second segment, Kilmeade read a viewer comment alleging that the Virginia bill “makes all parties involved no better than criminals on the streets that murder.” Earhardt turned her attention from the lawmakers to specifically shaming people who have later abortions, saying, “It blows my mind how a mom can do that. And it’s heartbreaking.”

    Far from these depictions promoted by Fox & Friends, later abortions are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons. The people that Fox News figures and their viewers’ comments compare to murderers often have to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy because of a nonviable fetus or due to the great medical risk to the pregnant person. If Fox News really wanted to understand “how a mom can do that,” they could read accounts of those who actually had to make the choice of having a later abortion rather than demonizing those individuals and feeding a larger right-wing media frenzy.

    Lied about the measures “eliminating doctors” from the decision to have a later abortion

    Although most of the right-wing ire about the New York law and similar measures has focused on permitting later abortions (even though Virginia already allows them), Fox & Friends’ January 30 coverage also promoted misinformation about a provision in the Virginia bill concerning doctors’ involvement with such procedures. The Virginia bill would eliminate an unnecessary roadblock to abortion access that requires three doctors to agree before a patient can have a medically necessary later abortion. Instead, only one doctor would be needed.

    Fox & Friends lied about this provision, with Earhardt inaccurately claiming that the Virginia bill would “eliminate the doctors” from the process of approving an abortion so that “anyone can do it, doesn’t matter if the doctors approve or not.” In reality, the proposed bill removes the burdensome requirement to have three separate doctors approve a later abortion procedure.

    Fearmongered about a Virginia bill (that is unlikely to pass) to suggest extreme bills were “spreading” to other states

    Fox News already sensationalized its coverage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act in a number of segments across the network, but the January 30 edition of Fox & Friends focused on the new Virginia bill as a harbinger of extremism “spreading” from New York to other states.

    Most of Fox & Friends’ January 30 segments linked the New York law to broader discussions of the Virginia bill. In one segment, Earhardt made the connection between the network’s coverage of the two measures explicitly, saying that the provisions of the New York law that “blew many people’s minds” were “also spreading in our country.” In other segments, Earhardt made the connection more subtle, merely suggesting that “in Virginia, they’re talking about something similar,” or claiming that lawmakers were now “talking about it in the state of Virginia.” In each example, Earhardt and her co-hosts used outrage about the New York law -- largely stoked by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets -- to manufacture urgency and paranoia about the Virginia bill and the likelihood that other states may attempt to protect and expand abortion rights.

    Instead of characterizing New York’s law as an outrage that is “spreading” to other states, Fox & Friends should recognize the legitimate risk that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, particularly after the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. As a result, lawmakers have felt the need to protect or expand abortion rights. While the Virginia bill that Fox & Friends spent a significant amount of time fearmongering about isn’t even likely to pass, the Supreme Court could deliver a significant blow to Roe as soon as this week when it considers whether to stop a Louisiana law that would close the state’s final abortion clinic.

  • Fox News has had a meltdown about a new law expanding abortion access in New York

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act that protects abortion in case the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and expands access to this essential form of health care. Despite the clear harm that New York’s previous law imposed on patients, right-wing and anti-abortion media have expressed outrage -- with Fox News leading the charge.

    The Reproductive Health Act comprises several provisions, including the removal of abortion from the state’s criminal code. The part of the law that has irked Fox News (and broader right-wing media) the most involves a provision decriminalizing abortions after 24 weeks “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” Permitting abortions after this point was necessary because previously, “the law made self-induced abortions a misdemeanor crime, and made providing one a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.” Although right-wing media frequently scaremonger about later abortions, these procedures in reality are extremely rare and performed due to complicated personal and medical reasons. Before the Reproductive Health Act, New York patients needing medically necessary abortions after 24 weeks were forced to travel out of state, thus suffering both logistical and psychological burdens.

    Fox News is no stranger to inaccurate and stigmatizing coverage of abortion and reproductive rights. As Media Matters has previously documented, Fox News not only covers abortion-related issues more frequently than other cable networks but also covers it in a highly inaccurate way. Coverage of the Reproductive Health Act has been no exception. Between January 22 and 29, Fox News’ coverage has used discussions of the law to revive allegations about abortion providers engaging in misconduct, promote anti-choice junk science about abortion procedures, attack Democrats as “extreme,” and employ sensationalized and stigmatizing language to vilify those who have abortions.

    Fox invoked the case of Kermit Gosnell to revive allegations about abortion providers misconduct

    Fox News guests attacked the New York law as allowing misconduct by abortion providers, invoking and misleading about the case of former Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. For example, during the January 25 edition of Fox News’ morning program Fox & Friends, guest and actor Dean Cain not only spread misinformation about Gosnell but also promoted a movie (starring himself) sensationalizing the Gosnell case. Later the same day, Cain appeared on Fox News' The Story with Martha MacCallum, where host MacCallum asked Cain about his movie that she claimed “highlighted the horror of the reality of late-term abortion, and the doctor who carried out so many of them.” Cain responded by not only promoting his movie, but also connecting Gosnell’s actions to the New York law, arguing that his crimes “may very well be legal under this new New York law.”

    Gosnell is currently serving “three life terms in jail” for “first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive at his rogue clinic, then stabbed with scissors.” There is no ambiguity about the illegality of Gosnell’s actions. But unlike right-wing and anti-abortion media’s allegations, Gosnell’s practices are in no way representative of abortion providers or abortion procedures in the United States. As MSNBC’s Irin Carmon wrote in 2013, Gosnell’s actions were not evidence of widespread malfeasance by abortion providers because it was his "willingness to break the law" that made many patients seek him out, believing “they had no alternative,” despite warnings from other reputable providers. Similarly, as Robin Marty explained in 2018, while there are a myriad distinctions between Gosnell and a “legitimate, trained abortion provider,” the restrictions imposed in the wake of his actions have very little to do with abortion safety. She wrote:

    His clinic was unsanitary and dangerous for patients generally, and he was further known to provide better care and cleaner rooms for his white and higher-income clients than those who were poor, immigrant, or brown or black. He did so apparently under the assumption that his more privileged clients would report him to the health department, whereas those from marginalized communities would either be afraid to do so or — even worse — think that what they were receiving was exactly what they deserved. (Even so, he was reported to authorities, and the governmental agencies that failed to act on the complaints from his patients that would have exposed his crimes far earlier should be held to account for their negligence.)

    ...

    Even with abortion legal in his state, Gosnell didn’t bother to operate by the rules; there’s little reason or history to believe that women would have been safer had abortion been illegal. Gosnell’s clinic was where patients went primarily when they thought they had no better options, or couldn’t afford a better clinic. They went there because he didn’t enforce the 24 hour wait mandated by the state. They went there because the anti-abortion protesters surrounding the reputable clinics in the city were so aggressive that they were afraid to enter.

    As Marty summarized, “unsafe and unsanitary conditions in an exam room in which abortions are performed are not normal, but anti-abortion activists are invested in making the public believe they are.” This was exactly the issue at play during oral arguments in the 2016 Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which Texas’ Solicitor General Scott Keller defended an anti-choice law that imposed medically unnecessary and harmful restrictions under the guise of increasing patient safety, referencing the Gosnell case. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Texas, determining that there must be evidentiary support that a restriction is necessary to protect patient’s health, right-wing media -- and Fox News in particular -- were in lockstep with the state’s inaccurate talking points about Gosnell from the start. And if Fox News’ coverage of the New York law is any indication, little has changed since.

    Fox promoted anti-choice misinformation about abortion procedures

    Right-wing media frequently spread misinformation and junk science about alleged abortion procedures -- and Fox News’ coverage of New York’s abortion law was no exception. Fox News and broader right-wing and anti-abortion media outlets have spent years misleading about abortion procedures, in particular focusing on invented procedures like so-called “partial-birth” abortion or invoking the inaccurate idea of “abortion on demand.” In reality, so-called “partial-birth” abortions and Fox News’ various iterations of “abortion on demand” are inaccurate -- but both concepts are strategically deployed to spread misinformation about medically necessary later abortions. In particular, the phrase “partial-birth” abortion was invented by anti-choice advocates as a mechanism to vilify and shame individuals who have later abortions.

    But Fox News’ coverage of the Reproductive Health Act frequently used both of these terms to spread misinformation and shame about the law. For example, during the January 24 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, Fox News contributor Guy Benson argued that the New York law “permits abortion on demand, up to the seventh month of pregnancy, and really all the way up to the moment of birth, for virtually any reason whatsoever.” During the January 25 Fox & Friends interview with Dean Cain, guest co-host Ed Henry invoked the words of a conservative lawmaker about how “late-term abortion” is “partial-birth abortion” and akin to “infanticide,” implying that New York’s law could be characterized as such. In the same segment, co-host Ainsley Earhardt also claimed the law would legalize “abortion up until birth” -- a claim she repeated on January 28. On January 29, she claimed that the New York law allows her to be “nine months pregnant and [walk] into the hospital” and say, “I don’t want the child anymore.” In a similar segment on January 26, Fox & Friends Weekend guest co-host Katie Pavlich said that the “extreme” law would allow “abortions up until the due date.” Some, like Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy went even further, arguing inaccurately that “the baby can be born alive” under the New York law and a doctor could still “terminate it.”

    Given how often Fox News and its various contributors spread misinformation and vitriol about abortion, these segments are unsurprising in both their frequency and content. And as more states propose bills that are similar to New York’s law, Fox News viewers will only see more of the same.

    Fox attacked Democrats as “extreme” and out of step with the American public for supporting access to abortion care

    Unsurprisingly, Fox News has also used discussion of the New York law to attack Democrats for being too “extreme” in their positions on abortion. Some Fox News programs went even further by connecting the law to the machinations of a larger Democratic agenda. During the January 28 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, host Sean Hannity claimed the New York law was evidence that “every Democrat who wants to run for president is about to take that hard turn to appease what is now the radical, extreme, socialist Democratic party base.” He continued: “Viable lives can now be destroyed with the seal of New York -- and Andrew Cuomo and the New York legislature putting their seal of approval.”

    This isn’t the first time that media have attempted to paint support for basic reproductive rights as “extreme.” In early 2017, The New York Times published an op-ed titled “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party,” advocating for the dubious idea that Democrats must sacrifice protecting abortion and reproductive rights in order to win voters. During the December 2017 special election of Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, right-wing media frequently alleged that he supported so-called “partial-birth” abortions or abortions up to the moment of birth, in order to prove that he was too “extreme” for Alabama voters. Fox News was particularly active in spreading this inaccurate narrative, with hosts and contributors alike alleging that Jones’ stance on abortion included promoting “abortion on demand,” claiming that he was “a person who supports abortion at every level” and parroting the idea that he wanted abortions to be performed “through all nine months of pregnancy.” This inaccurate framing also influenced coverage outside of the right-wing media sphere -- a trend that has been repeated with coverage of other political fights.

    In 2018, media kept rehashing the allegation that support for abortion rights was harmful to the Democratic Party. Polling on abortion-related issues is notoriously complicated, requiring clear questions and language that accurately reflects the realities of abortion access and procedures. However, polling that takes such realities into account has demonstrated a wide degree of support for abortion rights and Roe v. Wade. Already in 2019, with candidates announcing their candidacy for president in 2020, this talking point is gaining steam -- with Fox News sure to be leading the charge.

    Fox used extreme and stigmatizing language to shame and villainize people having medically necessary later abortions

    During numerous Fox News segments about the Reproductive Health Act, the only thing more plentiful than the misinformation about the law was the stigmatizing language various hosts and guests used to describe abortion and those who have one.

    Abortion stigma refers to an idea that abortion is inherently wrong or socially unacceptable, and it is reinforced (both intentionally and unintentionally) through media coverage, popular culture, and by a lack of accurate information about the procedure itself. In particular, right-wing media have capitalized on a lack of accurate public knowledge about abortion to demonize abortion providers and patients, as well as spread misinformation about abortion more broadly.

    Fox News often uses stigmatizing language about abortions or about those who have them, but the network’s repeated commentary in the wake of the New York law demonstrated the rhetorical impact of this strategy. For example, Fox News host Sean Hannity on multiple occasions described the law as allowing “infanticide.” Other Fox News figures focused their indignation on the people who may need a later abortion, claiming that people are having “recreational” later abortions, or even inaccurately alleging that abortion is never “necessary for reproductive health.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham even went so far as to ask a guest on her program to explain how the law isn’t “Hitlerian” when, in her opinion, it would allow a baby to “be killed” when it “could be born.” In almost every segment about the New York law, a Fox News host or guest oscillated between outrage and disgust -- expressing disbelief and variations of the sentiment that they couldn’t “even believe that this is happening.”

    Later abortion procedures are an important part of comprehensive reproductive health care. And if any of these Fox News figures had bothered to talk to, or even read an account from someone who has had a medically necessary later abortion, they might understand the reality of these decisions: Later abortions are usually of wanted pregnancies and are either not viable or pose a direct risk to the life or health of the pregnant person. Rather than spreading rampant misinformation about later abortions, and those who need them, Fox News might want to do some actual reporting and figure out the facts before devoting so much time to sensationalized and stigmatizing coverage.

    Grace Bennett and Julie Tulbert contributed research for this piece. 

  • Media should avoid these traps in covering this year's March for Life

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & MADELYN WEBB


    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.

  • House Republicans just let an anti-abortion group run a hearing on fetal tissue research

    The vice president of an anti-abortion organization didn't disclose his position in a congressional hearing over fetal tissue research

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The House oversight subcommittee on health care held a hearing on December 13 about “Alternatives to Fetal Tissue Research” that was largely driven by allegations from anti-abortion groups. The hearing not only recycled anti-choice misinformation and right-wing lies, but also failed to disclose the anti-choice ties of several key witnesses -- a fact that was magnified on social media by various anti-abortion organizations promoting the hearing.   

    Though it is often treated as an impartial research organization by other anti-choice groups, the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) is actually operated by the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. CLI was created by SBA List in 2011 and has remained part of the organization -- filing its federal 990 tax forms as the “Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund” and running Facebook ads for SBA List during the 2018 midterm elections. CLI’s anti-abortion work involves putting “expert testimony before legislatures across the U.S. on the reality of pain in the unborn” and helping anti-abortion fake health clinics with research to maximize their “outreach and effectiveness.”

    During the December 13 hearing, two of the three witnesses represented CLI -- but only one disclosed this anti-choice affiliation. While Tara Sander Lee was correctly identified as an associate scholar at CLI, her colleague David Prentice was not -- despite serving as the vice president and research director of CLI since 2015. This fact was omitted from panel testimony, Republican member questioning, and even social media promotion of the panel by CLI and its allies. During the hearing, Prentice was instead introduced and referred to as an advisory board member at the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center. SBA List's press release about the panel also omits Prentice's CLI affiliation, and regarding his advisory board member position it includes the disclaimer "Title is for identification purposes only." However, in an email to supporters about the hearing, SBA List wrote that the organization was "proud" to have had "two exceptional scholars from our research arm, Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI)" speak. 

    Although neither SBA List nor CLI disclosed Prentice’s affiliation on social media during the December 13 hearing, both organizations have previously done so for other presentations and media appearances. For example, during a November panel on fetal tissue research hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, SBA List tweeted a link to the discussion and identified Prentice as representing CLI. In October, CLI promoted a media appearance by Prentice, identifying him as “Our VP.” In 2016, SBA List promoted a media appearance by Prentice and correctly identified him as being affiliated with CLI. As the communications director for the ranking Democrat of the committee told ThinkProgress, "While not untoward, it is unusual and telling for one hearing to have two expert witnesses affiliated with the same research tank."

    Beyond the lack of disclosure around Prentice’s role with CLI, the December 13 hearing also recycled misinformation from a previous congressional hearing driven by a discredited anti-abortion organization. During a 2016 hearing by the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) introduced a consent form used by Planned Parenthood for the donation of fetal tissue for research. Hartzler focused on the form’s phrasing that researchers had found cures for certain diseases using fetal tissue to claim that the form was misleading and ultimately coerced people to donate by exerting “undue influence.” But her claim was based on an inaccurate reading of research guidelines.

    Prentice reintroduced the debunked consent form during his December 13 testimony, arguing that it was “misleading” to donors because it makes them “think there have been great strides made with fetal tissue.” This claim was repeated in a tweet by SBA List which credited the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress for obtaining the document.

    Unfortunately, the House oversight hearing provided only the latest example of what some experts have identified as “alternative science” sourced directly from right-wing media and anti-abortion extremists. President Donald Trump recently appointed CLI associate scholar Maureen Condic to serve a six-year term on the National Science Board, the governing body of the National Science Foundation that provides scientific support to Congress and the president. Condic has repeatedly testified to lawmakers in favor of 20-week abortion bans by inaccurately arguing that there is scientific evidence showing a fetus feels pain starting at eight weeks. After her appointment, researchers speculated that Condic was appointed specifically because of her work on the right-wing myth of fetal pain.

    Other anti-abortion groups have continued to push for legislation based on junk science and right-wing media lies -- like 20-week bans -- to restrict access to abortion and wider reproductive health care. Anti-abortion groups at the state and federal level have pushed for so-called “heartbeat” bills that would ban abortion around the six-week mark, before most people even know that they are pregnant. According to HuffPost, such bills “fundamentally misunderstand fetal development” in terms of what the heartbeat means for fetal viability. Anti-abortion groups also use faulty scientific justifications to advocate placing burdensome requirements on abortion providers to shut clinics down -- even after the Supreme Court ruled against some of those requirements in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

    Anti-abortion extremists have found ample footholds in the Trump administration, and the December 13 hearing showed that Congress is no different. Although it’s unsurprising that CLI members would continue to push their anti-abortion views while purporting to offer impartial scientific testimonies, they should at least be expected to fully disclose their roles with the organization to Congress and the public -- especially when the health care policies that they promote have such dire consequences.

  • Where is the media outrage over the violence and harassment abortion providers face on a daily basis?

    Media fixated on a protest at Tucker Carlson's house should look at how often they cover (or don't cover) anti-abortion violence and harassment

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A memo to media and any would-be think piece writers: If you’re mad about protesters bothering Fox News host Tucker Carlson at home, then it’s worth asking whether you've expended the same energy over the harassment abortion providers face on a daily basis.

    According to CBS News, approximately “20 protesters gathered in front of Carlson's home” on November 7:

    Carlson's wife said she heard "loud banging and pounding on her front door," the police report says. When officers arrived, they found politically-charged signs left on cars in the driveway, a sign on the front door and the anarchy symbol spray painted on the driveway. [CBS News, 11/8/18]

    Carlson told The Washington Post that the gathering “wasn’t a protest. It was a threat.” Although he was not home at the time, Carlson claimed, “They weren’t protesting anything specific that I had said. They weren’t asking me to change anything. … They were threatening me and my family and telling me to leave my own neighborhood in the city that I grew up in.”

    There are many things that Carlson has said in his capacity as a mouthpiece for white nationalism, xenophobia, racism, and sexism that are more than worthy of objection. He also regularly uses his platform on Fox News to bully, mock, and enable harassment of his guests. And the details of the protest -- as described in ThinkProgress by someone who was actually there -- vastly contradict Carlson’s claims. Yet there is now a veritable catalogue of think pieces about the lack of “civility” shown by those who protested Carlson. If media want to have a real conversation about “civility” and harassment, then it should be impossible to omit this fact: Abortion providers, patients, and clinics face everything that Carlson claimed and more, but this kind of regular, persistent, and, in some cases, daily harassment doesn’t garner the same kind of media attention as incidents like the protest at Carlson’s home.

    Eleven people have died as a result of anti-abortion violence since 1993. Numerous others have been injured, and still more have found themselves and even their families targeted for personalized harassment from abortion opponents. This trend of violence and harassment against abortion providers, patients, and clinics has increased in recent years, and it shows little sign of abating. According to a report by the National Abortion Federation, rates of anti-abortion clinic protests in 2017 were already at the highest levels seen since the organization began tracking such incidents in 1977. In 2018, there have been numerous incidents of violence or threats against clinics reported in Illinois, New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and more.

    In North Carolina, abortion provider Calla Hales has painstakingly documented the frequent anti-abortion protests and harassment directed at her clinics in the state -- including attacks on her personally. As but a few examples of the type of harassment Hales and her patients face, protesters have:

    Followed Hales, and taken photos and video of her car:

    Taken photos and videos of patients entering the clinic, and persisted in trying to “counsel” them even after being asked to stop:

    Deceptively dressed themselves as law enforcement to give patients the false perception that they can direct traffic, or stop their cars on the way into the clinic:

    Used amplification systems to not only harass patients, but also to target clinic staff, physicians, and their families by publicizing their names:

    If all of that wasn’t enough, hundreds of protesters regularly gather outside of Hales’ clinics -- blocking traffic, harassing patients, and generally making the process of accessing legal and necessary heath care more complicated than it should ever be:

    Hales has frequently noted that despite her efforts to document the continuing harassment faced by herself, her staff, and the clinic's patients, many people are still unaware of the sheer magnitude of the problem. In particular, Hales contrasted the disparate reactions to the protest at Carlson’s home and the lack of regular attention surrounding the ongoing and more severe harassment she and many other providers face:

    As reported by The Charlotte Observer, the protesters regularly harassing Hales’ clinic recently acquired a nearby property and are preparing to use it as a base of operations to intensify their harassment. Imagine the media outrage if a group of protesters did even a fraction of these incidents to a right-wing media figure. How many op-eds would be written calling for “civility” if a group of protesters purchased the property next to Carlson’s home and set up speakers to yell at him and his family on a daily basis?

    Unfortunately, Hales’ experience is not uncommon for abortion providers, patients, and clinics across the country. The anti-abortion group Operation Save America regularly circulates flyers with photos and home addresses of abortion providers, often with incendiary language. Just last week, radical anti-abortion group Army of God published a new manifesto from Eric Rudolph (who bombed an abortion clinic in 1997) calling for more violence against abortion providers. The organization’s website currently celebrates the release of Rachelle “Shelly” Shannon -- an anti-choice extremist who attempted to assassinate abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 1993, and was also convicted for “six firebombings and two acid attacks at abortion clinics in California, Oregon and Nevada.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Peifer told NPR: “She has counseled people to commit similar acts — even more violent acts than she did. … And there's been nothing to indicate that she's changed her mind in that regard.”

    Right-wing media argue that these anti-abortion extremists are acting in isolation. Yet in many instances, these media personalities -- Carlson included -- have fostered or encouraged anti-abortion harassment. Before being ousted from Fox News after public reports that he sexually harassed multiple colleagues, Bill O’Reilly spent years not only spreading misinformation about abortion, but also openly bullying abortion providers like Tiller. Prior to Tiller’s assassination by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder, O’Reilly called the doctor “Tiller the baby killer,” and insisted that there was a “special place in hell” for him. After a deadly shooting attack at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015, O’Reilly defended his previous attacks on Tiller, claiming that his comments were accurate. After this attack, The New Republic reported on how the admitted shooter’s penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars shaped his paranoid and conspiratorial views about abortion and Planned Parenthood. On this year’s anniversary of Tiller’s assassination, Infowars live streamed an anti-abortion protest in front of a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic. The conspiracy theory-pushing outlet then repeated the stunt in November -- just days after caterwauling about the “unhinged” protesters that “terrorized” Carlson’s home.

    Harassment, threats, and violence of any kind are unacceptable. Last weekend, thousands of protesters gathered outside Hales’ clinics. Although some media outlets have reported on the epidemic of harassment faced by providers like Hales, those who saved their outrage for the protest at Carlson's home have little excuse for not reporting on the harassment facing patients, providers, and clinics on a daily basis. 

  • Far-right sites falsely link Christine Blasey Ford to a so-called "abortion pill"

    Ford has done work for a drug intended to combat Cushing's syndrome

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right websites The Gateway Pundit and Natural News attempted to discredit Christine Blasey Ford by claiming her report that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her was politically motivated because of Ford’s previous work for a pharmaceutical company that manufactures a so-called “abortion pill.” In reality, the pill that the company makes is not approved for that use and cannot be prescribed for people who are pregnant.

    On September 20, Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft published a blog post attacking Ford, claiming that Ford was “affiliated with Corcept Therapeutics (2006 – 2011)” and citing “her new Wikipedia page” as evidence. Corcept Therapeutics, Hoft said, “has only one product: Korlym (mifepristone),” which he characterized as “the ‘abortion pill.'” In addition to working for a company that produced this pill, Hoft argued that Ford had also “participated in 8 published studies, which researched uses for the ‘abortion pill’ or mifepristone. In five of these studies, Professor Ford is listed as affiliated with Corcept Therapeutics.” Based on this, Hoft implied that Ford’s decision to share her story was politically motivated, writing, “Liberals and feminists are very worried that Judge Brett Kavanaugh may participate in reversing Roe v. Wade. Christine Blasey wants to stop Kavanaugh from reaching the country’s highest court.”

    This false claim was then picked up by another fake news purveyor, Natural News, run by Mike Adams, a far-right blogger who also created a site to smear Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg as a so-called crisis actor and member of the “Hitler Youth.” Adams made an even less compelling case for Ford’s supposed motivations, writing, “Christine Blasey clearly fabricated the false allegations against Kavanaugh in order to protect her own income and profits coming from an abortion pill drug company whose future may be impacted by Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court.”

    A September 17 San Francisco Chronicle article about Ford noted, “According to her faculty biography in a course catalog, she worked as director of biostatistics for Corcept Therapeutics in Menlo Park.” Corcept Therapeutics does manufacture Korlym, also known as mifepristone, but the company’s website notes that the drug is intended “to control hyperglycemia associated with Cushing's syndrome, a rare, debilitating endocrine disorder.” Hoft and Adams both acknowledged that this is the medication’s intended use.

    However, Hoft argued without evidence that Korlym “is widely available online as an ‘abortion pill’ or ‘Emergency Contraceptive and Abortifacient.’” Adams wrote, also without proof, that “it is well known throughout the medical industry that doctors routinely prescribe this drug to terminate unwanted pregnancies. It is a covert ‘abortion drug,’ in other words.”

    Corcept’s website includes an explicit warning not to prescribe the medication if someone is pregnant:

    Pregnancy must therefore be excluded before the initiation of treatment with Korlym and prevented during treatment and for one month after stopping treatment by the use of a non-hormonal medically acceptable method of contraception unless the patient has had a surgical sterilization, in which case no additional contraception is needed. Pregnancy must also be excluded if treatment is interrupted for more than 14 days in females of reproductive potential.

    Adams said this disclaimer only serves as “a wink, wink message to doctors that this is actually an abortion pill,” enabling them to secretly prescribe Korlym to patients seeking an abortion. How exactly this would work -- given the litany of restrictions on abortion access and even some limits on what doctors are allowed to tell patients about various procedure -- is unclear.

    In April 2018, The Washington Post described how a pill used in medication abortions, Mifeprex, is priced and prescribed differently than Korlym, the pill made for Cushing’s syndrome:

    The difference in price between Korlym and Mifeprex is striking, even though the ingredients are the same: One 200-milligram pill to prompt an abortion costs about $80. In contrast, a 300-milligram pill prescribed for Cushing’s runs about $550 before discounts. (Patients wanting an abortion take only one pill. People with Cushing’s often take up to three pills a day for months or years.)

    Even if people were secretly purchasing Korlym to perform abortions, Ford’s role as “director of biostatistics” would still be irrelevant. Studies that she co-wrote for Corcept have no apparent connection to abortion, with titles such as “Mifepristone treatment of olanzapine-induced weight gain in healthy men” and “Selective glucocorticoid receptor (type II) antagonists prevent weight gain caused by olanzapine in rats.”

    Despite the total lack of evidence supporting Adams’ characterization of Ford's report, the right-wing outlet One America News Network repeated his smear during a September 21 segment, including footage of Adams himself explaining his allegations. Prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones also cited Adams’ post to attack Ford, saying that Ford was not only a “huge lobbyist” for the pill in question, but that she “pushes for it, she’s written a whole bunch of papers trying to get it approved, she’s on the payroll of it.” He wildly concluded that Ford’s account was actually an attempt to push “population reduction” through abortion. This was far from Jones’ only attack on Ford: Previously, Jones falsely claimed that her high school yearbooks undermined her account, saying that her attire in some of the photos made her a “hussy” and “captain of the sluts.”

    Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue -- which has not been shy to attack Ford or voice support for Kavanaugh -- also shared a link to a truly bizarre blog post calling her an "Abortion Pimp” because of her work with Corcept.

    Right-wing and far-right media have relentlessly attacked and harassed Ford since she went public with her account. This latest smear about Ford’s promotion of a so-called “abortion pill” looks like more of the same.