After disbanding earlier this year, the anti-choice extremists behind Protest ABQ are back and operating under a new name -- and thanks to The Washington Times, they’re getting a bigger platform than ever to spread misinformation about late-term abortion and demonize abortion providers.
In a June 20 article, The Washington Times gave an uncritical platform to a newly re-formed New Mexico anti-abortion group, Abortion Free New Mexico (AFNM). This group is the latest venture of longtime anti-choice extremists Bud and Tara Shaver. The Shavers are acolytes of Troy Newman, the head of the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which has for years pushed violent rhetoric against, and harassment of, abortion providers. Prior to forming AFNM, the Shavers headed a similar campaign in New Mexico, called Protest ABQ. Protest ABQ operated from 2014 to March 2017 and not only targeted individual abortion providers and clinics, but also deceptively recorded comments made by clinic staff in order to allege wrongdoing. Before concluding the Protest ABQ campaign, the Shavers leaked their baseless information to a congressional panel investigating disproven claims against Planned Parenthood.
According to the Times, AFNM and the anti-abortion group Priests for Life “have released a series of undercover audio recordings of abortion clinic workers” engaged in behavior they consider unlawful. Although there has been no external confirmation of these claims -- or validation of the recordings themselves -- the Times drew a comparison between AFNM’s recordings and a set of deceptively edited videos from the discredited anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The Times excluded the information that multiple investigations have disproved CMP’s claims of wrongdoing. Instead, the article credited AFNM for attempting to “to raise awareness about the prevalence of late-term abortion, especially in New Mexico,” via similar tactics.
The Shavers launched AFNM in April, using a model touted by Newman in his book Abortion Free that centers on surveilling and harassing abortion providers. AFNM then began what it calls the #NewMexicoTrue project, a “6 Part Series exposing the [New Mexico] Abortion Cartel.” As part of this effort, AFNM began posting audio it claims represents illicit practices by abortion providers at clinics across the state. As of late June, AFNM had posted four videos that it alleges demonstrate discriminatory and dangerous practices by abortion providers. For example, in the most recent installment, AFNM claims that its “undercover recording … reveals just how arbitrary the standard is for determining which baby lives or dies” in New Mexico. Despite having no external corroboration, the Times not only promoted AFNM’s recordings, but also thus legitimized the tactic of deceptively filming and releasing video of abortion providers.
Unfortunately, this is only the latest example of right-wing media giving a platform to an anti-abortion group that is attempting to manufacture outrage through deceptive “undercover” recordings. In May, when CMP released footage that identified abortion providers in violation of a court order, right-wing and anti-choice media did much of the legwork of spreading the organization’s disproven and malicious claims.
There is an even longer history of right-wing media figures assisting anti-choice groups by amplifying their attacks on individual abortion providers. For example, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly spent years openly bullying abortion providers like Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009. O’Reilly often referred to the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was “a special place in hell for this guy.” Indeed, Newman praised O’Reilly in Abortion Free for how he “spoke passionately against Tiller’s late-term abortion business” and “often used television as a bully pulpit to denounce” Tiller. O’Reilly also actively collaborated with Newman to more effectively target Tiller, as Newman explained, helping “locate Tiller gassing his armored Jeep at a QuikTrip near his abortion clinic” so Fox News’ Jesse Watters could be filmed “surprising Tiller with questions about his late-term abortion business.”
This type of targeted harassment and monitoring of abortion providers breeds conditions for anti-choice violence. According to a recent report from the National Abortion Federation, in 2016, there was “an increase in a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats.”
Late-term abortion is an essential and legal medical service in the United States -- and neither patients nor providers should be demonized for receiving or performing the procedure. Nearly 99 percent of abortions performed in this country take place “before 21 weeks” of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood. After the 20th week, the Supreme Court has explicitly protected a woman’s right to an abortion if it is “necessary to preserve [her] life or health.” By promoting the work of anti-abortion groups like AFNM, the Times and other right-wing media are not only encouraging such groups to use deceptive tactics, but also enabling the type of targeted harassment that endangers abortion providers, patients, and clinics.