For the 2020 elections, Republicans are trying to insert anti-abortion talking points into mainstream outlets

For the 2020 elections, Republicans are trying to insert anti-abortion talking points into mainstream outlets

A recent vote on the so-called Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act seems designed to play into Republicans' 2020 strategy

Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

After Senate Republicans recently pushed for a procedural vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act -- legislation intended to solve a nonexistent problem invented by anti-choice groups -- right-wing media falsely alleged that Democrats who voted against the bill were promoting “infanticide.” Some other media outlets have uncritically echoed these claims, repeating harmful and sensationalized characterizations of abortions and failing to address the misinformation promoted by Republicans as part of their 2020 election strategy.

On February 25, the Senate failed to advance a bill that Republicans touted as aiding so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. In reality, experts have affirmed this rarely (if ever) happens and is instead a concept invented by anti-choice groups to spark fear. The push for the procedural vote came following a deluge of inaccurate and sensationalized right-wing media coverage manufactured to evoke outrage over state measures to protect abortion access in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Right-wing media repeatedly and falsely characterized those state measures as allowing “infanticide.”

As right-wing media continued to excoriate Democrats for allegedly supporting such measures, Republicans and anti-abortion groups posed the so-called “Born-Alive” bill as a different solution to the very same problem these groups had just manufactured to score political points. Vox's Anna North explained that Republicans pushed this vote despite knowing it would fail as part of a strategy of “bringing back the issue of very late abortions, perhaps in the hope of energizing their base in advance of 2020.” The real goal of the recent bill was “to get Democrats on record opposing it,” which Republicans and right-wing media will spin as evidence of Democrats’ supposed “extremism” on abortion rights. President Donald Trump telegraphed this strategy for Republicans when he alleged in the State of the Union address that Democrats want to pass laws allowing "a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth."

In reality, the bill would be rather ineffective at addressing the alleged crisis of “abortion survivors” being pushed by right-wing media. Reproductive rights historian Mary Ziegler explained to Newsweek that “if the aim of the bill is to protect the lives of born infants, legislation already exists to serve that purpose” in the so-called “‘Born Alive Infants Protection Act’ of 2002.” The only differences, Ziegler said, are that the existing law “isn't abortion specific,” and “also doesn't have criminal penalties for doctors.”

Although the new bill is an ineffective solution to right-wing media’s manufactured problem, it could be a highly effective tool for restricting access to health care and intimidating abortion providers. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the bill would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

After the vote, right-wing media ran with the further sensationalized misinformation

After right-wing media’s overwhelming outrage about proactive abortion protections in New York and Virginia, those outlets did not miss the opportunity provided by the Senate vote to push dangerous and extreme rhetoric about Democrats and to promote more misinformation about abortion.

On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt falsely claimed Democratic senators -- particularly those running for president in 2020 -- “want to make the decision not to allow [a] child to survive.” TheBlaze wrote that “opponents to this bill are saying that the medical practitioner performing the abortion should be allowed to finish the job of killing the baby even if it is somehow born alive.” National Review said Democratic senators “revealed their belief that allowing unwanted infants to perish after birth constitutes a form of women’s health care.” The Washington Examiner asked: “With their stance on infanticide bill, do Democrats show a death wish?” The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh called NARAL Pro-Choice America “blood-drenched scumbags” for pointing out the various ways the bill would cause harm to patients and providers. Fox News host Laura Ingraham even took the opportunity to compare Planned Parenthood and “the left” to Adolf Hitler:

Other media outlets uncritically adopted right-wing media’s problematic and inaccurate framing

Although other outlets haven’t echoed Ingraham’s comparison of Democrats to Hitler, some media outlets have uncritically accepted or repeated right-wing talking points about the bill in headlines and on social media without providing necessary pushback or context:

  • Louisiana’s KALB News Channel 5 [Twitter, 2/26/19]

  • Arizona’s KVOA News 4 Tucson [Twitter, 2/26/19]

Other media outlets framed the bill correctly as a political tactic by Republicans or as an attempt to regulate something that has no medical basis. Journalists should be aware that right-wing media are using misinformation about this Senate bill to convince voters -- and not only Republican ones -- to reject Democrats’ alleged “extremism” in the 2020 elections. When other outlets carelessly repeat anti-choice lies, it plays right into this deceptive and harmful strategy. Media have a responsibility when reporting on abortion to include context about the implications of such bills and to ensure that they aren’t serving as conduits for anti-choice fearmongering designed to influence the 2020 election.

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