Roe v Wade court
Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

The most restrictive abortion law in the country just went into effect in Texas. It was ignored by cable news until it was too late.

The law wound its way through the courts this past week, but there wasn’t a single segment on it until last night

  • The most restrictive abortion law in the country went into effect in Texas today, effectively banning abortion in the state after efforts to halt the move in court were unsuccessful. Since August 25, the law has been covered in just three cable news segments, all of which aired last night.

  • On September 1, a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks went into effect due to inaction from the Supreme Court. The law -- which makes no exception for incest or rape -- effectively bans abortion in the state because abortions before six weeks are nearly impossible, partly because many people do not even know they pregnant at that point. In addition, the law allows citizens to collect a minimum $10,000 bounty and recoup their legal costs if they are found successful in a suit against anyone who aids in obtaining an abortion in Texas after six weeks.

    There has been a flurry of recent activity that cable news could have covered as a case brought by pro-choice groups to try to halt the law wound its way through the courts.

    On August 25, a federal district court denied Texas’ motion to dismiss the case. Just two days later, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stopped all proceedings in the district court, which canceled that court’s preliminary injunction hearing, and denied the plaintiffs’ request to expedite the appeal. On August 29, the plaintiffs filed for emergency relief, and on August 30, they filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to block the law before it went into effect.

    But, it wasn’t until late last night, as people waited to see whether the Supreme Court would intervene, that cable news first covered these events.

  • According to a Media Matters review, CNN and MSNBC did not devote a single segment to the story between August 25 and last night, when Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Don Lemon on CNN had lengthy segments about it. Fox News did not cover the law in the period studied.

    Maddow’s segments began: “I also want to put something on your radar tonight that is urgent and potentially very, very consequential, and it is likely to unfold one way or the other over the next three to four hours. Now, I don’t know if you heard about this over the course of recent days. My guess is that you may not have.” Following her monologue, Maddow brought on Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of plaintiff the Center for Reproductive Rights, to discuss the law.

    Similarly, Lemon started his segment, “So this one is really important, so pay attention everyone: A restrictive state abortion law set to take effect tonight in Texas unless it’s blocked by the courts. If the law is not blocked it could effectively end Roe v. Wade.” 

  • Video file

    Citation From the August 31, 2021, edition of CNN's Don Lemon Tonight

  • While Maddow faulted a legal “sneak attack” to explain why most people hadn’t heard about this, fault also lies squarely with cable news channels that didn’t cover the events until the last minute.