Recently, right-wing media have manufactured outrage over two upcoming Senate votes on abortion bills, using false terms like “infanticide” to stir up anger and draw attention. The disingenuous concern is part of their and Senate Republicans’ efforts to paint Senate Democrats as “extreme” on abortion ahead of the 2020 election.
As we’ve seen so far in the 2020 election cycle, right-wing media have more or less followed a playbook in their attempts to attack 2020 Democratic candidates as being out of touch with voters on views about abortion access. In many cases, right-wing media have created these spikes of false indignation after right-wing reporters or abortion opponents dogged candidates on the campaign trail with questions filled with anti-abortion misinformation. Often in their reporting, right-wing media outlets leave out information about the bias and affiliations of the person who asked the question, which can make the questions appear more organic and grassroots rather than from an oppositional source. Candidates have also been asked these dishonest questions while appearing on Fox News town halls -- something that could happen again to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) when she appears for her second town hall on the network on February 27.
Next week, Senate Republicans take their turn helping to create faux outrage with “show votes” scheduled on two anti-abortion bills that are “clearly doomed but give senators a chance to show their position.” In particular, the votes would “force Democratic Senate candidates and White House hopefuls to go on record on the issue.” Both bills -- which propose bans on abortions after 20 weeks and on so-called “born-alive” abortions -- are based on right-wing misinformation that completely misconstrues or lies about abortions that occur later in pregnancy in an effort to reinforce stigma around already difficult situations.
In the ramp-up to the votes, right-wing media have shown their hand about how they will engage with these votes. Anti-abortion outlet LifeNews.com ran with the false headline “Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar Voted Against Bill to Stop Infanticide, They’ll Do It Again Next Week.” Right-wing outlet The New American wrote, “Though the votes are expected to fail, they will force the Democrats to go on record as the party of infanticide and late-term abortions.” Similarly, The Washington Free Beacon claimed that the vote on the “bill to protect newborns who survive abortions ... could force top Democratic presidential candidates to stake out an extreme position on the issue or risk angering abortion groups.”
In particular, right-wing media have focused on a clip of someone hounding Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), who is running for reelection, with questions about abortion. Alabama conservative outlet YellowHammer News called the questioner a “tracker,” which is someone who has the “job of spending every waking hour filming politicians from the other side of the political aisle.” In the clip, as Jones walks by the questioner, Jones says, “What stupid question have you got for me today?” The person asks Jones, “Do you think abortion should be banned after five months?” Jones laughs and says, “Should abortion be banned after -- as I said, what a stupid question.” The questioner then says that Jones is “voting on it next week,” and Jones responds, “And I’ll vote on it next week -- just like I did the last one.”
The clip of Jones originally gained steam online when it was tweeted out by the press secretary of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Right-wing media and abortion opponents then pounced on the clip as an opportunity to attack Jones, with some even claiming that the questioner was just a “constituent” or a “constituent with a camera and microphone.” LifeNews.com’s write-up -- with the highly misleading headline “Alabama Sen. Doug Jones Laughs at Babies Dying in Late-Term Abortions: ‘What a Stupid Question’” -- has received high engagement numbers on social media, which is unsurprising given that the outlet normally dominates abortion-related coverage on platforms like Facebook.
As seen in the 2020 election, right-wing media have mostly relied on themselves to create and fulfill the false narrative that Democratic candidates are “extreme” on abortion. These votes next week will be another example of how the right-wing echo chamber perpetuates this outrage through Election Day.