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Ceci Freed / Media Matters

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An anti-abortion talking point about Congress’ coronavirus bills spreads on Fox News and Facebook

  • In the past three months, Congress has passed or introduced several bills meant to address the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Right-wing media have responded by attacking Democrats with misinformation about the bills, including an anti-abortion talking point prominently spread on Fox News and Facebook that demonizes abortion access advocates and perpetuates abortion stigma.

  • On May 15, the House passed the latest coronavirus stimulus bill, which is unlikely to be considered by the Republican-controlled Senate. This is the fifth bill considered by Congress related to coronavirus relief. As part of the narrative against these bills, right-wing media have attempted to manufacture outrage about abortion and Planned Parenthood.

  • One aspect of this attack was Republicans and right-wing media claims that Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) were trying to fund abortions via the bills, by deliberately leaving out Hyde Amendment language that would prohibit use of the funds to cover the costs of abortions. However, as several fact checks noted, there was no basis to this allegation; there was no evidence of attempts to include abortion funding in the measures, and Hyde Amendment language was ultimately added. Republicans and right-wing media then tried another tactic -- accusing Democrats and Pelosi of trying to block the bills unless they included funding for Planned Parenthood. In reality, there were disagreements about whether to provide assistance to nonprofit health care providers in general.

  • Both lines of attack were prominent on Fox News and Facebook. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox News aired 36 segments including mentions of misinformation about funding for abortions or Planned Parenthood under the coronavirus relief bills between March 1 and May 16, 2020. (In addition, three segments on MSNBC and one segment on CNN mentioned abortion or Planned Parenthood in relation to the coronavirus fight.)

  • Many examples of this narrative on Fox News featured Republican lawmakers advancing the misinformation with no pushback from the hosts. For example, on Sunday Morning Futures, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) claimed that Democrats wanted to “have taxpayer pay for abortion” in the bill, but Republicans “made sure we took that out.” On the May 12 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) alleged that Democrats are “once again” trying to include “such crazy things as using federal funds for abortions” in the latest House bill.

  • In other segments, Fox News hosts and contributors were the ones to push the misinformation. On March 26, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade falsely stated that Pelosi was “demanding” such things in the bill as “Planned Parenthood financing.” During March 13’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson asked whether “it's fair to say that the Democratic Party attempted to use this bill to promote abortion?”

  • Additionally, right-wing media articles that promoted misinformation about abortion or Planned Parenthood related to the coronavirus spending bills have received high engagement numbers on Facebook. According to a BuzzSumo analysis, 12 right-wing media articles promoting abortion-related lies about the bills each received more than 100,000 engagements on the social media platform. Many of these articles attacked Pelosi by name, with the Western Journal, for instance, claiming in its headline that “Pelosi tried using bill aimed at stopping coronavirus deaths to fund baby deaths through abortion.” Of note, a website called ABC 14 News, which dishonestly brands itself as an ABC affiliate when it is not, received more than 107,000 engagements on Facebook with an article titled “Speaker Nancy Pelosi caught trying to include abortion funding in bill to combat coronavirus.”

  • When right-wing media flood the zone with misinformation about abortion -- a tactic they are apparently committed to even during a global pandemic -- they create an environment in which abortion seems morally or socially wrong. In particular, right-wing media have capitalized on a lack of accurate information about abortion to demonize abortion providers, patients, and elected and unelected advocates, as well as to spread misinformation about abortion more broadly. The lies seen on Fox News and in right-wing articles that spread on Facebook do not exist in a vacuum, but rather in a culture where they help perpetuate a dangerous belief against access to abortion.


  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the iQ media video database and Nexis database for segments on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News for “abortion,” “abortions,” “Planned Parenthood,” “Planned Parent hood,” or “reproductive rights” within 50 words of “bill,” “coronavirus,” “funding,” “funds,” “package,” “financing,” “Pelosi,” “stimulus,” “heroes act,” “health and economic recovery omnibus emergency solutions,” “bailout,” “aid package,” “three trillion,” “wish list,” “grab bag,” “pet priorities,” “cares act,” or “coronavirus aid relief and economic security” from March 1, 2020, to May 16, 2020. We included segments that addressed Congress’ coronavirus bills. We excluded one segment as the mention was from a live press conference.

  • Media Matters also searched BuzzSumo for articles containing “abortion,” “hyde,” or “Planned Parenthood” in combination with “coronavirus” from March 1, 2020, to May 16, 2020. Articles about Congress’ bills that had over 100,000 engagements were counted.