Five of the big abortion fights media should know about in 2020


Citation Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

A new decade may have begun, but right-wing media and anti-abortion extremists are gearing up to spread the same misinformation as in years past. Already in 2020, more than 200 members of Congress have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court challenging the justices to reconsider Roe v. Wade. In addition, anti-choice trends that began in 2019 have shown no signs of waning, such as Republican-controlled state legislatures continuing to push outright abortion bans, as well as the steady decline in the number of accessible abortion clinics across the country. Similarly, the Democratic presidential primary debates could continue to lack substantial conversations about abortion and the ongoing effort to eliminate the Hyde Amendment. In 2020, media should rigorously and accurately cover these notable abortion fights -- as well as any other examples this year may bring. 

1. A case concerning a Louisiana anti-abortion law will be heard by the Supreme Court in March

In March 2020, the Supreme Court will hear its first significant abortion case with both of President Donald Trump's anti-abortion appointees, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, on the bench. The case, June Medical Services v. Gee, concerns an anti-abortion law identical to the one at question in a 2016 case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In that case, the court ruled that forcing doctors to have “admitting privileges” with surrounding hospitals and requiring clinics to meet expensive and unnecessary standards constituted an “undue burden on abortion access.”

When the court ruled on Whole Woman’s Health, right-wing media repeatedly made misleading allegations about the anti-choice law. While covering June Medical Services this March, media should not mirror prior mistakes by letting right-wing media dictate conversations surrounding abortion or the case.

2. States will continue to introduce and promote abortion bans

In 2019, Republican-controlled state legislatures ratified 58 new abortion restrictions, with nine states passing laws that limited abortion based on gestational age. Some states, like Alabama, attempted to ban abortion outright. In another example, South Carolina legislators advanced a so-called “heartbeat” bill that would restrict abortion access after fetal cardiac activity is detected around approximately six weeks of pregnancy. As the Guttmacher Institute explained, this would limit abortion access “before most people know they are pregnant.”

Now, lawmakers across the country are attempting to pass similarly harmful laws in 2020. In Ohio, lawmakers are considering an anti-abortion bill that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions and criminalize those seeking abortion care. In Michigan, legislators are attempting to advance a ban that would outlaw a safe and common abortion procedure by procuring signatures from registered voters. This method would allow the Republican-controlled legislature to circumvent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's ability to veto the bill. 

In 2020, media outlets should not only be aware of such anti-abortion laws occurring across the country, but also provide their audience with context about the harmful impacts such legislation will have on patients and providers alike. 

3. The number of abortion clinics across America continues to rapidly decline

According to the Abortion Care Network, independent abortion care providers are closing at a rapid pace in the United States as anti-abortion measures and other logistical barriers have driven the total number of independent clinics down 32% since 2012. In the United States, independent abortion providers make up 25% of all centers offering abortion care yet provide 58% of all abortion procedures nationwide. Over the past two years, Abortion Care Network has determined that “39 independent clinics have been forced to close in the United States” due to unnecessary abortion restrictions. 

In many states, due to restrictive abortion laws, independent clinics are the only providers of abortion care. Currently, six states have only one abortion care provider. The rapid decline in the number of abortion clinics across the country severely limits patients' ability to get abortion care and poses a risk to the accessibility of abortion even if the service remains legal.

Media must transparently report on the decline in abortion clinics and what impact that will have for individuals' ability to access abortion care. Media must also provide necessary context that the majority of abortion providers in the United States are independent providers and not further mislead the public with right-wing media misinformation that Planned Parenthood is the only provider impacted by the declining number of abortion clinics.

4. A continuing lack of attention to abortion and reproductive rights during the Democratic presidential debates

Since June 2019, there have been six Democratic presidential primary debates and moderators have only asked seven questions about abortion. There have been three debates in which neither a candidate nor a moderator uttered the word, “abortion.” Due to this lack of dialogue, abortion rights activists resurrected the #AskAboutAbortion campaign, which originated during the 2016 presidential election after moderators continually neglected the topic.

At a time of unprecedented attacks on abortion access -- and with the Supreme Court set to hear a major abortion case -- it is imperative that debate moderators during the Democratic primaries ask substantial questions about abortion.

5. The ongoing fight to #EndHyde

2020 will be an important year for ongoing efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment, a budget rule that prohibits federal funding to support abortion care except in cases of rape or incest or to protect the life of the pregnant person. Due to these limitations, the Hyde Amendment has established substantial barriers to abortion access for many, with a disproportionate impact on low-income communities, people of color, immigrants, and young people.

Most of the Democratic presidential candidates have expressed some support for repealing the measure. With the 2020 presidential elections upon us, media should ask how candidates would support affordable and accessible abortion care and address the consequences of continuing the Hyde Amendment.

There will be numerous attacks on abortion access and reproductive rights this year. Given the uncertain state of abortion access, media must provide substantial and detailed coverage of the threats to reproductive rights -- or else risk letting anti-abortion media continue to dominate these conversations.