After reports surfaced that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted and harassed several teenagers when he was in his 30s, right-wing media outlets rushed to characterize Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones as supporting “partial-birth” abortions, abortions up to the moment of birth, or so-called “late-term” abortions. Other outlets have adopted the right-wing media spin, claiming Jones is too “extreme” for Alabama voters.
Alabama Senate race now “a face-off between the morality of sexual predation and the morality of abortion”
The New Yorker: The Alabama Senate election is now “a face-off between the morality of sexual predation and the morality of abortion.” In November, The Washington Post reported multiple women’s accounts of Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore molesting them when they were in their teens and Moore was in his 30s. The New Yorker’s Jessica Winter explained that after the Post’s reporting, the election became “a face-off between the morality of sexual predation and the morality of abortion” with some painting Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones as having extreme views on abortion. [The Washington Post, 11/9/17; The New Yorker, 11/27/17]
Jones supports restrictions on later abortions, but would allow exemptions for “medical necessity”
In an interview on MSNBC, Jones said he was against 20-week abortion bans. On September 27, Jones was asked by MSNBC’s MTP Daily host Chuck Todd about his stance on abortion restrictions. Jones answered that he was “a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body.” When Todd asked Jones whether he would support a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, Jones stated, “I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose.” [MSNBC, MTP Daily, 9/27/17]
Jones later clarified, explaining that he supports restrictions on later abortions “except in the case of medical necessity.” In an interview with AL.com on November 2, Jones reiterated that he supports “a woman’s freedom to choose to what happens to her own body.” However, Jones clarified that his answer on MTP Daily was specifically in reference to a 20-week abortion ban pending in Congress, and that “people are fairly comfortable with where the law has been for decades.” He stated that he supports laws that restrict later abortions “except in the case of medical necessity.” Jones also attempted to distance himself from the matter by saying that abortion is “not an issue that affects people on a daily basis, not like health care, not like jobs.” In a statement to HuffPost, Jones stated he supports later abortions in order “to protect the life or health of the mother,” which is the current law in Alabama. [AL.com, 11/2/17; HuffPost, 10/19/17; Guttmacher Institute, accessed November 2017]
Right-wing media invoked the myth of “partial-birth” or so-called “late-term” abortions to claim that Jones is too “extreme” for Alabama
On Fox News’ The Five, co-host Jesse Watters said Jones is “for partial-birth abortion.” Fox News’ The Five co-host Jesse Watters described the choice available to Alabama voters as having to decide between Roy Moore, who “may have done inappropriate things with young girls 40 years ago,” and Doug Jones, who he claimed is “for partial-birth abortion.” From the November 15 edition of Fox News’ The Five:
JESSE WATTERS (CO-HOST): So, Greg, what you were just saying before about voters in Alabama being able to hold two ideas in their head. Maybe one of those ideas, yes, Roy Moore may have done inappropriate things with young girls 40 years ago. But, Doug Jones -- the Democrat -- do I want Doug Jones to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate where he’s for partial-birth abortion, he’s for Obamacare, he’s for the Paris Climate Accords. Can they rationalize that in their heads? [Fox News, The Five, 11/15/17]
Fox News contributor David Bossie asked whether Alabama voters could vote for someone who supports “abortion on demand.” On Fox News’ The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, Fox contributor David Bossie claimed that Alabama voters will have to decide whether they can elect Jones, “a (sic) ultra-liberal Democrat” who supports “abortion on demand.” Bossie returned to Fox News on November 22’s Fox & Friends to again allege that Jones was for “abortion on demand” and that Alabama voters would “vote that way with those important issues foremost in their minds.” From the November 16 edition of Fox News’ The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino:
DAVID BOSSIE: The voters of Alabama are going to decide. And -- and the voters of Alabama have not sent a Democrat, let alone a (sic) ultra-liberal Democrat, to the United States Senate in over 25 years. And I think that that's what the people of Alabama are going to have to come to grips with, which is do they want an abortion on demand United States senator representing Alabama? And I think that the answer to that is no. And I think that that's going to be a big question on election day. And whether they can do anything about Roy Moore post-election is really going to be the issue and how long he gets to stay there. But the people of Alabama will get to decide this in just about a month. [Fox News, The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, 11/16/17]
From the November 22 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): David, do you think the president made the right move kind of endorsing Roy Moore yesterday?
DAVID BOSSIE: Well, absolutely. Look, we have to win this Senate race. And I think that the liberals down in Washington DC--
KILMEADE: But at any cost? At any cost?
BOSSIE: Well, I don't know what that means, Brian. But I think that the -- that the cost of this election of having a liberal Democrat who's for open borders and for gun confiscation and for abortion on demand is not what the people of Alabama want. And I think they are going to vote that way with those important issues foremost in their minds. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/22/17]
On Fox News, The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel characterized Jones’ stance as being “for late-term abortions.” The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel appeared on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo to discuss the Alabama race. Kissel claimed that Republicans were in a “terrible position” because they must decide between a candidate who is “pro-life” and one who is “for late-term abortions.” From the November 19 edition of Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo:
MARY KISSEL : Republicans are in a terrible position. Many senior Republicans have come out and said that if Roy Moore gets elected, they want him expelled from the Senate and they could very well do that. On the other hand, it's a very deep red conservative state, and you may have voters that look at him and say, well he's pro-life and the other fellow is for late-term abortions. [Fox News, Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo, 11/19/17]
On Fox News, The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger called Jones “a pro-abortion absolutist.” During the November 19 edition of Fox News’ Journal Editorial Report, The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger discussed the Alabama special election, characterizing Jones as “a pro-abortion absolutist.” From the November 19 edition of Fox News’ Journal Editorial Report:
DANIEL HENNINGER: Yeah, Fox released a poll Thursday night, and he's down to Doug Jones -- the Democrat -- 50 to 42 percent. Among women, he’s down 58 percent. And, so you have a lot of write-ins since October 18th. Roy -- Doug Jones is a pro-abortion absolutist. I think it's a little hard to handicap what's going on down there. And look, if Roy Moore pulls out, the Republicans are gonna lose this race. This is a problem. There's two races going on here. Doug Moore -- Doug Jones and Roy Moore and Steve Bannon versus Mitch McConnell. [Fox News, Journal Editorial Report, 11/19/17]
Fox News contributor Guy Benson twice characterized Jones’ position as supporting “abortion through all nine months” of pregnancy. Guy Benson, Townhall’s political editor and Fox News contributor, appeared on two Fox shows to discuss the Alabama special election. During both appearances, Benson proclaimed that Jones supported “abortion through all nine months” of pregnancy. From the November 22 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
GUY BENSON: [Jones] is going to do the moral indignation, which I think is justified, but he wants to deflect away from his own record and say, “It's safe for conservatives to support me because Moore is so odious. Let's not talk about my support for abortion through all nine months. Let’s not talk about my position on taxes or the Second Amendment or Obamacare.” And that's the smart play for him right now. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 11/22/17]
From the November 22 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:
GUY BENSON: Doug Jones can say he doesn't want other people to characterize his record. I'm happy to do so. He's a liberal, and he's way off to the left for a state like Alabama. He supports abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. He’s weak on the Second Amendment. So, let me stipulate -- I’m against Roy Moore. I would not have voted for the guy, even before all these allegations surfaced, and I find the women credible. But I think it’s shrewd -- on a political level at least -- of the president to push the spotlight back onto Doug Jones, saying no one is talking about who this man is and what he would do and how he would vote in the Senate. That’s the way I think Trump is trying to bring wavering Republican voters in a very red state back on side even to support someone that they find maybe morally repellant. It’s still an important vote. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 11/22/17]
Fox’s Mike Huckabee: “Doug Jones is a person who supports abortion at every level.” On the November 27 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, contributor Mike Huckabee stated that “Doug Jones is a person who supports abortion at every level,” implying that Jones supports abortion without any restrictions. Huckabee also claimed that Jones’ position on abortion was “disgusting” for “most people in Alabama, and I would like to think the rest of the country” and that Jones’ views “aren’t in sync with the people of Alabama.” From the November 27 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
MIKE HUCKABEE: At this point we're looking at two different individuals who will vote differently. The people of Alabama will ultimately make this decision. It's a tough one for them to make. But Doug Jones is a person who supports abortion at every level. For most people in Alabama, and I would like to think the rest of the country, that's disgusting. And forget the economic policies. I mean, certainly he’s going to be for raising taxes and having greater regulation. But there are some fundamental things that just aren't in sync with the people of Alabama who are gonna be voting and making this decision. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 11/27/17]
Fox’s Marc Thiessen equated Moore’s predatory behavior and Jones’ stance on abortion access, describing both as “two extremes.” Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen suggested there was a moral equivalency between reports that Moore molested teenagers and, as he described it, Jones’ stance as “a pro-abortion Democrat.” Thiessen called on President Donald Trump to stop the election because Alabama voters “shouldn’t be put in the position of having to choose between those two extremes.” From the November 15 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle:
MARC THIESSEN: The people of Alabama are not to blame for this, but they’re put in an untenable position, which is they don't want to elect a pro-abortion Democrat to the Senate, but they also don't want to elect a sex predator. What do they do? So we got to find some way to solve this so the American people of Alabama aren’t put in that position. Donald Trump needs to call the Republican Party in the state of Alabama, call the governor and do something to stop this election from happening this way. The governor can stop the election or delay the election. But they shouldn’t be put in a position of having to choose between those two extremes. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 11/15/17]
National Review: Reports about Moore don't change “the fact that his opponent is a pro-abortion-rights fanatic.” National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis also suggested an equivalency between reports of molestation against Moore to Jones’ position on abortion -- which DeSanctis mischaracterized as Jones supporting “the right to an abortion right up until the child is delivered, the most extreme possible stance.” While DeSanctis said that Jones may think about “playing down his extremism on the issue of life” in order to win the election, she claimed, “No reasonable person could consider Jones anything other than a zealot” when it comes to his views on abortion. DeSanctis concluded that though “it’s completely understandable that voters would be repelled by the accusations against Moore. … that in no way changes the fact that his opponent is a pro-abortion-rights fanatic who cannot be considered a suitable alternative for any conscientious voter who respects human life.” From the November 20 article:
If Jones is to prevail in December, he might think about playing down his extremism on the issue of life.
No reasonable person could consider Jones anything other than a zealot in this area.
If this is how Americans across the country feel, how much more must Alabama voters — largely conservative and strongly pro-life — favor abortion restrictions? It’s completely understandable that voters would be repelled by the accusations against Moore. They should be. Every decent person should. But that in no way changes the fact that his opponent is a pro-abortion-rights fanatic who cannot be considered a suitable alternative for any conscientious voter who respects human life. What a sad mess we have on show in the Yellowhammer State. [National Review, 11/20/17]
Other outlets adopted right-wing media’s spin about Jones’ support for so-called “partial-birth” or “late-term” abortion
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough: “Jones would be up by 50 points right now” if he were “conservative to moderate on abortion.” During a November 27 discussion about the Alabama special election, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough claimed that Democrats would be better off if “they can find somebody who is progressive in areas that line up culturally with people in Alabama.” Scarborough further explained, “If there were somebody who were, let’s say, conservative to moderate on abortion … but with Democrats on 99 percent of the other issues, Doug Jones would be up by 50 points right now.” From the November 27 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): And by the way, let me just say this. I want to go to abortion for a second. And I know every time I say this I get people mad at me, but if the Democrats want to have speaker of the House again, sometimes they can find somebody who is progressive in areas that line up culturally with people in Alabama. I will tell you this right now. As offended as Democrats may be by that, if there were somebody who were, let’s say, conservative to moderate on abortion, conservative to moderate on guns but with Democrats on 99 percent of the other issues, Doug Jones would be up by 50 points right now. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 11/27/17]
MSNBC’s Morning Joe panel defined Jones’ position on abortion as “extreme.” During the November 28 edition of Morning Joe, a panel, including co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, raised the issue of Democratic support for abortion in light of the Alabama special election. Scarborough stated that the election was “now down really more to abortion,” while another panel member, MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan, stated that adopting an anti-abortion viewpoint “would have taken Doug Jones easily over the finish line.” MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki also mischaracterized Jones' position as supporting “no restrictions on abortion at all. Later, Jordan mentioned that “extremists within both parties push the most extreme views,” and claimed that “most Americans do not support late-term abortions.” From the November 28 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
ELISE JORDAN: It's really abortion. It comes down to abortion. If the Democrats had --
JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): Abortion, guns.
JORDAN: -- if they had run a candidate who was pro-life, this race would be over. It would be absolutely -- this abortion is what is lingering, I think, that is the decisive edge that would have taken Doug Jones easily over the finish line. But with that still out there, it is the strongest political weapon that Roy Moore has against Doug Jones.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, I think over the past 10 years, I think you all would agree and people that follow politics in the South would agree that you would say, well, there are three issues that would hurt Doug Jones. Same-sex marriage, abortion, and guns. It's now down really more to abortion, and I don't know where Doug Jones is on guns, but I'm guessing he's fairly moderate on the issue. He probably is a lot like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and people that supported background checks and everything else. So, it does sort of narrow down to abortion. And, Steve, that was a fight Democrats had after the 2016 election. I made a suggestion one day on Twitter that they should find candidates who were progressive on all other issues but on a couple of social issues, abortion --
MIKA BRZEZINSKI (CO-HOST): How did that go for you?
SCARBOROUGH: -- be a bit more moderate. Kaboom. But then you saw Nancy Pelosi coming out saying, “Yes, we are open for business if you're in the South, and you're pro-life, you can -- you can be a Democrat. We will take your vote. We want to run the House. We want to run the Senate.” So this is a good debate for Democrats to have.
STEVE KORNACKI: And I don't think they've resolved it at all. You hear the message from Nancy Pelosi. There are a lot of people who write checks -- big checks to the Democratic Party who don’t share that view, who are not ready to put their money behind any candidate who has any support for restrictions on abortion. Alabama, it’s interesting, I looked at these numbers, I think it was Doug Jones on MTP Daily at the start of this campaign where he said, “Look, no restrictions -- no restrictions on abortion at all.” And you look at the states -- if you rank the states when they do polling on states that are most anti-abortion, Alabama clocks in at like number two, number three. So, this is an issue there with residents.
SCARBOROUGH: And, also, if you look at polls, you'll know this better than me. But I've seen some polls where there's pretty wide support for restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks.
KORNACKI: 20 weeks. 20 weeks.
SCARBOROUGH: That is not a minority position. That is not a right-wing position. That is a majority position in America. My only point being if Democrats want to be a majority party in America, maybe they look in places like Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, deep South areas and maybe they aren't so offended to disqualify somebody that has a majority position in America, which, by the way, 20-week restriction on abortion is -- I don't think that's too far away from where the law of the land is right now if you look at the Supreme Court.
KORNACKI: When you look overall at the conversation that seems to be taking place in the Democratic Party and on the left since the election last year, it's been a mindset much more of entrenchment and of let's not reach out. Let's just stand together and fight -- resist is the term you’d use.
EDDIE GLAUDE JR.: I can't help but note the irony of the passion around the position of abortion, and the willingness to accept the 14-year-old child being molested.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, well, I do think, though, that in this case, I think you actually will have somebody that is -- supports abortion rights in the state of Alabama has a better than even chance of getting elected.
JORDAN: Well, extremists within both parties push the most extreme views. Most Americans do not support late-term abortions. So that puts them so out of step with people more in the middle who they could perhaps win over. On the opposite side, gun control, gun rights advocates, we take it too far also there with the NRA and some of the extreme measures we put out there. As a Republican who supports gun rights, I see, though, how we go too far. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 11/28/17, 11/28/17]
CNN’s Stephen Moore: Jones “is for partial-birth abortion, which a lot of people in Alabama think is tantamount to murder.” During the November 20 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, CNN contributor Stephen Moore equated Jones’ views on abortion to reports of Moore molesting underage teens. Stephen Moore claimed that Jones “is no saint either” because he “is for partial-birth abortion in a state that’s highly Christian and Catholic. So, there’s no moral high ground here between the two candidates.” After guest host John Berman interjected that Roy Moore “is an alleged child molester,” Stephen Moore stated, “Yeah, and the other one is for partial-birth abortion, which a lot of people in Alabama think is tantamount to murder.” From the November 20 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360:
STEPHEN MOORE: I think Judge Roy Moore is kind of a creep and I think these are obviously very serious allegations against him. But I also think that it is appropriate for the people of Alabama to make this decision. This election is almost a jury of his peers, right, to indicate whether the people of Alabama want this man to represent them. By the way, the Democrat is no saint either. The Democratic candidate is for partial-birth abortion in a state that's highly Christian and Catholic. So, there's no moral high ground here between the two candidates.
JOHN BERMAN (GUEST HOST): Except that one is an alleged child molester.
MOORE: Yeah, and the other one is for partial-birth abortion, which a lot of people in Alabama think is tantamount to murder. [CNN, Anderson Cooper 360, 11/20/17]
On CNN, anti-abortion leader Janet Porter defended Moore and characterized Jones’ position as “in favor of tax-funded abortion until birth.” During the November 20 edition of CNN’s Erin Burnett Outfront, anti-abortion leader Janet Porter defended Moore against what she said were “baseless allegations” and redirected the conversation to discuss each candidate’s position on abortion. While Porter described Moore as someone “who’s been a champion for life,” she mischaracterized Jones’ position as “in favor of tax-funded abortion until birth, until the moment of birth,” an inaccurate statement that was not refuted by host Erin Burnett. From the November 20 edition of CNN’s Erin Burnett Outfront:
JANET PORTER: I’m -- what I'm talking about --
“Partial-birth” abortion was a concept invented by anti-choice groups that has been adopted as a talking point by right-wing media
An anti-abortion group invented the concept of “partial-birth” abortion in 1995, but the term is used frequently by right-wing media. As reported by NPR’s Julie Rovner, the term “partial-birth” abortion “was first coined by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in 1995” to misleadingly describe an abortion procedure called dilation and extraction (D&X). Rovner explained that “‘partial-birth’ is not a medical term,” but instead “a political one.” As Rolling Stone noted, “it’s a term made up by activists to make abortion seem gruesome. It’s used to focus attention on later abortion,” which further serves “to vilify women who have them.” In reality, later abortions are performed for a variety of complicated and personal reasons for the person who decides to have one. However, right-wing media have repeatedly used the term or its near-equivalents such as “abortion on demand” or “abortion until birth” to spread misinformation about abortion and drive opposition to abortion access. [NPR, 2/21/06; Rolling Stone, 10/5/16; Media Matters, 10/25/16, 10/12/16, 10/19/16, 10/21/16]
Cosmopolitan: “There is no specific medical definition for a ‘late-term abortion,’” and “no one should be using” the phrase “late-term” abortion. In Cosmopolitan, writer Robin Marty explained that the phrase “late-term” abortion is actually a misnomer that anti-abortion people have popularized and used “to mean anything they want.” In fact, as Marty clarified, “there is no specific medical definition for a ‘late-term abortion,’” and “no one should be using the phrase.” Hal Lawrence of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told Marty that “‘late-term’ refers to a pregnancy with a gestational age of 41 weeks to 41 weeks, 6 days. Abortions are not performed at ‘late term.’” Instead, Lawrence explained, “The term ‘later abortion’ is sometimes used to describe abortions that occur after 12 weeks gestational age,” and is not the same as “late-term.” However, Marty warned, “The problem is that this medically inaccurate terminology has already become [so] ingrained in the rhetoric of how people talk about abortions,” that it has even been used sometimes by pro-choice advocates. [Cosmopolitan, 10/2/17]