What Mississippi Says About The Right-Wing Media's Anti-Choice Arguments

Mississippi Pro-Choice ProtestA Mississippi bill that will severely limit access to reproductive health is being promoted by conservative lawmakers using misleading arguments that mirror those pushed by right-wing media outlets.

In 2012, Mississippi passed House Bill 1390, legislation that would require all physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the law, stating, “To further protect patient safety in the event of a complication during the procedure, this bill also requires the physician to have staff and admitting privileges at a local hospital.” The governor's spokesman noted that Bryant felt the law was “an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women.”

Rep. Sam Mims, HB 1390's sponsor, said in a CNN interview that the purpose of the law is “to make sure that women who are receiving these abortions are receiving abortions by a professional physician who is certified,” and that “If something goes wrong, which it might -- we hope it doesn't, but it could -- that physician could follow the patient to a local hospital. That's the intent. And what happens afterwards, we'll have to see what happens.” In a May 8, 2012 blog, the Mississippi Republican Party wrote “HB 1390 will require all physicians performing in abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital; a necessity to protect life in case of an emergency during an abortion.”

In July of that year, however, the law was partially blocked by a federal judge after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit alleging that the law is unconstitutional. The law made headlines again in 2014 as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether to uphold the injunction. 

Talking Points Memo argued that, despite the governor's purported concern for women's health, the law has more to do with restricting reproductive access than it does with women's health, arguing that medical organizations oppose requiring admitting privileges and pointing to Bryant's history of anti-choice advocacy. Diane Derzis, the owner of Jackson Women's Health Organization, agreed, telling Politico, "These people hide behind words like 'safety,' 'women's health,' 'concern' and 'compassion.' "

But the same could be said for choice opponents in the right-wing media, who frequently couch their anti-choice activism as concern over women's health. 

This misleading tactic took front stage in June of 2013 after Texas state senator Wendy Davis successfully filibustered a bill that would have imposed the same admitting privilege on Texas abortion clinics. Right-wing defenders of the bill claimed the provision was necessary to improve women's health.

Appearing on the June 30 edition of ABC's This Week, Peggy Noonan claimed “the bill does not specifically try to close abortion clinics, it says they have to meet certain medical standards in order to operate.” Michelle Malkin appeared on Fox News' America Live to claim that the Texas bill was a question of whether abortion clinics would “abide by standards that will ensure safety.” Following a legal victory for a law, National Review wrote that the court “handed women in Texas a big win by upholding health and safety regulations that had been challenged by Planned Parenthood.” Fox's Monica Crowley called the restrictions “completely reasonable” and “a direct response to the horrors of the [Kermit] Gosnell case.” 

The argument was no less honest than Governor Bryant's. At the time, the Dallas Morning News called the legislation “a good-sounding but sneaky way of cutting off access to abortion services.” As the editorial pointed out, both the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital association opposed the admitting requirement as medically unnecessary. The Guttmacher Institute includes it as one of the regulations used “to limit access to abortion, rather than to make its provision safer.”

The media-promoted restrictions are having the intended effect: recently two health care providers in Texas had their admitting privileges revoked following a pressure campaign from anti-choice activists. Salon reported that “doctors Lamar Robinson and Jasbir Ahluwalia received letters alerting them that their admitting privileges had been revoked because the hospital claimed that the physicians' 'practice of voluntary interruption of pregnancies creates significant exposure and damages to [the University General Hospital of Dallas'] reputation within the community.' ”

TPM quoted the Center for Reproductive Rights' Julie Rikelman who made the case that “the most important thing to understand about these admitting privileges laws is that they're not being proposed or pushed by doctors or the medical establishment, they're being pushed by anti-choice politicians.” Presumably the same is true about the anti-choice media.

Image via WLBT screenshot