Fox News and right-wing media seize on coronavirus crisis to attack abortion


Citation Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

While Fox News would like its viewers to believe it always took the threat of coronavirus seriously, the network wasted time promoting anti-abortion misinformation about the Democrats’ coronavirus spending bill. Others in right-wing media, as well as abortion opponents, continue to contribute their own misinformation and attacks against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in Congress.

As COVID-19 started to spread in the United States, Fox News spent much of its airtime downplaying the threat, keeping in line with President Donald Trump’s earlier dismissal of the crisis. However, as The Washington Post explained, “With Trump’s declaration on Friday that the virus constitutes a national emergency, the tone on Fox News has quickly shifted.” Amid the whiplash of Fox News’ sudden move to treat the pandemic like a pandemic, the network has failed to take responsibility for its previous efforts to convince viewers that the crisis isn’t worth worrying about and that Democrats are attempting to politicize the situation to attack Trump.

For example, a coronavirus spending bill in the House was held up by misguided concerns from Republicans and the White House that it would lead to government funding of abortions. In response, Fox News and others in right-wing media attacked Pelosi and Democrats for exploiting the coronavirus crisis. But this interpretation was incorrect, as PolitiFact explained:

A website claims Pelosi was "caught trying to include abortion funding" in the bill. 

This is inaccurate. A section in the bill seeks to reimburse insurers for COVID-19 related laboratory claims. Concerns were raised that the bill’s language could inadvertently open up federal funds for abortion services, but it’s unclear exactly how. No draft of the legislation had funding for abortion in it.

We rate this claim False.

Here’s how Fox News and others in right-wing media -- as well as abortion opponents -- pushed misinformation about abortion and the coronavirus spending bill instead of focusing on the crisis:

Fox News

  • Tucker Carlson said, “As the nation is fighting a pandemic, [House Democrats are] worried about abortion. This virus does not kill children -- they wanted to fix that.”
  • On The Story with Martha MacCallum, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) alleged that Pelosi was “putting in, for example, reformations to abortion laws and abortion practices" in the bill as "a way to try to make Republicans and the president look like we don't support testing.” Instead of debunking his claim, anchor Martha MacCallum scoffed and responded, “That’s ridiculous.”
  • On America’s Newsroom, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) claimed that by not clarifying that federal money in the spending bill could not fund abortions, “you could spend up to a billion dollars effectively on state-sponsored abortions, state-funded abortions.” Co-anchor Ed Henry furthered Biggs' claim, saying, “A lot of people [are] raising eyebrows as to why Speaker Pelosi wanted that abortion funding, as you say, in there for something that is an emergency.”
  • On Sunday Morning Futures, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told host Maria Bartiromo that “Democrats had put in a number of provisions” in the bill “that were just philosophically wrong with anything to do here. They wanted to change the law and have taxpayer pay for abortion.”
  • Former White House economic adviser Stephen Moore claimed on The Next Revolution that Democrats tried to turn the spending bill “into the Bernie Sanders agenda,” with “some Democrats talking about putting abortion funding in this emergency relief package.”

Other right-wing media figures and abortion opponents

  • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk:
  • Anti-abortion organization Created Equal:
  • LifeSiteNews wrote, “As government leaders continue to move to address the spread of the coronavirus across the United States, House Democrats allegedly tried to exploit the panic to weaken existing restrictions on federal funding of abortion.”
  • Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins:
  • Anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion organization Family Policy Alliance is running Facebook ads claiming that while “government leaders at every level were taking unprecedented action to protect American lives from the coronavirus,” Pelosi “was using the crisis to seek funding to take more lives through abortions. You read that correctly – trading lives for lives!”
  • Family Research Council President Tony Perkins: