From April 7 through 10, cable networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC devoted more than 15 hours to covering two separate rulings on the abortion drug mifepristone from U.S. District Courts in Texas and Washington state -- one of which would ban the sale of the pill nationally -- but just 27 minutes of that coverage aired on Fox. MSNBC led with 7 hours and 56 minutes, and CNN followed with 7 hours and 4 minutes.
From the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk issued his ruling Friday evening invalidating the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of the medication mifepristone, an abortifacient when taken with the drug misoprostol. Shortly thereafter in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, Judge Thomas Rice handed down a conflicting opinion that would prevent the FDA from making mifepristone unavailable in the 17 states and the District of Columbia that were party to the case. The Biden administration has since appealed the Texas decision.
When news broke of Kacsmaryk’s decision during Friday’s 6 p.m. hour that the FDA improperly approved mifepristone in 2000, both CNN and MSNBC devoted the rest of that hour’s programming to coverage of the ruling — about 20 minutes each. By contrast, Fox’s Special Report with Bret Baier gave the story a less-than-20-seconds-long headline and a less-than-30-seconds-long “discussion” at the very end of the show’s regular panel segment. In total that day, CNN and MSNBC spent approximately an hour and a half each on the stories while Fox devoted less than a minute.
Previously, Media Matters reviewed cable news coverage of the Texas lawsuit from November 18, 2022, when anti-abortion activists represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom first brought the suit to Kacsmaryk's courtroom, through February 28, 2023, and found that Fox barely covered the story. The network devoted just two minutes to the case while rivals MSNBC and CNN aired 2 hours and 37 minutes and 32 minutes, respectively, in that time period.
Mifepristone has been a safe and effective abortion method available to patients for more than 20 years. Known as “medication abortion,” the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol accounts for more than half of all abortions in the United States today and was used in 98% of all medication abortions in 2020. Banning mifepristone would have vast implications, especially in states that have moved to limit access to reproductive health care since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned the court’s prior decision in Roe v. Wade.
As with Fox’s desertion of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) legislation that would institute a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks, the network again appears to be ignoring unpopular legislative or judicial action against this fundamental aspect of reproductive health care that experts have argued would imperil a GOP congressional comeback. (Polling shows that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most circumstances and describe themselves as pro-choice.) Last Friday, Republican lawmakers were likewise quiet on Kacsmaryk’s ruling.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the Snapstream video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for the term “abortion” within close proximity of any of the terms “medication,” “pill,” “chemical,” “drug,” “mifepristone,” “misoprostol,” “Kacsmaryk,” “Rice,” “Texas,” “Washington,” “Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine,” “AHM,” “Alliance Defending Freedom,” “ADF,” “Food and Drug Administration,” “FDA,” “lawsuit,” “suit,” or “sue” or any variation of the term “prescribe” from April 7, 2023, when two judges issued conflicting opinions on the legality of mifepristone, through April 10, 2023.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when either of the decisions from Texas or Washington state was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of either decision. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed either decision with one another.
We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a speaker mentioned either decision without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about either decision scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We rounded all times to the nearest minute.