Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Right-wing media continue to reckon with unpopularity of sending abortion back to the states

Fox News' scant coverage of Arizona’s draconian law said it would “boomerang on conservatives”

Update (4/12/24): This piece has been updated with additional examples.

Just days after former President Donald Trump stated that abortion's legality should be decided by the states, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a Civil War-era law that bans abortions in almost every circumstance. Now, right-wing media are once again grappling with the unpopularity of their own anti-abortion agenda and admitting that their longstanding effort to return abortion to the states could hurt their 2024 election chances. For instance, Fox News, which celebrated Trump's recent statement about states determining the legality of abortion, is now highlighting the political costs of abortion bans in the network's few mentions of the Arizona law.

  • Trump stated that abortion policy should be left to the states just days before the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban

    • The Arizona State Supreme Court upheld an 1864 law banning abortions in virtually every instance — except to save the life of the mother — days after Trump stated that the legality of abortion should be left to the states. While stating this vague new position on abortion, Trump also noted that Republicans “must also win elections.” [The Associated Press, 4/8/24; NBC News, 4/9/24; CNN, 4/10/24; ABC News, 4/8/24]
    • The day after the ruling, Arizona Republicans blocked Democrats’ attempts to advance bills aiming to roll back the ban. A statement from the president of the State Senate and speaker of the State House, both Republicans, said that they plan to “listen to their voters to determine what the legislature should do.” [The New York Times, 4/10/24]
  • When Fox figures actually covered Arizona’s ruling, they said the ruling hurts the GOP politically

    • Fox News, which has had to contend with the unpopularity of anti-abortion measures following the overturning of Roe, supported Trump’s vague statement as a smart political strategy. The network has assured viewers that Trump’s position is “exactly right,” and it has also encouraged Republican lawmakers to hide their anti-abortion agenda when faced with the popularity of reproductive rights with voters. [Media Matters, 4/9/24, 2/1/24]
    • Fox covered the Arizona Supreme Court’s implementation of a near-total ban for only 12 minutes on the day the news broke. [Media Matters, 4/10/24]
    • Similarly, Fox nearly ignored February’s Arizona Supreme Court ruling that “unborn children are ‘children,’” giving it only 6 minutes of airtime across more than five days. In March, the Alabama Supreme Court held a hearing for a case related to nationwide access of the widely used abortion drug mifepristone. The network dedicated only 20 minutes to the case in the 24 hours after the hearing's start time. [Media Matters, 2/22/24, 2/23/243/28/24]
  • When Fox actually covered Arizona’s ruling, the network said the ruling hurts the GOP politically

    • Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto noted that the ruling is “raising concerns that this will boomerang on conservatives and Republicans.” He said of the law: “Already it’s raising concerns that this will boomerang on conservatives and Republicans in particular who’ve been hoping that this issue as a political detriment will go away. It just seems to be sort of re-fired up right now.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 4/9/24]
    • Fox News contributor Byron York said on Special Report with Bret Baier that the timing of the ban “almost seems scripted.” He added: “Today, Arizona comes out, after the Biden campaign jumps all over Trump, and said, ‘States are going to do radical things and Trump is going to be at fault,’ and then they do this with this 1864 law. It absolutely seems scripted. And Trump is going to get stuck with this time after time after time throughout this campaign.” [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 4/9/24]
    • Fox News correspondent Mark Meredith also said that “this debate should certainly shift the [Arizona] race in the Democrats' favor.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 4/10/24]
    • Cavuto acknowledged that “very strict abortion measures” might put the Republican “party at a disadvantage in November.” While interviewing Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), Cavuto said that Arizona is the “16th state … that has established what some might view — whatever your personal view of abortion — but very strict abortion measures. That might put your party at a disadvantage in November. There might be others for whom this would be very galvanizing.” [Fox Business, Cavuto: Coast to Coast, 4/10/24]
    • Fox host Sean Hannity warned that Democrats “would rather use [abortion] as a political tool ahead of November.” He said, “If, Democrats, you want to get rid of the law, well, you have a chance right now to get rid of it. And I would advise you: Get rid of it. They would rather use it as a political tool ahead of November.” [Fox News, Hannity, 4/10/24]
    • On his radio show, Hannity pleaded with Arizona Republicans to “get your act together” and amend the law to a limit that “would be palpable to the overwhelming number of people in your state.” Speaking on the law specifically, Hannity admitted that “it was even before Arizona was a state. And there's no Republican that supports this.” [Premiere Radio Network, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/10/24]
  • Other right-wing media figures also emphasized the political cost of the ruling, calling it a “gold mine” for the Biden campaign

    • Newsmax host Rob Schmitt called the ruling a “gold mine for a flailing president.” He said: “You have Joe Biden jumping all over this now, putting out a statement within minutes that it's a cruel ban, it's from 1864, he's gonna save the country. This is a gold mine for a flailing president that’s destroying the country. This is the only thing they have to run on.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 4/9/24]
    • Sharla McBride, co-host of Newsmax’s Wake Up America, stated that “the timing on this is terrible” given the upcoming election. She added, “All Democrats are running on is the issue of abortion. This just gives them fuel to the fire.” [Newsmax, Wake Up America, 4/10/24]
    • Mike Cernovich, a far-right social media figure, reposted his 2023 comment that abortion politics is “why the GOP is underperforming.” His original post, which was made when an Ohio ballot measure codified abortion rights, read, “Ohio - Trump won it bigly. Tonight Ohio Issue 1 passes. Americans love abortions. We now have conclusive proof, not that we needed more, why the GOP is underperforming. It’s not Trump. It’s abortion.” [Twitter/X, 4/9/24, 11/7/23; Media Matters, 4/3/17; Ohio Capital Journal, 11/7/23]
    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk called the decision “a proper ruling at an improper time.” Kirk also said, “Many of our voters are not very — as pro-life as they say they are, and that's just the reality of it.” [Real America’s Voice, The Charlie Kirk Show, 4/10/24]
    • Kirk stated in a social media post that banning abortion is “an irrefutable, necessary, moral good for society & Arizona” but admitted that it comes with a “potential political cost.” Kirk added: “It is likely that the majority of Arizonans wont like this decision. The majority of people want abortion. … The best path is likely for the AZ leg to throw this back to the voters in November.” [Twitter/X, 4/9/24]
    • The following day, Kirk again wrote on X, “If you allow November to become a referendum on abortion, evidence suggests our side will lose and more babies will die.” Kirk went on to emphasize the importance of winning elections first, adding, “If we win in November, we will be positioned to claw back radical pro-abortion policies while we continue to persuade more voters of the horrors of killing babies.” [Twitter/X, 4/10/24]