Fox News regularly dominates abortion-related coverage across the cable news networks, generating conversations about the topic filled with harmful anti-abortion misinformation. Fox’s 2019 abortion-related coverage was no different -- with Fox, in fact, starting the year by promoting an all-out lie that state-level Democratic proposals expanding abortion access amounted to legalizing “infanticide.” This January meltdown was merely a sign of things to come. Here are seven freakouts that exemplify Fox’s 2019 abortion coverage.
1. Fox News starts the year with a meltdown about states moving to protect or expand abortion access
In January, Fox News launched a frenzied wave of abortion-related coverage concerning a state law in New York that protects abortion access in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Fox News hosts and guests mischaracterized the law as allowing “abortion up until birth” or legalizing “infanticide.” Fox also lambasted Democratic support for abortion access as being too “extreme” to appeal to voters. This frantic coverage continued in February, when Fox levied similar inaccurate characterizations about a Virginia bill intended to expand abortion access in the state.
This freakout was not limited to Fox. In particular, the network’s narrative about the so-called Democratic “extremism” not only spilled over into broader right-wing media circles, it also became a mainstay of Republican politicians’ talking points -- including President Donald Trump. In his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump promoted the lie that Democrats in New York wanted to “allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth.” Trump also made this sensationalized allegation a regular part of his 2020 stump speech, repeating it at many subsequent rallies.
2. Fox spins comments by 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to mischaracterize their stances on abortion access
Fox News’ collective outrage over the New York and Virginia measures evolved from a single news cycle to a consistent attack on 2020 Democratic presidential candidates and their stances on abortion rights.
For example, in March, then-candidate Beto O’Rourke was asked a deceptively framed question about abortion by a staffer from the right-wing outlet Infowars. O’Rourke’s response that abortion should be “a decision that the woman makes” enraged Fox News host Sean Hannity, who dedicated an entire monologue to attacking O’Rourke’s answer. Hannity claimed, “If Democrats get their way, well, third-trimester abortion -- including infanticide during and after birth -- well, that would be perfectly legal and readily available.”
Fox News hosts and guests also bashed Democratic candidates’ stances on abortion rights even when the candidates didn’t mention abortion. For example, following comments from South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg about Trump’s religion, Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy dismissed his criticism in part because Buttigieg “is a guy who is on the record as a supporter of late-term abortion.” During a segment on his Fox prime-time show, Tucker Carlson similarly said, “This is a guy telling us what a great Christian he is, who’s for abortion up until birth and for sex-selection? Spare me your Christian talk, please. It's absurd.”
3. Fox attacks Alyssa Milano for calling for a “sex strike” in response to a Georgia anti-abortion law
In May, actress Alyssa Milano, a favorite right-wing media target, called for a “sex strike” to protest a law in Georgia that would have banned abortion around six weeks into pregnancy (a federal judge temporarily blocked the law in October). The Georgia law sparked national outrage -- with many organizations noting that in addition to outlawing abortion before many people know they’re pregnant, the law would also enable further criminalization of pregnant people and abortion providers.
Many people criticized the form of Milano’s activism because, as research psychologist Peggy Drexler summarized for CNN, “calling for a sex strike as a way to regain ‘bodily autonomy’ ... is implying that women pretty much only have sex to please men or for babies.”
On Fox News, however, the outrage took a slightly different form. Eager for an opportunity to attack Milano as an out-of-touch celebrity, host Tucker Carlson claimed that her message was “you can't have sex with Alyssa Milano until we get our ‘partial-birth abortion’ back.” On Hannity, BlazeTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey said the outrage over the Georgia law from Hollywood showed “how passionate they are about the killing of unborn children” and that “abortion is a sacrament to the left.”
4. Fox defends anti-abortion groups claiming social media companies’ enforcement of content standards against misinformation constituted “censorship”
Anti-abortion groups have long appeared on Fox News to push bogus claims that social media companies are censoring their content. The anti-abortion group Live Action and its founder Lila Rose continued this trend in 2019, with Carlson hosting Rose on his show in June and allowing her to inaccurately claim that a decision by Pinterest to permanently ban the organization from its platform was “censoring the pro-life message.” In reality, Pinterest banned Live Action for violating platform rules about spreading “misinformation related to conspiracies and health.”
In addition, Rose and Live Action’s Director of Strategic Communications Alison Centofante went on Fox News three times in September and October to claim that Facebook had censored the organization after a third-party fact check led the company to rate several Live Action videos as inaccurate. In reality, Live Action’s content dominates abortion-related coverage on Facebook -- a far cry from allegations that its content is being suppressed. A Media Matters analysis found that posts from Live Action and Rose together accounted for a larger share of top Facebook posts related to abortion news coverage (15.3%) than all left-leaning pages combined (12.6%). Despite these findings, Fox News served as a key conduit for Rose and other anti-abortion groups to amplify sensationalized claims about censorship.
5. Fox frequently attacks Planned Parenthood for trying to protect or expand abortion access
Unsurprisingly, Planned Parenthood was a frequent target of Fox’s abortion-related freakouts. In October, the organization revealed that it had built a new abortion facility in southern Illinois and in close proximity to Missouri, a state with only one remaining abortion clinic that has been locked in an ongoing battle with its state health department to remain open. During yet another appearance on Fox, this time during a segment on Fox News @ Night, Rose disputed Planned Parenthood’s claim that the facility was meant to help address the precarious nature of abortion access in the region and instead alleged that “this is not about helping women, this is about selling more abortions.”
Fox News also promoted outrage against Planned Parenthood after the group’s political arm announced a $45 million electoral campaign “targeted toward battleground states for the 2020 election.” In a segment on Fox & Friends in October, host Ainsley Earhardt advanced the false notion that Planned Parenthood doesn’t need federal funding for health care services if it is spending money on the 2020 elections -- however, the health care organization and the political arm are two separate entities, and the health care entity only receives federal funding in the form of Medicaid reimbursements. Instead of acknowledging that distinction, Earhardt falsely claimed that Planned Parenthood was soliciting federal funding and “using that money to pay for candidates.”
6. Fox figures attack House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for supporting abortion rights while also being Catholic
At a press conference in December, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded to a question about whether she hated the president by saying, “I was raised in a Catholic house. We don’t hate anybody.” But Fox News personalities attacked Pelosi for mentioning her Catholicism because, they argued, her pro-choice views invalidated her religious beliefs.
On The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham attacked Pelosi’s faith in part for disagreeing with “the Catholic bishops ... on the pro-life issue,” saying that Pelosi “uses her Catholicism as a shield.” During the same segment, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich claimed that if Pelosi was “a really devout Catholic” she would “take a pro-life position,” adding that there would “be a lot of nice things that Pelosi could do if she took her Catholicism seriously.” On Fox & Friends, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh asked, “Isn’t it funny though that Pelosi invokes her Catholicism on everything but abortion? When that comes up, you never know that she’s a Catholic.”
7. Fox News attacks Democratic politicians invoking reproductive justice when talking about climate change
Fox News has a long record of spreading misinformation about climate change and reproductive rights, but in 2019, the network used both issues to attack Democratic politicians as “extreme.”
During a CNN climate town hall in September, Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) responded to a question about the role of reproductive rights in climate policy by saying that the United States should eliminate the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits international organizations from receiving U.S. funding if they perform or refer patients for abortions, even though federal money is already prohibited from directly supporting abortion care.
Fox News host Jedediah Bila said on The Five that she found Sanders’ comments troubling because they were “an indication that the Democratic Party” has “an audience” for expanding abortion rights, which she repeatedly called “extreme.” On Special Report, Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway quipped that “there is something to be appreciated about the candor with which he displayed his eugenics and his support for eugenics.” Hannity similarly asked during a segment on his show if Sanders’ “sick, ugly, repulsive support for worldwide abortions to control populations in poor countries” reflects “the new Democratic Party.”
Similarly, in November on The Ingraham Angle, The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson attacked climate activists and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for acknowledging people’s fears about having more children in response to the dangers of climate change. Davidson alleged such ideas were the same as supporting “eugenics” and claimed that progressives “have always been having this conversation about how to control the population.”
These seven freakouts are just a small sample of the misinformed, sensationalized, and in some cases, outright bizzare abortion coverage that occurred on Fox News this year. As BuzzFeed News noted recently, “As the decade draws to a close, the national right to abortion is in the most vulnerable place it’s been in decades.” If 2019 is any indication, Fox News will ring in the new decade by continuing to ignore the dire reality of abortion care in the United States and instead seize on non-stories, blatant misinterpretations, and any other opportunity the network can use to stoke outrage against abortion rights.