Late last week, a Trump-appointed judge who was hand-picked to hear the case surrounding the 23-year-old approval of an abortion medication issued a ruling that favored anti-abortion talking points over science. Such language has been employed by right-wing media for decades and is used to create an alternate reality against the medical consensus backing abortion rights.
On April 7, federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a staunchly anti-abortion jurist and former conservative activist, ruled to suspend the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the medication mifepristone, the first in a two-drug regimen used to terminate pregnancies up to 10 weeks. Though mifepristone has been approved by the FDA since 2000 with an overwhelmingly positive safety record, anti-abortion groups specifically targeted widely used medication abortions as their next target following the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing group dedicated to eliminating reproductive and LGBTQ rights, is representing a coalition of anti-abortion groups called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine in the suit. AHM incorporated in Amarillo, Texas, last August to ensure that the case would be heard by Kacsmaryk, in a blatant display of judge shopping.
And the hand-picked judge delivered; in the ruling, Kacsmaryk used biased language rooted in the anti-abortion movement and promoted by right-wing media, clearly revealing his political intentions. The flagrant inaccuracies in Kacsmaryk’s ruling even prompted the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to urge reporters not to adopt his misleading framing:
Though some outlets took care to debunk the misleading language, many articles failed to do the same
Some mainstream media outlets called out and debunked the misinformation contained in the ruling, linking the language Kacsmaryk used to the aims of the anti-abortion movement:
- Axios homed in on Kacsmaryk’s cherry-picked studies and cited evidence contradicting his claims about the physical and mental harms of medication abortion.
- Business Insider pointed out that Kacsmaryk cited Wikipedia definitions, misstated how mifepristone works, and relied on debunked studies.
- The Guardian outlined Kacsmaryk’s frequent politicized, nonscientific terms, writing, “His decision employs the same rhetoric that has been deliberately seeded over decades by the anti-abortion movement.”
- The New York Times similarly explained the ruling’s inaccuracies, highlighting specific passages that relied on faulty logic or evidence.
- A Reuters article on the ruling highlighted multiple instances in which Kacsmaryk “used language common in anti-abortion circles” but did not expand on why such rhetoric is problematic and misleading.
- New York magazine noted that in his opinion, Kacsmaryk was “often using the anti-abortion movement’s language” and that he expressed “insincere sympathy” about maternal health risks. However, the article didn’t further analyze any of Kacsmaryk’s language.
- The Washington Post explained that Kacsmaryk used terms invoked by the anti-abortion movement and that “antiabortion advocates celebrated both the substance of Kacsmaryk’s ruling and the language he used to craft his points” but did not debunk the rhetoric.
- The Los Angeles Times’ write-up of the ruling accurately framed Kacsmaryk as a jurist who “long held antiabortion views” but reported several instances of his stigmatizing rhetoric without showing the inaccurate nature of the terms.
Debunking Kacsmaryk’s use of unscientific anti-abortion rhetoric
Kacsmaryk used the phrase “chemical abortion” 86 times in his ruling, a term frequently used in conservative media to fearmonger about medication abortion. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists asserts that “this is a biased term designed to make medication abortion sound scarier than the safe, effective medical intervention it is.”
The ruling also included misleading, graphic descriptions of how mifepristone terminates a pregnancy, including the claim that the drug “ultimately starves the unborn human until death.” This language makes Kacsmaryk’s political intentions quite clear, as mifepristone simply “works by stopping the supply of hormones that maintains the interior of the uterus.”
Kacsmaryk also embraced fetal personhood rhetoric in the ruling, using variations of the terms “unborn human” or “unborn child” 14 times in the ruling. This language is rooted in the anti-abortion notion that an embryo, zygote, or fetus has constitutional rights and that abortion is tantamount to murder. Despite his refusal to use medical terminology, Kacsmaryk went so far as to claim in his first footnote (emphasis his): “Jurists often use the word fetus to inaccurately identify unborn humans in unscientific ways. The word ‘fetus’ refers to a specific gestational stage of development, as opposed to the zygote, blastocyst, or embryo stages.” For decades, anti-choice activists and right-wing media have asserted that their mission to end abortion access is ultimately to save “the unborn” and put the well-being of fetuses ahead of pregnant people.
The ruling also refers to abortion providers as “abortionists” 10 times, even though the word is a highly charged pejorative. The term is regularly employed by right-wing media to attack and discredit medical professionals who provide abortion services. Since Roe, “the judges who continued to invoke ‘abortionists’ invariably did so in the context of opposing abortion rights,” attorney Lisa Needham wrote in Balls and Strikes.
Kacsmaryk further disparaged abortion providers by claiming that they want to keep mifepristone on the market for their own profit, quoting the case that overturned Roe, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, by noting that “abortionists have a ‘financial interest in avoiding burdensome regulations.’” Kacsmaryk went on to claim that “abortionists” do not develop close relationships with patients, while “plaintiff physicians often spend several hours treating post-abortive women, even hospitalizing them overnight or providing treatment throughout several visits.”
The ruling also made exaggerated claims about the supposed mental harms of abortion in order to legitimize the ADF’s basis for bringing the suit. The landmark Turnaway Study found that out of 1,000 women, 95% said that an abortion was the right choice for them five years after the procedure. But according to Kacsmaryk, “Women who have aborted a child — especially through chemical abortion drugs that necessitate the woman seeing her aborted child once it passes — often experience shame, regret, anxiety, depression, drug abuse, and suicidal thoughts because of the abortion.” He also cited an analysis that, as Business Insider explains, “suggests a link between negative mental health outcomes and abortion written by abortion researcher Priscilla Coleman whose study has been denounced for years by abortion researchers and whose other work has previously been retracted by leading journals.” Despite the lack of evidence, right-wing media frequently make false claims about the supposed negative impacts of abortion on mental health.
Kacsmaryk’s politicized language is contrasted by the neutrality of the competing ruling that came out of Washington state on Friday, which asserts that “federal officials could not hinder access to mifepristone in at least 17 of the states where Democratic attorney generals had sued to maintain availability.” Written by District Judge Thomas O. Rice, the Washington decision sticks to medically accurate terminology and excludes the terms “unborn human,” “abortionist,” or “chemical abortion.” Kacsmaryk’s use of inaccurate terms often promoted by right-wing media and his reliance on faulty sources laid bare his loyalty to the anti-abortion movement and the politicization of this ruling.