A hand holding a pill is to the left of a court gavel. The background is purple-toned scattered newspapers.

Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Over half of articles from top US newspapers and news wires excluded key background on the conservative activist judge who could upend abortion pill access

The judge presiding over the case has publicly denounced Roe v. Wade and previously worked for a religious legal advocacy group

In coverage of a case that could take a crucial abortion medication off the market, more than half of the leading mainstream newspapers and news wires neglected to explain that the anti-abortion plaintiffs hand-picked an anti-abortion judge who has a history of working for the religious right to increase their chances of getting a favorable ruling.

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  • Last year, a coalition of anti-abortion groups represented by the right-wing legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit asking the federal court to reverse the Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of mifepristone, which is used for abortion and miscarriage care. Despite leading medical organizations vouching for the drug’s safety and advocating to keep mifepristone available in the U.S., the ADF and its clients are falsely claiming that mifepristone is harmful to its users and that the FDA lacked the grounds to approve it in the first place. Abortion via medication is safe and effective; a 2019 FDA review showed that medication abortion has a safety record of over 99%. On March 15, presiding Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk held the first hearing on the lawsuit, listening to testimony from the ADF, the U.S. Department of Justice, and a mifepristone manufacturer.

    Media Matters reviewed articles about the hearing from the top 5 U.S. newspapers by circulation — The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal — as well as the Associated Press and Reuters news wires from March 11 to March 20, 2023. We identified 17 articles from that period and then reviewed them for whether they included these key pieces of context about the hearing: Kacsmaryk has publicly espoused anti-abortion views; Kacsmaryk worked as a conservative legal activist; the ADF strategically sought out Kacsmaryk to hear the case; and Kacsmaryk attempted to delay announcing the hearing.

    Of the 17 identified articles, 6 were from the Associated Press, 4 from the Washington Post, 3 from Reuters, 2 from the New York Times, and 1 each from the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

  • Findings

  • 59% of articles failed to mention Kacsmaryk’s history as a conservative legal activist.

    Kacsmaryk was previously deputy counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a deeply conservative Christian law firm. His most notable clients at First Liberty were the Christian owners of a bakery who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. In an article on his career, Texas Monthly reported, “Kacsmaryk’s time on the bench has only reinforced the view that he is an activist judge who allows his private beliefs to govern his legal opinions.” 

    53% of articles failed to mention Kacsmaryk’s anti-abortion beliefs.

    Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), who attended law school with Kacsmaryk, remarked that the two regularly commiserated over the abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, which “they viewed as Supreme Court overreach,” and a 2015 piece Kacsmaryk wrote for the National Catholic Register decried Roe as the work of “sexual revolutionaries." During his time at First Liberty, Kacsmaryk claimed in an amicus brief that pharmacies should not be required to provide birth control. In December 2022, he ruled in favor of a Christian father who did not want his daughters to access birth control through a federal program providing low- or no-cost contraception. Additionally, Kacsmaryk wrote in a 2015 article for LifeSiteNews, an anti-abortion online publication, that the sexual revolution “sought public affirmation of the lie that the human person is an autonomous blob of Silly Putty unconstrained by nature or biology, and that marriage, sexuality, gender identity, and even the unborn child must yield to the erotic desires of liberated adults.” 

    59% of articles failed to mention the ADF intentionally sought out Kacsmaryk as a judge.

    Kacsmaryk has been described as a “chief antagonist of the Biden administration,” and the ADF strategically tried to stack the deck in its favor by “judge shopping,” or seeking out a sympathetic judge likely to rule with the plaintiff. Even though legal scholars have made it clear that the ADF has “no obvious factual reason for filing the case in Amarillo,” Texas, it did so to ensure its case was heard by Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee. Further, one of the plaintiffs represented by the ADF, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, only recently incorporated in Amarillo in August 2022 “likely in an attempt to establish standing in this specific courtroom—even though it has a Tennessee mailing address and none of its member organizations are based in Texas.”

  • In addition, Media Matters found that 35% of articles failed to mention that Kacsmaryk initially intended to delay announcing the hearing (an unusual move that could have barred journalists and members of the public from reaching the hearing in time).

    Medication abortion through mifepristone and its companion drug misoprostol is the most common method of terminating a pregnancy in the U.S., and restricting mifepristone’s use would have detrimental effects on the national reproductive health landscape. Since the COVID-19 pandemic limited in-person health care and the Supreme Court reversedRoe in 2022, mifepristone and misoprostol have become increasingly important as an accessible means of seeking abortion care. As the Department of Justice argued in court, an injunction blocking mifepristone “would upend the status quo” and “cause significant public harm.” Despite the national importance of the Amarillo lawsuit, mainstream outlets, both cable and print, are failing to meet the moment once again by excluding key pieces of information about the case.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched articles in the Factiva database from the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today for the term “abortion” and any of the terms “Kacsmaryk,” “medication,” “pill,” “chemical,” “drug,” “mifepristone,” “misoprostol,” “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” within the headline or lead paragraph from March 11, 2023, when the Washington Post first broke news of the hearing, through March 20, 2023.

    We included articles, which we defined as instances when the hearing was mentioned in the headline or lead paragraph. 

    We then reviewed the identified articles for whether they mentioned Kacsmaryk’s anti-abortion beliefs, Kacsmaryk’s ties to conservative groups, that the ADF sought out Kacsmaryk to hear the case, or that Kacsmaryk tried to delay the announcement of the hearing.