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On September 16, The Washington Post published an exclusive interview with Christine Blasey Ford, sharing her previously anonymous account of being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. Even before Ford’s name was public, right-wing media were questioning her motives and accusing her of opportunism -- attacks that only escalated once Ford came forward. And on September 17, two right-wing media figures stooped to a new low: alleging that Democrats are calling for consideration of Ford’s account only because Kavanaugh’s far-right judicial philosophy would threaten abortion access.
The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson claimed that Ford’s report -- and calls for examining it before the Senate votes on Kavanaugh -- are about “the right to kill kids,” and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said the issue “doesn’t have anything to do with justice,” because “anyone who lives in Washington can tell you it’s about abortion.”
That right-wing media would pivot to attacking abortion access to distract from Ford’s account is as unsurprising as it is repugnant. Right-wing media figures have spent years demonizing abortion providers and patients, as well as fearmongering about the safety of abortion procedures. In many ways, abortion stigma -- the idea that abortion is inherently wrong or socially unacceptable -- functions similarly to the shaming of sexual assault survivors, another common tactic of right-wing media. By making the consequences of sharing one’s experience so vast and uncomfortable, right-wing media and others deter individuals from speaking up in the first place. After all, as Ford summarized in her comments to The Post, “Why suffer through the annihilation” of speaking up “if it’s not going to matter?” -- particularly when it’s so obvious what the right-wing reaction will be.
On September 17, Erickson (who, despite allegedly being done with Twitter, has been an endless fount of bad takes about Kavanaugh) wrote a post claiming that “this entire thing is about the right to kill kids, not about the veracity of the accusation.” He continued, “The left is perfectly willing to destroy a man's reputation in order to keep destroying children,” adding that Democrats would use an “uncorroborated, single sourced, 35 year old claim … to protect the right to kill girls in utero.” The next day, Erickson doubled-down on this position in a second post, bombastically declaring:
The accusation against Brett Kavanaugh is because of abortion. The liberal college professor is being promoted by partisan groups with an expressed desire to advance the abortion agenda. Democrat PR firms are coordinating messaging on this on behalf of the abortion industry. They are convinced Brett Kavanaugh would overturn Roe v. Wade so he must be destroyed.
This is all about cracking open the skulls of children, vacuuming out their brains, and tearing them limb from limb before selling them for scrap. This has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. This has nothing to do with due process. This has nothing to do with justice or equality. This has everything to do with killing kids.
Not to be left out of the bad-take arms race, during the September 17 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Carlson made a similar argument, claiming that Ford’s report came out only because Kavanaugh would likely be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade?” he asked. “Of course it wouldn't have. … Whatever the story is, it's not about protecting women. Don't buy that spin.”
Many conservatives have explicitly set aside their numerous ethical concerns about President Donald Trump because of his promise to appoint anti-choice judges -- a promise some declared that Trump had kept with the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch and with Kavanaugh’s nomination. Yet in calling for due consideration of Ford’s account before confirming someone for a lifetime term to the Supreme Court, “the left” is somehow engaging in political calculations involving abortion access?
In many ways, right-wing media’s reliance on abortion stigma and reflexive disbelief of sexual assault survivors are borne of the same strategic imperative. By isolating and shaming people into pre-emptive silence, right-wing media can control the narrative around abortion and sexual assault -- and continue spreading harmful and inaccurate information about both.
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And right-wing media are taking advantage to spread misinformation about Brett Kavanaugh's record on reproductive rights.
After Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s rocky confirmation hearings, fact-checkers from PolitiFact and The Washington Post each chose to rebut comments from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) concerning Kavanaugh’s troubling record on contraceptive access. But rather than focus on the substance of Kavanaugh’s rulings, fact-checkers argued about Harris’ semantics, enabling right-wing media to change the conversation and distract from the serious threat that Kavanaugh poses to reproductive rights.
During Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, there were many notable exchanges revealing that the Federalist Society darling has not only made some deeply concerning decisions as a judge, but also potentially lied under oath several times. Fact-checkers seized on an exchange in which Kavanaugh used the term “abortion-inducing drugs” while describing his dissent in a case called Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. This is a well-known (but inaccurate) anti-abortion term, meant to suggest that contraceptives induce abortion, that abortion opponents use to limit access or even ban their use.
Recognizing this, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) tweeted a video of Kavanaugh’s answer about the Priests for Life case, warning that “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control.” In response, right-wing media attacked Harris, claiming that she took Kavanaugh’s comments out of context, and argued that he used the term only to summarize the views of the anti-abortion plaintiffs in the case, Priests for Life.
On September 10, PolitiFact rated Harris’ statement “false,” writing that the tweet “failed to include a crucial qualifier: ‘They said.’ In fact, he was citing the definition of the religious group Priests for Life.” The piece noted that Kavanaugh “has not expressed his personal view” on the matter -- despite a plethora of evidence that Kavanaugh would be hostile to abortion rights. The Washington Post Fact Checker similarly awarded Harris “Four Pinocchios” because there was “no acknowledgment by Harris that the original tweet was misleading” and suggested that she and other Democrats “drop this talking point.” Kavanaugh himself later affirmed that he had not been “expressing an opinion” and he used the term “only when recount[ing] the plaintiffs’ own assertions.” However, as Imani Gandy wrote for Rewire.News, the fixation on fact-checking Harris’ semantics missed the larger issue: Kavanaugh’s decision in that case -- the actual substance of Harris’ argument -- was “utterly bonkers.” The majority decided that requiring Priests for Life to sign a form opting out of providing contraceptive coverage did “not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise.” However, as Gandy argued, Kavanaugh’s dissent strongly implies that he would “allow evangelicals, by claiming a sincerely held religious belief, to be exempted from laws intended to provide people with contraceptive access through their employers, even when following those laws would require said employers to do nothing more than sign a piece of paper.”
Anti-abortion organizations and media consistently leverage misinformation and intentional manipulation of the facts to attack abortion access and advance their own agendas. And the anti-abortion movement has never been better funded, better organized, or more savvy in its political machinations. In a February 12 article, PolitiFact’s Angie Drobnic Holan wrote that the organization aimed to “present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.” But how should fact-checkers respond when the subject of a fact check is explicitly operating in bad faith to promote an agenda? That’s the issue fact-checkers must contend with as anti-abortion extremists and their right-wing media allies continue trying to control the narrative about reproductive rights.
Fact-checking is based on juxtaposition: comparing fact with non-fact, with the assumption that the objective truth will become clear as a result. In comparison, anti-abortion misinformation is built on equal parts obfuscation and subtlety. For example, take the language used by Kavanaugh and other anti-choice figures to discuss their stances on abortion rights. As Irin Carmon explained, rather than explicitly state their views, nominees and politicians will often use “obfuscating code words around abortion,” such as calling Roe v. Wade “settled law” to signal their opposition to reproductive rights while saying “as little as possible about abortion” in order “not to awaken a public that to this day is overwhelmingly supportive of Roe v. Wade.”
Just as the anti-abortion movement has relied on code words to obscure its true purpose, right-wing media have spent years haranguing fact-checkers and mainstream media alike for their supposed bias against conservative views. This is exemplified by current right-wing attacks on platforms like Facebook and Google, which conservatives inaccurately argue have “censored” them -- a claim used widely in anti-abortion circles, as well. To avoid perceptions of bias, platforms have bent over backward to accommodate conservatives -- changing algorithms, installing partisan fact-checkers, and even conducting a so-called “conservative bias review.”
We see the same troubling dynamic at play in how fact-checkers handle abortion-related claims. Anti-abortion media have accused fact-checkers of exhibiting “pro-abortion bias” for years, but they celebrated the fact checks of Harris’ statement -- even praising PolitiFact’s decision to issue a correction for repeating “uncritically a Democratic talking point, that Kavanaugh mentioned birth control by using the term abortion-inducing drugs.”
In a 2013 article, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler noted that the paper “always ventures into questions about abortion rhetoric with trepidation” because “virtually no one is ever happy with our rulings, no matter how much we try to just stick with the facts.” However, this begs the question: What do you do if one side’s “facts” are borne of an intentionally deceptive agenda? As Esquire concluded, although Harris “probably should have used the whole quote” (and she did later link to the whole exchange on Twitter), PolitiFact’s ruling suggests that “it's best for us all to be naive and stupid rather than jumping to obvious conclusions” by pretending “we aren't sure about what Brett Kavanaugh believes about ‘abortion-inducing’ drugs.’”
Kavanaugh has clearly signaled that if confirmed, he’d be a threat to abortion rights -- gaslighting claims by right-wing media to the contrary. By choosing to debate Harris’ semantics rather than engage in the substance of Kavanaugh’s decision, fact-checkers avoided hard questions and aided anti-choice media in the process.
National media portray Sen. Susan Collins as besieged by harassment regarding her vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The truth is more complicated.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has been under pressure to vote against President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh -- but if you were to listen only to national media, you’d be missing the big picture. Major media outlets are reporting that Collins has been harassed, but they’re sharing little about what local Maine media and Collins’ own constituents are saying.
Kavanaugh is the least popular Supreme Court nominee in decades. Even before his largely uninspiring performance in last week’s confirmation hearings (which Collins herself remarked could be “a major problem”), Maine outlets were frequently highlighting the stakes involved in Collins’ confirmation vote, as well as the serious concerns of her constituents about Kavanaugh. Indeed, several polls reported that Collins’ refusal to reject Kavanaugh could cost her re-election.
There have been numerous stories from Maine outlets focusing on the opposition from Collins’ constituents to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. As Maine Public Radio reported, over “230 Maine lawyers are urging Senator Susan Collins to vote against Brett Kavanaugh's appointment” because of their concerns about his “record on reproductive rights, the affordable care act, and his partisan record.” Multiple women have written letters to local papers to share their abortion stories and implore Collins to vote no. As Mollie Barnathan wrote for the Bangor Daily News: “Maine’s women and families need leaders who understand it isn’t their place to play judge and jury for women. Ensuring every woman has access to family planning services requires every U.S. senator, and especially Susan Collins, to stand up and vote no on Kavanaugh’s nomination.”
— Maine Public (@MainePublic) July 10, 2018
However, rather than talking about any of this, national media have tuned out the voices of Collins’ own constituents in favor of an overgeneralized narrative about harassment. On September 11, NBC News reported that Collins’ office has received a number of threatening and angry messages. The New York Times noted that even Collins’ staff has been on the receiving end of this harassment.
I want to be very clear: Nobody should be threatening Susan Collins or her staff. This behavior is unacceptable and nobody should endorse it. However, for media to suggest that these comments alone are somehow representative of what the vast majority of activists and constituents are doing to persuade Collins before this essential vote is irresponsible. As NARAL Pro-Choice America noted in a statement, there are many Mainers “peacefully participating in the democratic process and urging Senator Susan Collins to vote against Brett Kavanaugh.”
National media have struggled to cover the fight over Kavanaugh’s potential confirmation from the beginning. As activists across the country consistently worked to oppose Kavanaugh, many outlets reported that his confirmation was inevitable, or that few, if any, activists were involved in the fight against him. This narrative was false. Additionally, nightly broadcast news programs devoted only 10 minutes each to conversations about Kavanaugh in the days after his nomination was announced. And many outlets downplayed the hearings despite their many newsworthy moments.
Fascinating strategy here: frame Collins as the REAL victim of sexism, just before she violates her stated commitment to Roe by voting for judge who would surely expand & codify sexist, racist, economic inequality by making abortion illegal/inaccessible. https://t.co/5E3B0qhAt6
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) September 12, 2018
This seemingly savvy messaging tactic -- running to national media to share stories of harassment -- may work. But her constituents know the difference. And they, along with Maine media, don’t appear ready to let Susan Collins off the hook if she votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.
Anti-abortion outlets and groups attacked Democrats, pro-choice protesters for highlighting the risk Kavanaugh poses to abortion access
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing demonstrated that he will be a threat to abortion rights and would likely vote to overturn or curtail protections stemming from Roe v. Wade -- despite previous claims by right-wing media to the contrary. Abortion opponents reacted to the hearing by praising Kavanaugh’s position on abortion and reproductive rights, and by attacking pro-choice protesters and Democratic senators.
This week, Kavanaugh participated in a confirmation hearing for his nomination to the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed that he will be a threat to abortion rights. Rewire.News’ Jessica Mason Pieklo wrote that Kavanaugh’s references to “Roe as Supreme Court precedent and even ‘super-precedent’” served as a consistent talking point for the judge who was seemingly shielding his views on abortion rights. As Mason Pieklo explained, Kavanaugh’s invocation of precedent meant little because “precedent can be ‘unsettled’ by the Supreme Court.” In particular, “Kavanaugh reminded us of that time and time again by invoking Brown v. Board of Education,” a case that anti-abortion activists use “as an analogy” to describe a “pathway to overturn Roe.” Kavanaugh “also called birth control an abortifacient, … echoing another anti-choice talking point that dangerously conflates contraception with abortion.” Mason Pieklo also pointed to an email released during the hearing “where Kavanaugh says that many legal scholars do not see Roe v. Wade as settled law.”
Kavanaugh’s record also suggests he would vote in favor of overturning Roe, or otherwise support further curtailing abortion rights. For example, in 2017, Kavanaugh opposed allowing an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen [called Jane Doe] who was in federal custody to have an abortion -- using language like “abortion on demand,” an inaccurate phrase frequently used by abortion opponents, to explain his decision. Kavanaugh also praised the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe during a speech in 2017 -- which Mason Pieklo noted made sense, given that Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe and Kavanaugh’s dissent in the Jane Doe case both “fundamentally [deny] reproductive autonomy all while purporting to be respecting the bounds of the law.” New York magazine’s Irin Carmon pointed to Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-CT) question about whether Kavanaugh’s language in the Jane Doe case “was a signal” to conservative organizations “that you were prepared, and you are, to overturn Roe v. Wade.” Carmon also indicated that Kavanaugh’s 2017 speech was another “signal” of the same sort.
As the hearing progressed, abortion opponents reacted with glee at Kavanaugh’s answers on abortion rights, and attacked pro-choice Democrats and activists who opposed his likely views on Roe. Here are a few examples:
Ryan Bomberger, founder of the anti-abortion organization Radiance Foundation tweeted about Kavanaugh calling Roe “settled law”:
Correction: This post originally include an inaccurate link. In the sentence "David Daleiden, founder of discredited anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress, tweeted about Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) while also promoting an upcoming anti-abortion movie," it linked to a piece about the in-production Roe v. Wade movie, which is distinct from the soon-to-be-released film Gosnell.
On CNN’s New Day, CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum claimed that an email in which Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh suggested that Roe v. Wade may not be “settled law” does not show the judge’s actual opinion on the case. Santorum’s assertion that the email reveals nothing about Kavanaugh’s stance is undermined by his own extremely anti-choice past -- a history that suggests he would not support a Supreme Court nominee unless he was confident that the judge would work to overturn Roe.
In a 2003 email that was leaked to The New York Times, Kavanaugh recommended editing a document to remove language that referred to Roe as “the settled law of the land,” writing, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent.” This stance contradicts his recent assertions that he views Roe as settled law, and further suggests that the keystone reproductive rights case would be overturned should he join the court.
During Santorum’s appearance on New Day, the former Pennsylvania senator argued that Kavanaugh was merely explaining “the facts” that “there are people who have a different point of view” on Roe. When co-host John Berman pushed back and noted that the email showed “what [Kavanaugh] thinks about the facts,” Santorum disagreed, claiming, “That’s not what’s in that email.” From the September 7 edition of CNN’s New Day:
Santorum’s assertion that we can’t be sure of Kavanaugh’s thoughts about the case is suspicious at best, given his own deeply held anti-choice views. The former senator’s opinions on abortion are extreme, callous, and immensely cruel. He is opposed to abortion at any point, for any reason -- even in cases of rape or incest. When he was asked about sexual assault survivors who desire abortions during a 2012 interview, Santorum argued that survivors should view pregnancies that result from rape as “a gift in a very broken way” and ought to “make the best out of a bad situation.” He’s also stated that doctors who provide abortions in these cases should face criminal charges.
Santorum has bragged about the depth of his anti-choice stance, and unsurprisingly has argued that Roe ought to be overturned. Given his extreme antipathy toward abortion rights, it’s obvious that Santorum would not support a nominee for Supreme Court unless he was sure that the candidate would rule to overturn Roe.
Right-wing media claim that letting states regulate abortion isn’t a threat for reproductive rights -- it is.
Following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, right-wing media downplayed the impact that Kavanaugh -- who has a stamp of approval from the conservative Federalist Society -- would have on abortion rights in the United States. Some media outlets and figures claimed that if Roe v. Wade was overturned, it would merely return abortion regulation “to the states” and have a minimal impact on abortion rights. Here’s a state-by-state guide to what a world without Roe would look like, as reported in the media, if and when Kavanaugh casts the deciding vote.
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Activists and concerned citizens are fired up and engaged in the fight against Kavanaugh
Ever since President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to fill retiring Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court seat, media outlets have continually downplayed the energy and activism of those working to oppose this far-right nominee’s confirmation, treating it as a fait accompli.
Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination on July 9, 2018, a week and a half after Justice Anthony Kennedy disclosed that he would be retiring from the Supreme Court (he officially retired July 31). Despite Kavanaugh’s record as “an uncommonly partisan judge” with troubling views on the environment, labor, LGBTQ discrimination, abortion rights, gun safety, immigration, and more, many media figures portrayed him as a centrist pick who is “within the broad mainstream” and “not as far right” as other options Trump considered.
In addition, many outlets have treated his confirmation as inevitable. For example, The Washington Post and The New York Times argued that activists weren’t engaged in the fight to stop Kavanaugh. As the Post wrote, “Democrats have all but acknowledged that they are unable to stop the Senate from confirming Trump nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court this fall,” while the Times blamed everything from upcoming midterm elections to activists’ inability to compete with “an almost daily barrage of other Trump administration actions” for the perceived lack of energy. New York magazine similarly argued that “the resistance to Kavanaugh has remained on a low flame, failing to boil over into the righteous fury that characterized the battle over Obamacare repeal last summer.”
However, as Rewire.News’ Katelyn Burns reported, “Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court is not inevitable.” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund told Burns, “A veneer of inevitability has been the actual strategy that the people backing Kavanaugh have used,” but activists are “countering that and saying, ‘No way.'” HuffPost guest writer Robert Creamer similarly argued that treating Kavanaugh’s nomination as inevitable “plays right into the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hopes to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Creamer pointed to Kavanaugh’s extremely narrow path to confirmation -- with Republicans having “a tiny effective majority of 50 to 49 in the Senate” -- as well as his incredibly low approval numbers, and the “unprecedented nationwide campaign to resist” his confirmation, as evidence that the fight against Kavanaugh is far from over. As Teen Vogue columnist Lauren Duca wrote: “When you subscribe to the myth of inevitability, you confirm it as reality, and for anyone who gives a sh*t about equality and/or democracy, that is simply not an option.”
Outlets may not be reporting on the vast amount of activist energy against Kavanaugh, but people are fired up and making their feelings known:
Kavanaugh's confirmation isn't inevitable -- he's got the lowest approval ratings of any Supreme Court nominee in decades, in addition to an extreme record on a number of consequential topics. The hearings to confirm Kavanaugh start soon. And media shouldn’t erase or ignore the very real opposition to his confirmation that’s on display across the country.
As right-wing media insist that President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh won’t threaten abortion rights if he’s confirmed, PBS NewsHour modeled how outlets should report on Kavanaugh and contextualize his anti-abortion stances.
After Kavanaugh met with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) -- regarded as a key vote for his confirmation -- Collins told reporters and released a statement that she was reassured about Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade because he told her he agreed with Chief Justice John Roberts’ statement that Roe was “settled law.”
Although some outlets quickly explained why Collins should certainly not be reassured by Kavanaugh’s comments on Roe, PBS NewsHour’s August 23 segment was a particularly good model for how outlets should report on Kavanaugh's "settled law" comments, as well as demonstrate how his confirmation will be a threat to abortion rights.
From the August 23 segment:
During the segment, CNN Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic said that, with his comments about Roe being “settled law,” Kavanaugh is “trying out some lines” used by previous Supreme Court nominees. “When he meets with a senator,” Biskupic said, he “might experiment with what would be said. And we could see how Susan Collins received that quite positively.” Biskupic continued that it was possible Kavanaugh was “rehearsing his answers to try to satisfy senators enough to get the majority vote.” She warned that even if Kavanaugh talks about his “regard for precedent, … once he gets up there in a lifetime position, all bets are off.”
Besides emphasizing that Kavanaugh’s comments were not reflective of his likely jurisprudence, Biskupic further debunked his invocation of Roberts’ position on Roe. As Biskupic explained, although “Chief Justice John Roberts did talk about the importance of precedent and of Roe v. Wade being settled” there are actually “two rulings on abortion from Chief Justice John Roberts, one in 2007, and then more recently, where he did undercut the right.” During the segment, PBS NewsHour correspondent Lisa Desjardins also mentioned that Democratic senators said “Justice Gorsuch used the same standard, saying that he saw Roe as settled law. But Democrats like Chris Coons today point out that Justice Gorsuch recently voted to overturn a 41-year precedent, a court case from the Supreme Court in 1977, about labor law. That in that venue, it seems sort of as a Roe v. Wade of labor, Gorsuch did vote to overturn that. So Democrats are concerned that whether it’s settled law, these justices could be willing to overturn them.”
Kavanaugh is a threat to abortion access -- a fact Biskupic underscored in the PBS NewsHour segment by providing necessary context about his record on abortion rights and previous comments about Roe.
For example, in a 2017 case, the Trump administration stopped an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen (referred to as Jane Doe) in federal custody from having an abortion. The D.C. Court of Appeals eventually ruled that the government could not stop Doe from having an abortion. But Kavanaugh dissented in the case, arguing that the government should be able to block her decision to obtain abortion care while she’s in custody. In the segment, Biskupic explained that Kavanaugh’s dissent argued that “the government has an interest in fetal life here. … He said Roe is settled law. But he stressed that it wouldn’t have been a burden on this woman to have waited and gotten a sponsor, the government was right to try to make her wait and consider it.”
Similarly, Biskupic noted that we can tell a lot about Kavanaugh’s opinion on abortion rights from the way he has “talked about his judicial heroes. The first one when he was a young law student was former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. And he cited Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe v. Wade back in 1973. … And he’s done the same with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was also an opponent of abortion rights.”
The PBS NewsHour segment shows the kind of coverage needed about Kavanaugh, especially considering Collins has voted for every Supreme Court nominee since she’s been a senator, including Roberts, Gorsuch, and Samuel Alito.
Kavanaugh is a threat to abortion rights, and by suggesting otherwise, Sen. Susan Collins “is grossly misleading her constituents”
Members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle continue to plead guilty to a variety of crimes -- some potentially implicating the president himself. Yet, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) recently told reporters that she sees no reason to delay the confirmation hearings of Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, even though he may have to rule on the president’s legal troubles one day. In particular, after meeting with Kavanaugh, Collins issued a statement saying she was unconcerned about his stance on Roe v. Wade because he told her he thinks Roe is “settled precedent.” Kavanaugh’s assurances mean nothing. And this isn't the first time Collins has fallen for the right-wing media talking point that Roe is safe because it’s “settled precedent.”
Kavanaugh is the seventh Supreme Court nominee that Collins has considered since she became a senator. During this time, she has voted to confirm Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Trump's first nominee Neil Gorsuch. After meeting with him, Collins said in her statement that Kavanaugh “expressed agreement with Chief Justice Roberts’ confirmation hearing statement that Roe is settled precedent and entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis.”
But as University of Washington lecturer Scott Lemieux wrote for NBC News, “Roberts’s claim, now echoed by Kavanaugh, that Roe was settled precedent is technically true, but not very meaningful.” Lemieux continued:
Roberts also correctly observed that the Court is not always bound by its own precedents, and the criteria he outlined for deciding when overruling a precedent is appropriate did not rule out the overruling of Roe.
And, at his confirmation hearings, Justice Samuel Alito said similar things to Roberts, asserting that Roewas (sic) a precedent entitled to “respect” but stopping well short of saying that it shouldn’t be overruled.
To say that Roe is an important precedent, or even a “settled” precedent, is merely stating a truism that does not in itself tell us anything about how a Supreme Court justice will rule on that precedent. What matters more than Roberts’s or Kavanuagh’s (sic) words are their actions, and they suggest that pro-life groups are right to be thrilled with the nomination of Kavanaugh if he agrees with them.
According to Lemieux, Collins’ position on Kavanaugh demonstrates that “opponents of legal abortion who supported Trump and Kavanaugh know exactly what they’re doing and what they’re getting in Kavanaugh” -- just as they did with other conservative judicial nominees -- and to suggest otherwise means “Collins is grossly misleading her constituents.”
New York magazine also noted: “The most important thing to keep in mind in parsing this carefully constructed assurance Kavanaugh offered to Collins is the broader context of Kavanaugh’s nomination (and before him, that of Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch): the iron determination of Republicans since at least the George W. Bush administration to atone for the GOP-appointed justices — the longest-lasting being Anthony Kennedy — who supported abortion rights.” Therefore, the article continued, “It would be shocking if this process and the politics behind it produced a justice who looked at SCOTUS precedents on abortion and pronounced them unassailable.”
Independent of Collins’ own record of supporting conservative nominees who are hostile to abortion rights, her justification of supporting Kavanaugh because he allegedly believes Roe is “settled law” also echos right-wing media talking points. Since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June 2018, right-wing media oscillated between blithely assuring viewers that there was no threat to abortion access and arguing that Roe was “bad” law that deserved to be overturned. For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz similarly claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Meanwhile, conservative media figures such as Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro and the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo have explicitly argued that Kavanaugh would follow precedent with regards to Roe.
Collins may be falling for obvious right-wing media talking points, but even a casual look at the facts indicates it is misleading to suggest that Kavanaugh wouldn’t threaten abortion rights if given the chance. For example, Kavanaugh issued a dissenting opinion in a 2017 case, arguing that an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen who was in federal custody should not be allowed to obtain an abortion. In addition, for those like Collins who may still be holding onto the illusion that calling Roe “settled law” means anything, one need look no further than Kavanaugh’s praise for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe v. Wade to understand how he might rule on abortion rights if confirmed.
Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have made crystal clear their intentions to reshape the judiciary to overturn Roe or otherwise make abortion less accessible. There’s no reason for Susan Collins to be falling for the right-wing media talking point about Roe being “settled law” this time around -- and if recent polling is to be believed, her refusal to face the facts about Kavanaugh could cost her reelection.
In states with only one abortion clinic, the tactics of fake health clinics can have particularly dangerous consequences for abortion access
In an August 18 article, Clarion Ledger’s Sarah Fowler highlighted the deceptive tactics deployed by Mississippi’s crisis pregnancy centers -- called CPCs or anti-abortion fake health clinics -- and explained how they can be particularly problematic in a state like Mississippi that now has only one abortion clinic.
Nationwide, fake health clinics are known for relying on underhanded tactics, including deceptive advertising and imitating medical facilities, in order to scare or persuade individuals against obtaining an abortion. An attempt to regulate these clinics by California fell flat this year when the Supreme Court ruled that a state law regulating fake health clinics was likely unconstitutional. The law requires the clinics to disclose either their non-medical facility status or the fact they do not offer comprehensive reproductive health services.
As a result, anti-abortion fake health clinics have been able to continue their deceptive practices. Many of these fake health centers falsely list abortion on their website as a service they provide. Fowler pointed to a Mississippi clinic called the Center for Pregnancy Choices as an example:
Their website ... describes both surgical and non-surgical abortions. Under the description of non-surgical abortion, the center clearly states they do not perform that procedure. But when the reader clicks on surgical abortions, they are directed to make an appointment.
In addition to this deception, many anti-abortion groups like Human Coalition and Heartbeat International use search engine marketing to target those seeking abortions on Google and redirect them to these fake health clinics. As Shannon Brewer, the director of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic -- Jackson Women’s Health -- told Fowler, “When you Google abortion, CPCs pop up.” Beyond manipulating search terms, fake health clinics also attempt to deceive people by imitating abortion providers. For example, a website for an anti-abortion clinic in Massachusetts contained “a near-verbatim repetition of the stated mission of the abortion clinic nearby,” according to Rewire.News. Felicia Brown Williams, the director of Planned Parenthood Mississippi, explained aspects of this tactic to Fowler, stating:
“Historically, what we have seen is that many crisis pregnancy centers intentionally use names that are close to either Planned Parenthood or could be easily construed as abortion providers. … They do that in an attempt to, for lack of a better word, trick people into believing that they'll be provided with a full scope of options or at least information on the full scope of options available to them. Often that is not what people receive once they enter inside.”
Many anti-abortion clinics have also located next to abortion clinics in the hopes of confusing those seeking abortions by having them enter the CPC by mistake. Fowler pointed to a Center for Pregnancies Choices clinic that “is one block away from Jackson Women's Health Center.” She noted, “Volunteers or protestors often stand outside Jackson Women's Health Center and attempt to direct women visiting the clinic to the Center for Pregnancy Choices, telling them they can get a free ultrasound.”
Fake health clinics offer things like ultrasounds to bolster their appearance as a legitimate medical facility. However, as Fowler explained, because “CPCs are not held to any state or federal standard,” there is no requirement that centers have trained medical professionals on staff. In fact, as Fowler wrote, the pregnancy tests provided at these clinics “are similar to tests found in drugstores and many are self-administered, according to Kimberly Kelly, director of Gender Studies and associate professor of sociology at Mississippi State University.”
In contrast, as Fowler explained, abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood clinics “are staffed by doctors, nurses and other professionally trained staff.” In Mississippi, she noted, “Jackson Women's Health Center and Planned Parenthood in Hattiesburg offer a range of health care options including pap smears, annual exams, cancer and STI screenings and access to contraception. They are bound by the national Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that protects patient privacy.”
Beyond calling out the deceptive tactics of fake health centers, Fowler also elevated the personal experience of a woman going by the name “Liz” who was tricked into accidentally visiting an anti-abortion clinic after a search engine result suggested she could get an abortion there. Fowler wrote:
When Liz became pregnant unexpectedly, she turned to Google. After finding a listing for what she thought was an abortion clinic, she scheduled an appointment and made the hour drive from Columbus to Tupelo. She drove to the center with the intent of having an abortion.
Her appointment took an unexpected turn. Instead of being able to talk about terminating her pregnancy, Liz was given a baby's bib with a Bible verse on it and sent home.
She began to cry.
“My heart felt heavy and my eyes filled with tears,” she said. “I actually had my 15-month-old with me. It stung.”
Once home, the bib “laid on my deep freezer near my kitchen and was a constant physical reminder of my already difficult decision.”
“I went to that clinic for help, an open ear,” she said, “not for someone to make me feel like I was going to rot in hell.”
Shortly after, Liz traveled out of state to get an abortion.
“When I walked in that clinic in Memphis, I knew I was in the right place. Those women were there to do a job. They were there to give me a service and to help me, woman to woman, with a hand out instead of a bib.”
In a state with one abortion clinic and, as Fowler noted, “more than 30 organizations that identify along the lines of a crisis pregnancy center,” stories like Liz’s are common. It is thus critically important that outlets like Clarion Ledger continue to highlight those experiences and call out fake health clinics’ deceptive tactics.
On One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler’s segments are light on news, but full of outrage -- with Wheeler frequently alleging that liberals are ignoring right-wing anti-abortion conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood misusing federal funds, promoting abortion for profit, or engaging in the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors.
OANN premiered in 2013, established, at least in part, to “provide a platform for a broader spectrum of voices on the right than Fox now offers.” During the 2016 presidential election, the network pushed pro-Trump stories and secured interviews with then-candidate Trump. Since the election, the network has also received some preferential treatment from the Trump administration at press events.
The Washington Post reported in 2017 that, besides giving positive coverage of Trump during his campaign, one of OANN’s owners also “directed his channel to … encourage antiabortion stories,” including those “about Planned Parenthood’s purported promotion of abortion” that the owner saw on other right-wing media sites. The results of this strategy are nowhere more obvious than on the network’s prime-time show The Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler. Often, host Liz Wheeler’s segments on abortion center on her complete disbelief that liberals don’t buy the latest right-wing conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood.
Right-wing media, in general, love to attack Planned Parenthood, making a number of false accusations such as that it sells fetal body parts, that the federal money it receives goes to support abortion care, or that it could be easily replaced by other, noncomprehensive health care centers that actually don't provide a full suite of reproductive health care services. Wheeler has frequently contributed to this echo chamber of misinformation about Planned Parenthood, which is facing possible deep cuts to its federal funding pending potential adoption of new Title X rules. For example, even though the Hyde Amendment prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion, Wheeler claimed in a May 18 segment that as a member of the so-called “abortion lobby,” the organization’s “only goal, politically, is to get taxpayer funding for abortion” and that its “profits are blood money.” Wheeler continued that Planned Parenthood’s “agenda is, as it always has been, unlimited, unrestricted abortion for profit” and that it is opposed to the proposed Title X rules because “they will not give up this money because all they want is unrestricted abortion.”
Wheeler has also repeatedly elevated a recently resurrected anti-abortion conspiracy theory from 2011 alleging that Planned Parenthood covers up sexual abuse suffered by minors who come to its facilities for abortions. On a June 4 episode, Wheeler accused her guest -- a Democratic strategist -- of being “willing to brush aside the cover-up of sexual assault of children” because he was concerned that “abortion would be targeted, that Planned Parenthood would be targeted” by potential funding cuts.
Wheeler pushed her position in two subsequent interviews with congressional Republicans who had signed on to a letter calling for an investigation into Planned Parenthood as a result of these allegations. In an interview with Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), Wheeler said, “I don’t know where your Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives are -- why their signatures are missing from this letter?” and said that she felt “disgusted” by “Democrats in Congress” for not signing on. Wheeler similarly opined before an interview with Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) that “not a single Democrat thinks covering up the abuse of children is worth an investigation. At least not when a Democratic ally like Planned Parenthood is responsible for the cover-up.” According to her, this supposed scandal should “be an issue that would just obliterate party lines.”
Wheeler also has a knack for tying stories dominating the news cycle to so-called liberal hypocrisy on abortion and Planned Parenthood -- no matter how far-fetched the connection.
Following the February 14 mass shooting in Parkland, FL, and calls from many for closer scrutiny of the National Rifle Association’s political donations, Wheeler said that not only was it a “hideous lie” that the “NRA buys off politicians in an effort to push a pro-gun agenda that costs the lives of millions of children,” but also that it was “ironic because liberals have no problem with another organization that also donates to politicians and actually does kill millions of children -- Planned Parenthood.”
Wheeler -- and other right-wing media figures -- also used reactions to the Trump administration’s family separation policy as an opportunity to rail about abortion. Addressing liberals, Wheeler argued, “If you care so much about exploited and abused children, where’s your outrage about the 1 million unborn children who are aborted every single year in our country?” Wheeler then pivoted to the made-up story of Planned Parenthood’s cover-up of sexual abuse to hypothetically ask, “Where is your outrage that Democrats in Congress refuse to call for an investigation into this pattern of Planned Parenthood covering up the sexual abuse of children?”
In the most bizarre example, Wheeler attempted to downplay the contents of a tape obtained by CNN of a conversation between Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen. She tried to draw a parallel between outrage over the tape with what she perceived as a lack of liberal interest in supposed scandals about Planned Parenthood. Wheeler said the tape was “A-OK with the left,” but “secret recordings inside Planned Parenthood exposing law-breaking activity are taboo to the left?” Wheeler was referring to the discredited videos from the Center for Medical Progress falsely purporting to show Planned Parenthood profiting off the sale of fetal body parts.
Watch this bizarre segment for yourself here:
Chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn: “Let’s hope he is confirmed without delay”
This piece was updated on August 27 to include two more "must-run" segments.
Conservative TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group is requiring its local news stations across the country to air multiple “must-run” segments praising “perfectly qualified” Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and encouraging a quick confirmation.
As of August 27, Sinclair has produced at least six “must-run” commentary segments about the open Supreme Court seat, including three that feature excerpts from interviews with Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The segments either laud Kavanaugh’s qualifications, dismiss real concerns about what’s at stake if he is confirmed, or push for a quick confirmation process. Some do all three.
Sinclair designates that certain news and commentary segments, produced in its national studios, must air on its local news stations across the country -- including all four of the Kavanaugh-related segments. According to a Media Matters search of the iQ media database, one or more of these segments have aired in at least 22 states, including those with potentially key senators in a confirmation vote like Alabama, Maine, Nevada, and West Virginia.
The first “must-run” aired on June 28 and 29, shortly after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. In his recurring “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary segment, Sinclair chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn argued that the Senate ought to confirm whomever President Donald Trump would nominate to replace Kennedy before the midterm elections in November. Epshteyn ended the segment, “Nominating and confirming a second conservative justice to the Supreme Court will be a huge achievement for the president and Senate Republicans. It will further cement their reputation as defenders of the rule of law and our Constitution.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on WPFO (Fox 23) in Portland, Maine:
A second “must-run” segment aired on July 10 and July 11, right after Trump announced his nomination of Kavanaugh. Again, Epshteyn argued that Kavanaugh ought to be confirmed quickly and listed off reasons why the judge was “immensely qualified” for the role. Epshteyn also argues that the far-right wing of the GOP should support the nomination and that Kavanaugh is “the least controversial” and “easily the most confirmable” candidate. He also mentioned by name three Democratic senators who are up for re-election: Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana. Epshteyn predicted “most” would vote to confirm Kavanaugh “so as to keep their chances to be re-elected alive.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on WVAH (Fox 11) in Charleston, West Virginia:
The “must-run” featuring Rep. Lamar Smith aired on July 17 and July 18. In the clip, Smith attempted to dismiss concerns that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would threaten abortion access, saying, “Clearly, he is a judge who has made comments about Roe v. Wade but he’s also written a book on the importance of precedent. I think a lot of legal scholars don't expect him to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, although I think a lot of the Democratic senators are using that as a scare tactic. I think it’s probably unlikely it would be completely overturned.”
Epshteyn offered no additional context on the matter, then concluded, “There’s no question that Judge Brett Kavanaugh is perfectly qualified to be the next Supreme Court Justice. Let’s hope he is confirmed without delay.” Here is the full segment, as aired on WBMA (ABC 33/40) in Birmingham, Alabama:
The fourth “must-run” segment, featuring Pence, aired on July 25 and July 26. In it, Pence again made the case for Kavanaugh, telling Epshteyn that Kavanaugh is “a man of integrity, with a lifetime of calling to public service as a family man, a man of faith,” and “the most qualified person in America to fill that seat on the Supreme Court.” Epshteyn nodded in agreement and then ended the segment by asserting, “Judge Brett Kavanaugh is fully qualified to be on the Supreme Court. Democrats in the Senate should not let partisanship cloud their judgement, and they should give Judge Brett Kavanaugh fair consideration.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on KRNV (NBC 4) in Reno, Nevada:
The fifth “must-run” segment, featuring Hatch, aired on August 7 and August 8. The segment included an interview excerpt in which Hatch praises Kavanaugh extensively, saying, “I'm very high on him. He's a very fine man. He's lived a very good, exemplary life. His whole life has been devoted to the law. He's straightforward. He's honest.” Epshteyn ended the segment by saying, “Let’s hope that Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed as quickly as possible” in spite of “senseless obstruction from many Democrats.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on WEAR (ABC 3) in Pensacola, Florida:
The sixth and most recent “must-run” segment aired from August 24 through August 27. In the clip, Epshteyn responded to calls from Senate Democrats to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing after the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen plead guilty to several crimes, including campaign finance violations that implicate the president. He argued that “Democrats have no tangible reason to oppose this highly qualified pick” and joked, “What’s next? Senate Democrats will try to block the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh because they don’t like the weather?” Epshteyn also absurdly lamented that Kavanaugh’s confirmation process was “the equivalent of being invited to interview for a job that you are highly qualified for but you’re being kept waiting in the lobby of the office building until some of the board members finish shouting about how much they wished that their cousin was up for the job instead.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on WHP (CBS 21) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: