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Reproductive Rights

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  • Donald Trump used a Daily Caller interview to recycle abortion misinformation and stoke right-wing outrage

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a flurry of Fox News-driven outrage over recent state measures protecting or expanding abortion access, President Donald Trump used an interview with The Daily Caller as an opportunity to recycle anti-choice misinformation and further stoke right-wing frenzy about abortion.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law protecting abortion access in the state should the Supreme Court weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade. Right-wing media initially seized on a provision of the law decriminalizing abortions “after 24 weeks when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” Virginia lawmakers also recently introduced a measure that would remove some restrictions to abortion care, though it has since been tabled. After a video of a lawmaker discussing the bill went viral, the right-wing and anti-abortion media outrage machine pointed to both measures as evidence that Democratic lawmakers support abortions being performed “all the way to the day of birth.”

    On January 30, Trump spoke with The Daily Caller about the Virginia measure and related comments from Gov. Ralph Northam. Predictably, Trump used the interview to repeat right-wing media talking points -- including many from Fox News -- about so-called “partial-birth” abortion and alleged support for anti-choice policies. Given Trump’s utter dependence on Fox for both talking points and policy proposals, it’s unsurprising he would take cues from the network’s rampant misinformation and sensationalized rhetoric about these abortion measures.

    This isn’t the first time Trump has repeated right-wing media lies about abortion. During the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Trump invoked the myth of “partial-birth” abortion to falsely allege that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month" of pregnancy. Trump returned to this talking point during his conversation with The Daily Caller, saying: “Do you remember when I said Hillary Clinton was willing to rip the baby out of the womb? That’s what it is, that’s what they’re doing, it’s terrible” -- echoing language that had been a prominent part of Fox News’ coverage of the Virginia bill. Trump also inaccurately alleged the Virginia measure would “lift up” the popularity of the anti-abortion movement, which he claimed was “a very 50-50 issue” -- recycling an inaccurate talking point about a supposed lack of public support for abortion access.

    Trump’s talking point about so-called “partial-birth" abortion or “abortion in the ninth month” is based on a lie:

    • So-called “partial-birth" abortion (often used by right-wing and anti-choice media to describe later abortions) is not a medical term, but one invented by anti-abortion extremists to shame and villainize people having abortions later in pregnancy.
    • The procedure that the term “partial-birth" abortion supposedly references was outlawed in 2003.
    • Later abortions happen because of medical necessity, risks to the life and health of the pregnant person, or because of a nonviable fetus. The decision to have one should be between a patient and their doctor.

    Trump also falsely claimed that there isn’t broad support for abortion rights in the United States:

    • Right-wing media love to mislead about polling on abortion to claim that people don’t support abortion access. This inaccurate framing has also influenced coverage outside of the right-wing media sphere -- a trend that has been repeated during coverage of other political fights.
    • Polling on abortion is notoriously difficult, but polling that uses clear language and real-life scenarios indicates that most people want abortion access to remain legal.
    • Support for later abortions goes up when people are presented with realistic scenarios about the procedure and why someone would need to have one.

    The anti-abortion movement has enjoyed a close relationship with Trump and his administration, with Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, having previously led Trump’s “Pro-Life Coalition.” Given the escalating rhetoric from anti-abortion groups and Trump’s steadfast allies on Fox News, it was only a matter of time before the president seized the opportunity to spread misinformation and stigma about abortion, throwing fuel on the fire of manufactured right-wing media outrage.

  • Fox & Friends goes all in on misinformation and shame about state efforts to expand abortion rights

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    New York recently passed a law protecting and expanding abortion rights in the state, and a similar bill was just introduced in Virginia. Fox News has led the charge of right-wing media outlets that have responded by pushing a steady stream of anti-choice misinformation. And the January 30 edition of Fox & Friends exemplified exactly how not to cover abortion rights by airing segments with a number of absurd and baseless allegations that not only misinformed viewers but also shamed those who need access to later abortions as a necessary part of health care.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law that criminalized abortions after 24-weeks of pregnancy to now allow abortions “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk” with the consent of a doctor. Right-wing media responded by framing the law as a “barbaric” action by Cuomo and the New York legislature.

    Legislators in Virginia also introduced a bill in January that would protect abortion rights by eliminating some restrictions on abortion care, including one currently requiring three doctors to consent for a patient’s third-trimester abortion. On January 29, a video of the bill’s Democratic sponsor discussing the legislation went viral, with right-wing media and anti-abortion figures falsely claiming it as evidence that both Virginia and New York were promoting abortions up until the moment of birth.

    On January 30, Fox & Friends put on a masterclass in misinformation, airing multiple segments with inaccurate and stigmatizing claims about both the legislation in New York and Virginia, and about later abortions more broadly.

    Falsely claimed New York’s law and a newer Virginia bill allow abortions “up to the moment of birth”

    During Fox & Friends’ January 30 coverage of the Reproductive Health Act and the bill introduced in Virginia, the hosts repeatedly alleged that such measures allow abortions “right up to the moment of birth.”

    For example, in one segment, co-host Ainsley Earhardt argued that both New York’s law and the Virginia bill would let someone “carry a child all the way to the day of birth and then decide not to have that baby.” In a second segment, Earhardt repeated this claim, saying each would allow an abortion to happen “all the way up until the very day you are supposed to deliver.” In each segment, co-host Steve Doocy agreed with Earhardt’s inaccurate claims, saying that he believed each measure would allow abortions to be performed “up until the moment of birth.” Doocy also added his own misinformation, claiming that these procedures could happen “as you are dilating, right there at the time of birth,” or when someone was “on the table, … you could abort the baby right then.”

    Abortions at “the moment of birth” are not a thing that happens, no matter how much Fox News repeats this false claim as if it were fact. As Forbes’ Tara Haelle explained in 2016, “Those who seek late-term abortions are seeking them before a pregnancy reaches full term but often and unfortunately after they have discovered in the second or third trimester some problem with the fetus or danger to the mother.” Later abortions, although often medically necessary, are extremely rare, with slightly more than 1 percent of procedures performed past the 21-week mark. In other words, later abortions are not entered into lightly or often, and are almost certainly not occurring with the frivolity and carelessness that Fox & Friends’ coverage suggests.

    Used or accepted stigmatizing language characterizing later abortions as “murders”

    Beyond spreading misinformation, Fox & Friends’ January 30 coverage also used extreme language to stigmatize people for having later abortions.

    In a segment focused on responses to viewer questions, all three co-hosts read and agreed with viewer messages containing stigmatizing and inaccurate language. For example, co-host Brian Kilmeade read a comment claiming these measures were “out of control” and that it should be considered “murder at this point in the pregnancy” to have an abortion. These sentiments were echoed in comments read by Earhardt and Doocy, who in turn shared and supported viewer messages calling it “mortifying” to “terminate a child who is able to cry” and lamenting that “these folks have no heart. It’s a disgrace.” In a second segment, Kilmeade read a viewer comment alleging that the Virginia bill “makes all parties involved no better than criminals on the streets that murder.” Earhardt turned her attention from the lawmakers to specifically shaming people who have later abortions, saying, “It blows my mind how a mom can do that. And it’s heartbreaking.”

    Far from these depictions promoted by Fox & Friends, later abortions are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons. The people that Fox News figures and their viewers’ comments compare to murderers often have to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy because of a nonviable fetus or due to the great medical risk to the pregnant person. If Fox News really wanted to understand “how a mom can do that,” they could read accounts of those who actually had to make the choice of having a later abortion rather than demonizing those individuals and feeding a larger right-wing media frenzy.

    Lied about the measures “eliminating doctors” from the decision to have a later abortion

    Although most of the right-wing ire about the New York law and similar measures has focused on permitting later abortions (even though Virginia already allows them), Fox & Friends’ January 30 coverage also promoted misinformation about a provision in the Virginia bill concerning doctors’ involvement with such procedures. The Virginia bill would eliminate an unnecessary roadblock to abortion access that requires three doctors to agree before a patient can have a medically necessary later abortion. Instead, only one doctor would be needed.

    Fox & Friends lied about this provision, with Earhardt inaccurately claiming that the Virginia bill would “eliminate the doctors” from the process of approving an abortion so that “anyone can do it, doesn’t matter if the doctors approve or not.” In reality, the proposed bill removes the burdensome requirement to have three separate doctors approve a later abortion procedure.

    Fearmongered about a Virginia bill (that is unlikely to pass) to suggest extreme bills were “spreading” to other states

    Fox News already sensationalized its coverage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act in a number of segments across the network, but the January 30 edition of Fox & Friends focused on the new Virginia bill as a harbinger of extremism “spreading” from New York to other states.

    Most of Fox & Friends’ January 30 segments linked the New York law to broader discussions of the Virginia bill. In one segment, Earhardt made the connection between the network’s coverage of the two measures explicitly, saying that the provisions of the New York law that “blew many people’s minds” were “also spreading in our country.” In other segments, Earhardt made the connection more subtle, merely suggesting that “in Virginia, they’re talking about something similar,” or claiming that lawmakers were now “talking about it in the state of Virginia.” In each example, Earhardt and her co-hosts used outrage about the New York law -- largely stoked by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets -- to manufacture urgency and paranoia about the Virginia bill and the likelihood that other states may attempt to protect and expand abortion rights.

    Instead of characterizing New York’s law as an outrage that is “spreading” to other states, Fox & Friends should recognize the legitimate risk that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, particularly after the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. As a result, lawmakers have felt the need to protect or expand abortion rights. While the Virginia bill that Fox & Friends spent a significant amount of time fearmongering about isn’t even likely to pass, the Supreme Court could deliver a significant blow to Roe as soon as this week when it considers whether to stop a Louisiana law that would close the state’s final abortion clinic.

  • Fox News has had a meltdown about a new law expanding abortion access in New York

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act that protects abortion in case the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and expands access to this essential form of health care. Despite the clear harm that New York’s previous law imposed on patients, right-wing and anti-abortion media have expressed outrage -- with Fox News leading the charge.

    The Reproductive Health Act comprises several provisions, including the removal of abortion from the state’s criminal code. The part of the law that has irked Fox News (and broader right-wing media) the most involves a provision decriminalizing abortions after 24 weeks “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” Permitting abortions after this point was necessary because previously, “the law made self-induced abortions a misdemeanor crime, and made providing one a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.” Although right-wing media frequently scaremonger about later abortions, these procedures in reality are extremely rare and performed due to complicated personal and medical reasons. Before the Reproductive Health Act, New York patients needing medically necessary abortions after 24 weeks were forced to travel out of state, thus suffering both logistical and psychological burdens.

    Fox News is no stranger to inaccurate and stigmatizing coverage of abortion and reproductive rights. As Media Matters has previously documented, Fox News not only covers abortion-related issues more frequently than other cable networks but also covers it in a highly inaccurate way. Coverage of the Reproductive Health Act has been no exception. Between January 22 and 29, Fox News’ coverage has used discussions of the law to revive allegations about abortion providers engaging in misconduct, promote anti-choice junk science about abortion procedures, attack Democrats as “extreme,” and employ sensationalized and stigmatizing language to vilify those who have abortions.

    Fox invoked the case of Kermit Gosnell to revive allegations about abortion providers misconduct

    Fox News guests attacked the New York law as allowing misconduct by abortion providers, invoking and misleading about the case of former Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. For example, during the January 25 edition of Fox News’ morning program Fox & Friends, guest and actor Dean Cain not only spread misinformation about Gosnell but also promoted a movie (starring himself) sensationalizing the Gosnell case. Later the same day, Cain appeared on Fox News' The Story with Martha MacCallum, where host MacCallum asked Cain about his movie that she claimed “highlighted the horror of the reality of late-term abortion, and the doctor who carried out so many of them.” Cain responded by not only promoting his movie, but also connecting Gosnell’s actions to the New York law, arguing that his crimes “may very well be legal under this new New York law.”

    Gosnell is currently serving “three life terms in jail” for “first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive at his rogue clinic, then stabbed with scissors.” There is no ambiguity about the illegality of Gosnell’s actions. But unlike right-wing and anti-abortion media’s allegations, Gosnell’s practices are in no way representative of abortion providers or abortion procedures in the United States. As MSNBC’s Irin Carmon wrote in 2013, Gosnell’s actions were not evidence of widespread malfeasance by abortion providers because it was his "willingness to break the law" that made many patients seek him out, believing “they had no alternative,” despite warnings from other reputable providers. Similarly, as Robin Marty explained in 2018, while there are a myriad distinctions between Gosnell and a “legitimate, trained abortion provider,” the restrictions imposed in the wake of his actions have very little to do with abortion safety. She wrote:

    His clinic was unsanitary and dangerous for patients generally, and he was further known to provide better care and cleaner rooms for his white and higher-income clients than those who were poor, immigrant, or brown or black. He did so apparently under the assumption that his more privileged clients would report him to the health department, whereas those from marginalized communities would either be afraid to do so or — even worse — think that what they were receiving was exactly what they deserved. (Even so, he was reported to authorities, and the governmental agencies that failed to act on the complaints from his patients that would have exposed his crimes far earlier should be held to account for their negligence.)

    ...

    Even with abortion legal in his state, Gosnell didn’t bother to operate by the rules; there’s little reason or history to believe that women would have been safer had abortion been illegal. Gosnell’s clinic was where patients went primarily when they thought they had no better options, or couldn’t afford a better clinic. They went there because he didn’t enforce the 24 hour wait mandated by the state. They went there because the anti-abortion protesters surrounding the reputable clinics in the city were so aggressive that they were afraid to enter.

    As Marty summarized, “unsafe and unsanitary conditions in an exam room in which abortions are performed are not normal, but anti-abortion activists are invested in making the public believe they are.” This was exactly the issue at play during oral arguments in the 2016 Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which Texas’ Solicitor General Scott Keller defended an anti-choice law that imposed medically unnecessary and harmful restrictions under the guise of increasing patient safety, referencing the Gosnell case. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Texas, determining that there must be evidentiary support that a restriction is necessary to protect patient’s health, right-wing media -- and Fox News in particular -- were in lockstep with the state’s inaccurate talking points about Gosnell from the start. And if Fox News’ coverage of the New York law is any indication, little has changed since.

    Fox promoted anti-choice misinformation about abortion procedures

    Right-wing media frequently spread misinformation and junk science about alleged abortion procedures -- and Fox News’ coverage of New York’s abortion law was no exception. Fox News and broader right-wing and anti-abortion media outlets have spent years misleading about abortion procedures, in particular focusing on invented procedures like so-called “partial-birth” abortion or invoking the inaccurate idea of “abortion on demand.” In reality, so-called “partial-birth” abortions and Fox News’ various iterations of “abortion on demand” are inaccurate -- but both concepts are strategically deployed to spread misinformation about medically necessary later abortions. In particular, the phrase “partial-birth” abortion was invented by anti-choice advocates as a mechanism to vilify and shame individuals who have later abortions.

    But Fox News’ coverage of the Reproductive Health Act frequently used both of these terms to spread misinformation and shame about the law. For example, during the January 24 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, Fox News contributor Guy Benson argued that the New York law “permits abortion on demand, up to the seventh month of pregnancy, and really all the way up to the moment of birth, for virtually any reason whatsoever.” During the January 25 Fox & Friends interview with Dean Cain, guest co-host Ed Henry invoked the words of a conservative lawmaker about how “late-term abortion” is “partial-birth abortion” and akin to “infanticide,” implying that New York’s law could be characterized as such. In the same segment, co-host Ainsley Earhardt also claimed the law would legalize “abortion up until birth” -- a claim she repeated on January 28. On January 29, she claimed that the New York law allows her to be “nine months pregnant and [walk] into the hospital” and say, “I don’t want the child anymore.” In a similar segment on January 26, Fox & Friends Weekend guest co-host Katie Pavlich said that the “extreme” law would allow “abortions up until the due date.” Some, like Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy went even further, arguing inaccurately that “the baby can be born alive” under the New York law and a doctor could still “terminate it.”

    Given how often Fox News and its various contributors spread misinformation and vitriol about abortion, these segments are unsurprising in both their frequency and content. And as more states propose bills that are similar to New York’s law, Fox News viewers will only see more of the same.

    Fox attacked Democrats as “extreme” and out of step with the American public for supporting access to abortion care

    Unsurprisingly, Fox News has also used discussion of the New York law to attack Democrats for being too “extreme” in their positions on abortion. Some Fox News programs went even further by connecting the law to the machinations of a larger Democratic agenda. During the January 28 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, host Sean Hannity claimed the New York law was evidence that “every Democrat who wants to run for president is about to take that hard turn to appease what is now the radical, extreme, socialist Democratic party base.” He continued: “Viable lives can now be destroyed with the seal of New York -- and Andrew Cuomo and the New York legislature putting their seal of approval.”

    This isn’t the first time that media have attempted to paint support for basic reproductive rights as “extreme.” In early 2017, The New York Times published an op-ed titled “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party,” advocating for the dubious idea that Democrats must sacrifice protecting abortion and reproductive rights in order to win voters. During the December 2017 special election of Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, right-wing media frequently alleged that he supported so-called “partial-birth” abortions or abortions up to the moment of birth, in order to prove that he was too “extreme” for Alabama voters. Fox News was particularly active in spreading this inaccurate narrative, with hosts and contributors alike alleging that Jones’ stance on abortion included promoting “abortion on demand,” claiming that he was “a person who supports abortion at every level” and parroting the idea that he wanted abortions to be performed “through all nine months of pregnancy.” This inaccurate framing also influenced coverage outside of the right-wing media sphere -- a trend that has been repeated with coverage of other political fights.

    In 2018, media kept rehashing the allegation that support for abortion rights was harmful to the Democratic Party. Polling on abortion-related issues is notoriously complicated, requiring clear questions and language that accurately reflects the realities of abortion access and procedures. However, polling that takes such realities into account has demonstrated a wide degree of support for abortion rights and Roe v. Wade. Already in 2019, with candidates announcing their candidacy for president in 2020, this talking point is gaining steam -- with Fox News sure to be leading the charge.

    Fox used extreme and stigmatizing language to shame and villainize people having medically necessary later abortions

    During numerous Fox News segments about the Reproductive Health Act, the only thing more plentiful than the misinformation about the law was the stigmatizing language various hosts and guests used to describe abortion and those who have one.

    Abortion stigma refers to an idea that abortion is inherently wrong or socially unacceptable, and it is reinforced (both intentionally and unintentionally) through media coverage, popular culture, and by a lack of accurate information about the procedure itself. In particular, right-wing media have capitalized on a lack of accurate public knowledge about abortion to demonize abortion providers and patients, as well as spread misinformation about abortion more broadly.

    Fox News often uses stigmatizing language about abortions or about those who have them, but the network’s repeated commentary in the wake of the New York law demonstrated the rhetorical impact of this strategy. For example, Fox News host Sean Hannity on multiple occasions described the law as allowing “infanticide.” Other Fox News figures focused their indignation on the people who may need a later abortion, claiming that people are having “recreational” later abortions, or even inaccurately alleging that abortion is never “necessary for reproductive health.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham even went so far as to ask a guest on her program to explain how the law isn’t “Hitlerian” when, in her opinion, it would allow a baby to “be killed” when it “could be born.” In almost every segment about the New York law, a Fox News host or guest oscillated between outrage and disgust -- expressing disbelief and variations of the sentiment that they couldn’t “even believe that this is happening.”

    Later abortion procedures are an important part of comprehensive reproductive health care. And if any of these Fox News figures had bothered to talk to, or even read an account from someone who has had a medically necessary later abortion, they might understand the reality of these decisions: Later abortions are usually of wanted pregnancies and are either not viable or pose a direct risk to the life or health of the pregnant person. Rather than spreading rampant misinformation about later abortions, and those who need them, Fox News might want to do some actual reporting and figure out the facts before devoting so much time to sensationalized and stigmatizing coverage.

    Grace Bennett and Julie Tulbert contributed research for this piece. 

  • Here are some of the extreme right-wing reactions to a New York law expanding abortion rights

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on January 22 that will protect abortion access even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade -- a very salient threat with Justice Brett Kavanaugh now on the court. Anti-abortion advocates and right-wing media immediately responded by framing the law as a “barbaric” action by Cuomo and the New York legislature.

    The new law, called the Reproductive Health Act, changed a pre-Roe state law criminalizing abortions that was still on the books in New York. As Mother Jones’ Rosa Furneaux explained, abortions after 24 weeks were formerly criminalized because “the law made self-induced abortions a misdemeanor crime, and made providing one a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.” According to Furneaux, “The threat of a more conservative Supreme Court has brought new energy to repealing archaic pre-Roe laws nationwide (just as it has given pro-lifers more hope for overturning Roe).”

    If Roe is overturned, the new law will mitigate the impact in New York and also expand abortion rights in a few other ways. For example, it:

    • Permits abortions after 24 weeks when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk” and empowers doctors to make the decision about “when a woman's health is at risk.”
    • Removes abortion from the state’s criminal code” in order to “protect doctors or medical professionals who perform abortions from criminal prosecution.”
    • Allows medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions in New York.”

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion activists have focused much of their outrage on the portion of the law allowing abortions after 24 weeks for nonviable pregnancies or if the pregnant person’s health is at risk. The reality is that abortions that happen later in a pregnancy are extremely rare (slightly more than 1 percent take place past the 21-week mark), and are performed in response to complicated personal and medical reasons. As The Cut’s Sarah Jones explained, prior to the New York law’s passage, people “who needed later-term abortions to end nonviable pregnancies were forced to travel far outside the state — a financial and psychological burden.” The impact of these barriers cannot be understated. Writing for Jezebel, Jia Tolentino interviewed one New York woman about the excruciating experience of having to travel out of state for a medically necessary later abortion because of New York’s previous law. In The New Yorker, Tolentino recounted the woman’s ordeal: “Her baseline experience of pregnancy had been punishing to begin with, and New York law had made it much worse.”

    Despite the personal nature of these decisions, right-wing media often portray later abortions as part of a supposedly extreme Democratic agenda which allegedly encourages abortions up to the day of birth. Right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates have continued to use this extreme and inaccurate language to stir outrage over New York’s law.

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media pushed the narrative that the law allowed abortions up to birth alongside other bizarre and extreme claims

    • The Daily Wire reported on the law with the headline:

    • On Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham asked her guest to explain how the law wasn’t “Hitlerian” when, in her opinion, it would allow a baby to “be killed” when it “could be born.” She also repeated this talking point on her podcast.
    • On One America News Network’s (OANN) Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler said that, with this law, “a baby that is fully formed … can be brutally murdered inside the womb for any reason that the woman chooses just days before birth.”
    • The Washington Times posted an article with the headline:

    • The Washington Examiner published an article with the headline:

    • After Cuomo signed the bill into law, One World Trade Center’s spire was lit up pink in celebration. In response, LifeSiteNews circulated a petition calling for Cuomo to apologize for “celebrating abortion by lighting up One World Trade Center,” and urging him to revoke his signature from the bill.

    • Janet Morano, executive director of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life, wrote for LifeSiteNews:

    In New York City, thousands more babies of African-American mothers are aborted than born, and the abortion rate among these moms is three times higher than it is for white mothers. Seeing an African-American woman smiling behind Andrew Cuomo as he signed the bill into law was so incongruous. How could she smile, knowing that even more black children will die?

    • Live Action News lamented, “The new law also allows non-physicians to commit non-surgical abortions and moves the abortion law from the state’s penal code to its health code – which removes any threat of the prosecution of abortionists.”

    • LifeNews.com alleged that the law will not allow restrictions on abortion “even for common-sense reasons such as parental consent for minors, informed consent or limits on taxpayer-funded abortions.” The website also circulated a petition calling for Cuomo’s excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church:

    • In an interview with anti-abortion activist Lila Rose on Breitbart News Tonight, host Rebecca Mansour commented that some anti-choice advocates felt “that the law itself could basically make being pro-life illegal because this law has -- calls abortion ‘a fundamental right.’” Mansour likely confused the Reproductive Health Act with a separate call from Cuomo for a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights, although neither would “make being pro-life illegal.” Later in the segment, Rose inaccurately alleged that, with the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, “doing harm is a part of being a doctor in New York,” and called the law “a cash cow for willing abortionists” because of the cost of later abortions.
    • On January 25, Fox & Friends aired a bizarre segment in which Jenna Ellis, the director of public policy at the James Dobson Family Institute, attempted to make a connection between Democratic support for undocumented immigrants and the expansion of abortion rights. Ellis told co-host Steve Doocy that “the progressive left is all about wanting to take down American values and the family,” and claimed that Democrats “want to buy votes” in the form of giving governmental assistance to undocumented immigrants so that they “can continue the abortion agenda.” Fox News ran this chyron during the segment:

    On social media, anti-abortion advocates and right-wing media figures used extreme language to describe the law, and attacked the decision to light up One World Trade Center’s spire after its passage

    • On Matt Walsh’s Daily Wire show, he called the law “an act of unspeakable, unconscionable barbarism” and inaccurately claimed that the law allows you to “kill your child … even a minute before delivery.” He expressed similar sentiments on Twitter:

    • Ohio Republican state Rep.Christina Hagan, who sponsored the state’s version of a so-called “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortions at six weeks, tweeted:

    • Anti-abortion group Human Coalition’s public relations manager Lauren Enriquez:

    • Anti-abortion group Radiance Foundation’s co-founder Ryan Bomberger:

    CBS News also briefly adopted right-wing media rhetoric in a since-changed headline about the law

    • CBS News ran a story about this law with the headline incorrectly characterizing it as “allowing abortions up until baby’s due date if mother’s health is at risk.”

    • Although the headline has since been changed, the resulting framing still invokes similar right-wing media misinformation and stigmatizes medically necessary later abortions. CBS News’ tweet with the original headline remained unchanged.
  • Five things to know about the deceptive anti-abortion poll released ahead of the March for Life

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-abortion group Students for Life of America (SFLA) released a new poll ahead of the 2019 March for Life protest alleging that millennials now overwhelming support anti-choice positions. Right-wing media have hyped the poll, but they have failed to note the extent to which SFLA set up the survey to present a favorable outcome. In fact, the poll demonstrates just how much misinformation the anti-choice movement has to present in order to get most millennials to agree with anti-abortion views.

    SFLA, which oversees student chapters of anti-abortion groups across the country, released a poll on January 13 claiming to represent millennials’ “views on abortion, Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood.” SFLA’s poll focused on millennials, who it defined as 18-34 years old, because they are both “the largest voting bloc in America” and allegedly “the target market of abortion vendors.”

    Polling on abortion has always been notoriously complicated, and support for both abortion rights and anti-choice restrictions has frequently been shown to depend heavily on how certain questions are asked. As Tresa Undem, founder and partner at the public opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures used to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue, but rather measure a binary viewpoint of right or wrong, legal or illegal. Conducting accurate polling on abortion requires asking questions “in a more real and accurate way” that takes into account “how people actually experience abortion.” When polls use real-life examples, audiences report greater support for abortion access, and new polling from PerryUndem (albeit from a broader audience than just millennials) shows “voters' support for abortion rights is as high as we have seen in years: 73% of voters do not want Roe v. Wade overturned and 67% say abortion should be legal in ‘all’ or ‘most’ cases.”

    SFLA’s poll not only lacks consideration of real-life scenarios, but it explicitly inserted anti-abortion misinformation with the goal of influencing respondents’ opinions. In a memo released alongside the poll, SFLA explained that questions originated with the group’s “own experience and conversations on campuses” and were intended to influence and measure “changes in attitude on subjects such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood both before and after participants were provided the real facts.” As a result, the poll attempted to measure views on these topics by first asking a baseline question about respondents’ views on Roe and Planned Parenthood, and then asking their views again “after learning” a series of right-wing talking points about abortion and Planned Parenthood, which SFLA calls “real facts.” In other words, SFLA measured how much anti-abortion misinformation respondents had to be presented with before they adopted more anti-choice views on abortion and Planned Parenthood.

    Given that SFLA’s poll promotes many right-wing myths as “real facts,” it’s unsurprising that right-wing outlets ran with the results. Breitbart News proclaimed that the poll “found that 70 percent of millennials support limits on abortion” while The Washington Examiner said in its daily health care newsletter that the poll “found that only 7 percent of those polled supported both allowing abortion without any exceptions and using government funding to pay for them” -- a position which The Gateway Pundit erroneously characterized as “the Democratic Party platform.” The College Fix similarly claimed “a plurality of millennials supports the full reversal of Supreme Court decisions that enshrined abortion on demand until fetal viability” once “survey participants were told exactly what Roe v. Wade” supposedly allows. SFLA President Kristan Hawkins later went on Eternal World Television Network’s News Nightly to talk about the poll and make the skewed claim that millennials “lean politically liberal on almost every issue out there -- except abortion” because they “see abortion as violence.”

    Other anti-abortion groups quickly began promoting the SFLA poll, with Susan B. Anthony List, the March for Life, and the Family Research Council all tweeting about it. Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins wrote about the poll for The Daily Signal, claiming that “7 in 10 support restrictions on abortion, with 42 percent opposing abortion ‘broadly.’ That’ll come as a shock to the Democrats’ system, which is betting most of its credibility on a surprisingly pro-life age group.”

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion groups are going to keep spreading this deceptive poll, so here are five things to know about it:

    1. SFLA likely released the poll ahead of the March for Life 2019 as an attempt to drive inaccurate media coverage, just as anti-abortion groups and right-wing media have previously done.

    SFLA released this poll during the week of the 2019 March for Life, the annual anti-abortion march against the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Anti-abortion groups and media outlets often use deceptive polling to argue that anti-choice positions have overwhelming popular support. For example, as Media Matters reported during last year’s march, several media outlets spread misinformation about the American public’s alleged support for anti-abortion policies by sharing polling data without proper context or analysis. SFLA’s poll, with its leading language and anti-choice misinformation, appears to be another attempt to drive inaccurate media coverage. Hawkins, in particular, has already used the dubious top lines from the poll to place op-eds in The Washington Times and USA Today.

    2. It manipulates people’s views on Roe v. Wade by inserting the inaccurate claim that the decision allows abortions “up until the moment of birth.”

    SFLA claimed that its poll accurately measured respondents’ views of Roe v. Wade. However, during baseline questioning the poll found that 40 percent of respondents supported the Roe decision and only 12 percent opposed it. After pollsters posed a series of misleading statements that SFLA calls “real facts,” support for the decision dropped to 35 percent and opposition rose to 41 percent. To influence this shift, the poll’s questions relied on the anti-abortion movement’s favorite right-wing media talking points about Roe.

    For example, one statement claimed: “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, companion Supreme Court cases, allow for abortions to be performed in all nine (9) months of pregnancy, up until the moment of birth.” This is an inaccurate description of both cases. So-called abortion “up until the moment of birth” is a common right-wing myth (sometimes used interchangeably with “abortion on demand” or the nonexistent practice of “partial-birth abortion”) meant to fearmonger about legal later abortion. In reality, later abortions are extremely rare and people have them for a variety of personal and medical reasons.

    Another misleading statement from SFLA’s poll claimed: “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton have been used to justify sending your tax dollars to be used to perform abortions or off-set other expenses of abortion providers.” Despite what this statement implies, under the Hyde Amendment, taxpayer money is prohibited from funding abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the pregnant person is at risk -- a harmful policy that primarily hurts low-income individuals who cannot pay out of pocket for abortion care. Similarly, claiming that money is “off-set” for abortion providers is just another way to repeat the common anti-abortion argument that taxpayer money is “fungible,” implying that federal funds indirectly support abortions through Planned Parenthood. Such an argument demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about how federal money is used to support health care organizations like Planned Parenthood, which receive it as reimbursement when serving Medicaid patients.

    Another statement in the SFLA poll claimed: “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton allow for abortions to be performed simply because the mother doesn’t like the sex of the baby or the mother wants to use abortion as a form of contraception.” So-called “sex-selective” abortions are a concept used by anti-choice legislators to justify restricting abortion access, even though these bans have no basis in scientific research or the medical practices of abortion providers and are instead frequently used to vilify Asian-Americans seeking abortions.

    Given that it included such stigmatizing and inaccurate language, SFLA’s poll can hardly be considered representative of a wider audience’s support for Roe.

    3. It also lies about the safety of medical abortions to suggest that abortion pills should not be made more accessible.

    In an one-off question that was not about Roe or Planned Parenthood, SFLA’s poll asked:

    Today, about one-third of abortions take place using the drug RU-486. RU-486 can be deadly to women who don't know they are later in pregnancy than they really are, or who are experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. While surgical abortions require an exam by an physician, abortion advocates are asking that RU-486 be sold to women on-line, without a doctor's exam. Do you support/oppose these abortion pills being widely available on-line and sold to women without a doctor's exam?

    Though the ability to end a pregnancy at home can be an empowering choice, SFLA’s question omits that the calls for the abortion pill (also known as RU-486) to be available online or over-the-counter were necessitated because the anti-abortion movement pushed to further restrict abortion access, as well as by the potential of a Supreme Court with Justice Brett Kavanaugh overturning Roe. Although SFLA suggested that medication abortions are unsafe, both medication and surgical abortion are actually extremely safe. In fact, medication abortion is safer that alternative procedures since it takes place earlier in the pregnancy and has minimal risks.

    4. The poll pushes the right-wing narrative that federally qualified health centers could replace Planned Parenthood clinics.

    Beyond a set of questions about Planned Parenthood’s favorability, SFLA’s poll also asked respondents to choose between Planned Parenthood and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), asking which “is more deserving of our tax payer dollars.”

    Anti-abortion groups and right-wing media frequently cite the number of FQHCs to suggest that Planned Parenthood is not an essential health care provider. But despite outnumbering Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States, FQHCs would not be able to handle the influx of patients if Planned Parenthood was stripped of federal funding and low-income patients were forced to go to FQHCs. In addition, the Guttmacher Institute found in 2015 that Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” able to provide publicly subsidized contraceptive services in 103 U.S. counties. Planned Parenthood’s focus on reproductive health care -- including abortion, which is not provided at FQHCs -- makes it uniquely positioned to provide irreplaceable services in the health care field.

    5. The poll was done by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s old polling firm.

    Beyond SFLA’s involvement in shaping the questions, the organization commissioned a potentially biased firm to actually conduct the poll. The Polling Company Inc./WomanTrend was founded in 1995 by now-White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. As Rewire.News’ Ally Boguhn explained, Conway “spent nearly two decades as a conservative talking head pushing her anti-choice claims under the guise of credibility offered by her work as a pollster,” with her firm advising anti-abortion politicians and “working on behalf of anti-choice groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List, the Heritage Foundation, and Focus on the Family.” The National Catholic Register wrote that anti-abortion activist David Daleiden hired Conway’s firm in 2015 to “conduct two focus groups in Colorado,” helping to “craft the message” around the now-discredited claim that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue. The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List has recently used Conway’s firm to conduct polling in support of the organization’s various anti-choice initiatives. A Republican public relations firm acquired The Polling Company in 2017.

    Anti-abortion groups and right-wing media will spend this year’s March for Life claiming that SFLA’s poll proves that millennials are overwhelmingly “pro-life.” Instead, it proves just how much right-wing misinformation these groups have to push before people will support their extreme anti-choice agenda.

  • Anti-abortion groups will claim science is on their side during the March for Life. Media shouldn't let them.

    The Charlotte Lozier Institute is one such group, trying to push its anti-abortion activism as impartial research

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-abortion groups will gather in Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life protest on January 18 under this year’s theme, “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science,” which claims that “medical and technological advancements continue to reaffirm the science behind the pro-life cause.” This framing is an attempt by the anti-abortion movement to allege that scientific consensus supports anti-choice policies -- an effort shepherded in large part by the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the research arm of the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List). Although CLI and SBA List attempt to portray the organization’s members as impartial scientific experts, media outlets should be wary when citing them given the explicit mission of both organizations to oppose abortion.

    For years, the anti-abortion movement and its allies in right-wing media have erroneously and frequently claimed that anti-choice arguments are supported by science. In fact, CLI was created as part of one such effort to frame anti-abortion research as impartial. Though other anti-choice groups often portray CLI as an independent nonprofit similar to the Guttmacher Institute (which was founded as an official arm of Planned Parenthood before becoming entirely independent), CLI is actually still operated as part of SBA List. CLI filed its federal 990 tax forms as the “Susan B Anthony List Education Fund” and even ran Facebook ads for SBA List during the 2018 midterm elections. CLI reported that its anti-abortion work involves putting “expert testimony before legislatures across the U.S.” by dispatching its associate scholars, as well as helping anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers with research to maximize the “outreach and effectiveness” of these fake health clinics.

    Most recently, SBA List and CLI attempted to push their anti-science agenda during a congressional oversight committee hearing on fetal tissue research. Although both of the witnesses called by Republicans were CLI representatives, only one of these affiliations was disclosed during the hearing. As the communications director for the committee’s ranking Democrat told ThinkProgress, "While not untoward, it is unusual and telling for one hearing to have two expert witnesses affiliated with the same research tank," and Politico called the move “irregular … as lawmakers usually try to demonstrate broad support for a policy.”

    Despite being branded as the “research arm” of the anti-abortion movement, CLI “has so far produced little in the way of original research and data-gathering and has instead published more commentaries and analyses of others’ research that support its agenda on abortion and end-of-life issues," Rewire.News wrote in 2014. Little has changed since then. In 2018, CLI’s vice president published a study challenging the methodology of previous research showing recent increases in Texas’ maternal mortality rate. Another 2018 study by CLI’s vice president claimed that “Planned Parenthood has had a long-term and accelerating inflationary effect on the incidence and prevalence of abortion in the US.” SBA List summarized the research in a press release claiming that Planned Parenthood was “responsible for 3 Million+ ‘extra’ abortions” because Planned Parenthood’s rate of abortions hasn’t followed the same trend as other abortion providers. The rate CLI and SBA List identified likely has more to do with the rapid closure of independent abortion clinics than with Planned Parenthood performing “extra” abortions. Additionally, right-wing media outlets often publish pieces in which CLI associate scholars who lack backgrounds in scientific research claim to offer scientific analyses of reproductive rights issues.

    Despite CLI's obvious bias, mainstream media coverage in the past has presented the organization as a legitimate research institution. Before the 2018 March for Life, The Atlantic published a piece downplaying the group’s involvement with SBA List, describing CLI as “a relatively new D.C. think tank ... which employs a number of doctors and scholars on its staff” and merely “shares an office with Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent pro-life advocacy organization.” As a result of this whitewashing of CLI, Rewire.News listed the Atlantic article in its 2018 “Hall of Shame” for reporting on reproductive rights because it was “aiding in the deception” of the anti-abortion movement’s attempts to gain legitimacy. Other outlets have cited CLI without disclosing its role as an anti-abortion group -- a CNN story about the recent committee hearing offered no description of the organization, while The Birmingham News merely described it as “a Washington DC health think-tank.”

    Other recent media coverage has also given CLI a platform to present scientifically unsupported views on various abortion-related issues. For example, as part of the debate over the Trump administration’s push to end fetal tissue research, outlets such as ABC News, The Hill, and NPR each quoted CLI officials who claimed that fetal tissue research is obsolete or unnecessary when, in fact, such a view is unsupported by the larger scientific community. In another example, The Washington Post allowed CLI President Chuck Donovan to claim that the rate of abortions performed in the United States is declining in part because “pro-life views are more prevalent.” Donovan’s claim is unsupported by the actual research cited in the story.

    Groups like CLI and SBA List often point to media coverage like this as a way of validating their anti-choice viewpoints, further perpetuating the ruse that CLI members are impartial scientific experts worthy of citation. With the anti-abortion movement using this year’s March for Life to allege that “science” supports various anti-choice policies, media outlets have a responsibility to interrogate the qualifications and associations of their sources.

  • Media should avoid these traps in covering this year's March for Life

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & MADELYN WEBB


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The annual anti-abortion March for Life will take place on January 18 this year

    Every year in January, anti-abortion groups and individuals gather in Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life -- a series of events protesting the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion in the United States. This year, the January 18 march will celebrate the theme “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science.” That theme echoes a common argument from anti-abortion groups that “medical and technological advancements continue to reaffirm the science behind the pro-life cause” including “that life begins at fertilization, or day one.”

    Last year, media coverage of the March for Life demonstrated that some outlets were unable to handle the necessary fact-checking or provide the needed context about the extreme history of many anti-abortion groups, the deceptive science behind many of their claims, and the alleged popularity of anti-abortion policies. This year, media can learn from these mistakes before the annual protest kicks off.

    Three lessons media should learn from the coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    #1 Avoid whitewashing the extremism of anti-abortion groups and spokespeople

    During the 2018 March for Life, there were several examples of outlets whitewashing anti-abortion groups and spokespeople by downplaying these organization’s long histories of extreme rhetoric and activism.

    For example, leading up to the 2018 event, NPR highlighted two anti-abortion leaders -- Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, and Abby Johnson of And Then There Were None. In both reports, NPR failed to provide critical context about these anti-choice activists and the efforts of their organizations to oppose abortion access. In one piece, NPR asked Hawkins to comment on the status of various anti-choice movement priorities but failed to mention her long history of extreme comments about abortion, contraceptives, and more. These comments include her statement that certain forms of birth control should be illegal or are “carcinogenic” or “abortion-inducing,” as well as her claim that being an "abortion abolitionist" is "just like the slavery abolitionists." Similarly, NPR’s profile of Johnson and her organization focused on the group’s effort to “persuade as many [abortion clinic] workers as possible to leave the field.” Although NPR did note that the circumstances of Johnson’s departure from her own job at a clinic have been disputed by Planned Parenthood, the outlet did not substantively explain the details, which suggest there’s more to Johnson’s “conversion” story than meets the eye. NPR also didn’t explore the full spectrum of misinformation that Johnson regularly spreads about her former employer -- including the inaccurate claim that Planned Parenthood performs abortions on people who aren’t pregnant.

    Johnson is scheduled to speak during this year’s March for Life rally -- giving outlets ample opportunity to fact-check her inaccurate claims. In addition to Johnson, outlets must also avoid downplaying the extremism of other right-wing media and anti-abortion figures scheduled to speak during the event. These figures include Fox News commentator Alveda King and The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, who will be recording an episode of his podcast before speaking at the rally on January 18.

    #2 Prevent anti-abortion groups from promoting junk science and unqualified “experts” to support anti-abortion policies

    During last year’s March for Life, outlets legitimized the false narrative of scientific support for anti-abortion policies by repeating unsubstantiated claims and manipulative terminology and by promoting so-called “scientific experts” without disclosing their ties to anti-choice organizations. For example, The Atlantic published an article the day before the 2018 March for Life quoting several representatives of the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) without noting that the group was founded by the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) specifically to produce research supporting the anti-choice movement. Perhaps more concerning than CLI’s origins, the group is still operated as part of SBA List -- filing federal 990 tax forms as “The Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund.” The Atlantic’s failure to identify CLI’s ties to the wider anti-abortion movement earned the outlet a place in Rewire.News’ 2018 “Hall of Shame” for inaccurate or deceptive reporting on reproductive rights. Other outlets such as CNN and The Birmingham News have also made the mistake of either downplaying or omitting CLI’s affiliations when citing the anti-abortion group in reporting.

    Beyond failing to identify CLI’s anti-abortion affiliations in reporting, outlets have also continued to reiterate anti-abortion talking points and signal-boost partisan science. In March, The Associated Press published an article that repeated the discredited claim that there is a pathological link between having an abortion and developing “depression, anxiety and sleeping disorders.” In April, The Washington Post reported on a study that purported to show the effectiveness of a junk science anti-abortion procedure referred to as “abortion pill reversal,” but the journal that published the study was later forced to withdraw it after widely reported methodological concerns.

    The consequences of allowing anti-abortion junk science to go unchecked can already be seen in several states’ anti-choice laws. The unscientific concept of fetal pain was influential in passing an anti-abortion bill in Missouri, even though many medical experts have disputed the validity of the studies and claims used to support such laws. In other states like Ohio and Iowa, anti-abortion lawmakers are promoting bans on abortion as early as six weeks (before many people know they’re pregnant), on the grounds that abortion should be illegal if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat. Already in 2019, Kentucky lawmakers have proposed a similar ban -- despite previous arguments from doctors that such policies actually do more harm than good.

    Given the theme of this year’s march, media have a responsibility to accurately report on reproductive science and not to elevate pseudoscientific talking points from anti-abortion organizations without providing necessary context and pushback. In particular, media should:

    • Avoid using, or letting guests use, the phrase “partial-birth abortion,” which is not a medical term. Anti-abortion groups, in fact, invented the term to inspire shame and stigma. In reality, the term and the nonexistent medical practices to which it refers are a favorite right-wing and anti-choice media talking point when attacking access to later abortions.
    • Be skeptical of claims about so-called “post-abortion syndrome.” Although right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have long claimed that people experience regret or develop depression after having an abortion, the supposed evidence supporting such claims has been consistently refuted.
    • Provide ample context about the lack of evidence supporting so-called “abortion pill reversal,” an anti-choice medical procedure which supposedly allows a patient to reverse an abortion induced via pill. This procedure has been largely discredited as junk science, with one of the major studies supporting it having been pulled from a medical journal after ethical concerns were raised.
    • Identify and disclose the affiliations of Charlotte Lozier Institute’s “associate scholars” and staff. Given the theme of this year’s march, CLI will likely play a prominent role in promoting anti-abortion talking points and misinformation. Media have a responsibility to identify these so-called experts’ affiliation with an organization that has an explicit mission statement to eliminate “the scourges of abortion.” 

    #3 Avoid signal-boosting misinformation about the alleged popularity of anti-abortion policies and positions

    During the 2018 March for Life, several outlets spread misinformation about the American public’s alleged support for anti-abortion policies by sharing polling data without proper context or analysis. For example, in an article about the anti-abortion policies promoted by President Donald Trump’s administration, Politico shared a poll commissioned by the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus to support the anti-choice argument that Americans want greater restrictions on abortion access. However, as MSNBC’s Irin Carmon has previous explained of the Knights of Columbus poll, a simple shift in phrasing or question style could substantially alter the findings:

    You could ask Americans if they want Roe v. Wade overturned, as the Pew Research Center did in 2013, and learn that 63 percent want to see it stand. Or you could ask Americans to choose between two vague statements, like the recent poll the Marist Institute for Public Opinion conducted for the Knights of Columbus, a group that opposes abortion. Asked to pick between “it is possible to have laws which protect both the health and well-being of a woman and the life of the unborn; or two, it is necessary for laws to choose to protect one and not the other,” 77 percent said it was possible to do everything. The policy implications of the first statement are unclear.

    Further examining this phenomenon, Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained that “the public has diverse views on abortion” that cannot neatly be categorized or assessed. In another piece for Vox, Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at a public-opinion research firm, thoroughly explored how much of “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” For example, Undem wrote, even those “who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases” when polled about the legality of abortion expressed a higher level of support for abortion access when questioned about their “‘real life’ views on the issue”:

    Among people who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases, 71 percent said they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion, 69 percent said they want the experience of having an abortion to be nonjudgmental, 66 percent said they want the experience to be supportive, 64 percent want the experience to be affordable, and 59 percent want the experience to be without added burdens.

    Additional polling by Undem’s firm, PerryUndem, has also found that most people believe that the decision to have an abortion should be made by a patient and their doctor (and, to a lesser extent, the larger medical community) -- and not by politicians.

    There will be no shortage of claims during this year’s March for Life about the supposed popularity of anti-abortion positions. Given the theme of this year’s march, media should be prepared to provide audiences with the necessary context about polls, organizations, and anti-abortion media personalities included in their reporting about the march. Media must avoid oversimplifying public opinion polling or repeating inaccurate talking points in ways that uplift anti-choice misinformation.

  • Social Security official: Married working mothers hurt society, condoms rob women of “remarkable chemicals” in semen

    Robert W. Patterson also suggested that homosexuality is a mental disorder and sexual orientation can be forcibly changed

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Before joining President Donald Trump's administration, right-wing commentator Robert W. Patterson argued against contraceptives because “condom use robs” women of the “remarkable chemicals” in semen; said married women in the workplace have undermined society; and suggested that homosexuality is a mental disorder and sexual orientation can be forcibly changed.

    Patterson is now the acting associate commissioner at the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of Strategic and Digital Communications. He has avoided scrutiny despite working in the administration since spring 2017. A notice about his hiring on the SSA's website touted Patterson's "wealth of experience in communications and public engagement," including "as a policy expert, professor and op-ed contributor." 

    Patterson also worked in former President George W. Bush’s administration, ran for Congress in New Jersey as a Republican, and wrote for such publications as Breitbart News, Washington Examiner, and National Review. He previously edited The Family in America, a conservative journal dedicated to “subjects ranging from a family-centered Farm Bill to a reevaluation of Friedan-style feminism, and from the continued ill effects of divorce and family breakdown to the positive effects of marriage and child-bearing.”

    Patterson’s work with The Family in America led to his resignation as a special assistant in Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare in January 2012. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported at the time that Patterson weighed in on “what he described as a woman's ideal role in society: married and at home raising children.” He also “wrote about research that he said showed that if women wanted to find ‘Mr. Right,’ they should shun birth control pills; and if they wanted to improve their mood, they should not insist that their men wear condoms lest they miss out on beneficial chemicals found in semen.” The Inquirer explained of Patterson's views:

    In last year's spring issue of the journal, Patterson co-authored a piece summarizing and reviewing recent studies related to families.

    Among them: a recent study suggesting condom use robs a woman of "remarkable" chemicals found in semen that have been shown to elevate mood and self-esteem.

    What's more, the study found that "semen-exposed women" perform better on concentration and cognitive tasks, Patterson reported.

    He also referenced a 2004 study that suggested birth-control pills weakened a woman's "natural sense of attraction to men who would be a good biological match and enable her to conceive easily and bear healthy children."

    After the paper asked the Pennsylvania state government about “Patterson's side job as editor,” he resigned and then-Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s “administration swiftly distanced itself from the views expressed in the journal he edits.” The Inquirer later reported: “Department officials said Patterson had decided to resign because he had been denied his request to remain the editor of the Family in America journal while working for the state.” (Patterson defended himself at the time by claiming “that The Inquirer distorted his views, and that his writings cited respected studies published elsewhere.”)

    The SSA did not respond to a request for comment.

    Media Matters recently examined Patterson’s writings and found additional sexist commentary about married women in the workplace along with anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

    Patterson complained that the government “has facilitated the movement of mothers out of the home economy and into the market economy, undermining the family as an economic unit, marriage as a lifelong partnership, and the well-being of children.” Patterson wrote a 2011 Washington Examiner op-ed (which is no longer available on its website) that complained about mothers in the workforce:  

    Congress incentivized family breakup by creating a child-support system that virtually guarantees divorcing mothers and their children an income stream without requiring those women, who initiate two-thirds of marital disruptions, to demonstrate any wrongdoing on the part of the father.

    All this needs to go. As does another policy monstrosity of the 1970s: sex-based affirmative action that favors not just women over men in the workplace but the privileged career woman over the homemaker-wife who depends on her breadwinning husband. According to a 2007 Pew Research Center study, this blatant rent-seeking has resulted in employment patterns that neither American men nor women consider ideal.

    Most important, the workplace bias that Uncle Sam sanctions, in collusion with big business, has facilitated the movement of mothers out of the home economy and into the market economy, undermining the family as an economic unit, marriage as a lifelong partnership, and the well-being of children.

    Moreover, by advantaging young women over their male counterparts, affirmative action has disrupted the marriage market and helped lead to dramatic increases in cohabitation and single households.

    Patterson has worked for two virulently anti-LGBTQ organizations. Patterson has worked for extreme anti-LGBTQ groups Family Research Council (FRC) and the International Organization for the Family (formerly The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society).

    He worked for FRC from 1998-2002, serving as its senior director of publications and the editor of its Family Policy journal. FRC is an influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group that has tried to prevent equal rights for LGBTQ individuals.

    During Patterson’s time at FRC, the group’s website stated that it “believes that homosexuality is unhealthy, immoral and destructive to individuals, families and societies. Compassion — not bigotry — impels us to support healing for homosexuals who want to change their orientation. FRC opposes any attempts to equate homosexuality with civil rights or to compare it to benign characteristics such as skin color or place of origin.”

    One issue of Family Policy that Patterson edited included a piece by Frank York and Robert Knight arguing that “parents, teachers, social workers, and clergy need to challenge the nonsense set forth by homosexual activists that homosexuality is simply an alternative lifestyle or a harmless diversion. They need to view homosexuality in a more realistic fashion, seeing it for what it really is: a life-controlling addiction like smoking or drug abuse.” In a section about “available resources,” the Patterson-edited issue also recommends conversion therapy, a dangerous and discredited practice that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ individuals. 

    FRC’s website today still states that the organization “believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed.”

    Patterson was also the editor of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society’s The Family in America journal from 2009-2012. In 2016, the organization retooled and became the International Organization for the Family (IOF).

    The Howard Center was openly anti-LGBTQ. A statement from its 2011 website read: “The complementary natures of men and women are physically and psychologically self-evident. These differences are created and natural, not primarily socially constructed. Sexuality is ordered for the procreation of children and the expression of love between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman forms the sole moral context for natural sexual union. Whether through pornography, promiscuity, incest or homosexuality, deviations from these created sexual norms cannot truly satisfy the human spirit. They lead to obsession, remorse, alienation, and disease.”

    Patterson criticized the American Psychiatric Association for removing “homosexuality … from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” and pushed false and dangerous propaganda that sexual orientation can be forcibly changed. Patterson co-wrote in a 2010 piece for The Family in America: “When homosexuality was deleted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association was motivated not by the scientific evidence but by a therapeutic desire to weaken prevailing social attitudes that allegedly damage the self-esteem of homosexuals. Consequently, much of the discussion of homosexuality by public-health officials and professional associations ignores the large body of empirical literature that casts homosexual behavior in an unfavorable light.”

    Patterson then cited purported research from the discredited anti-LGBTQ and conversion therapy advocacy group National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH; the group has since been folded into The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity), which concluded, “Homosexuality is not innate, immutable, or without significant risk to the medical, psychological, and relational health,” adding:

    The review of 600 reports and studies contains three review essays, two of which refute claims of the American Psychological Association that sexual orientation is fixed and that attempts to change it can be harmful. The third review finds that the literature demonstrates, contrary to another claim of the APA, that “problematic behaviors and psychological dysfunctions are experienced among homosexuals at about three times the prevalence found in the general population—and sometimes much more.”

    In contrast to the junk science cited by Patterson, major medical associations have rejected and discredited conversion therapy and stated that gender identity and sexuality cannot be forcibly changed. Further, such organizations have concluded that conversion therapy leads to dangerous consequences, including suicidal ideation. 

    Patterson said same-sex marriage goes against “nature, history, and reason.” Patterson wrote for National Review in 2009: “Because it predates society and the state, wedlock actually creates, builds, and renews society. Same-sex marriage — a construct that depends on the state for its very existence — can never duplicate these functions. Of course, insisting that marriage law should reflect what nature, history, and reason affirm risks offending not so much homosexuals as cultural elites who care little about America.”

    Patterson: “Gay marriage, like all the liberal ideas of the 1970s--including no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, cohabitation, and daycare--does not and cannot serve the common good.” Patterson complained about same-sex marriage in a 2004 piece for Human Events Online (which is no longer available on its website):  

    [The] communal dimension is virtually nonexistent when it comes to same-sex relationships, evidence that such relationships should never be deemed equivalent to, or even an alternative to, marriage. Unlike marriage, same-sex relationships are static, self-focused, and center almost exclusively on what the relationship delivers for the two partners, not what it represents to the supportive families or to society. Does a homosexual partner even solicit the blessing of his prospective partner's family? Do his aunts and uncles travel cross-country to celebrate the occasion? Who are the third parties to these pairings? Rarely conducted in a community setting like a church or synagogue, these new-fangled arrangements are essentially private affairs with no organic ties to anything. Ironically, this private identity is praised by advocates like Andrew Sullivan who assert that gay marriage can't possibly impact the traditional marriages of others because it concerns only the two persons involved.

    What this comes down to should be obvious: Gay marriage, like all the liberal ideas of the 1970s--including no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, cohabitation, and daycare--does not and cannot serve the common good. When elected officials, like the minister in a wedding ceremony, ask whether the public objects to what is being proposed in Massachusetts and San Francisco, the American people need to rise up and speak their minds for the sake of the children, for the sake of women, and for the sake of the Republic.