Watch Anderson Cooper challenge Roy Moore's spokesperson to defend his past comments about "radical homosexuals," 9/11, and Obama birtherism
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After reports surfaced that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted and harassed several teenagers when he was in his 30s, right-wing media outlets rushed to characterize Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones as supporting “partial-birth” abortions, abortions up to the moment of birth, or so-called “late-term” abortions. Other outlets have adopted the right-wing media spin, claiming Jones is too “extreme” for Alabama voters.
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On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson fearmongered about a reproductive rights case that the Supreme Court just decided to hear -- signaling the start of another right-wing misinformation campaign about abortion.
On November 13, the Supreme Court agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case that involves a California statute called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. Under California's FACT Act, licensed crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- which are anti-abortion organizations that represent themselves as reproductive care clinics -- are required to display a notice at their facility and in advertising materials which states, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women,” and directs people to call a number to determine if they qualify for such services. CPCs not licensed by the state of California are also required to post a notice stating that they are “not licensed as a medical facility” and that they have “no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.” The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) -- which represents both licensed and unlicensed CPCs in California -- challenged the law as a violation of CPCs' free speech rights to not promote abortion or contraceptives. The lower courts ruled in favor of upholding the state law and the case is now before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s last major abortion case -- Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- involved a Texas law that placed, under the guise of supposedly protecting women’s health, medically unnecessary requirements on facilities that perform abortions. The Supreme Court ultimately found that the law created an undue burden on abortion access. While some outlets reported on the law’s substantial harmful effects after it caused many abortion facilities in Texas to close, right-wing outlets ignored its impact to push a myth that the measure was necessary to protect the health of those accessing abortion in the state.
During a November 15 segment on the NIFLA v. Becerra case, Carlson defined California’s FACT Act as an attack on CPCs' freedom of speech -- rather than as a necessary restriction because many centers utilize deceptive tactics or medical misinformation to dissuade patients from having an abortion. During the segment, Carlson mischaracterized the law as “forcing” CPCs “to provide information on how to get a state-subsidized abortion” and said that it “would force pro-life centers to literally advertise and tell people who come in, ‘Hey, there is a free abortion waiting for you if you want one.’” Carlson also incorrectly implied that CPCs should not be regulated because they are “not hurting anybody.” Classifying facilities that offer abortion as part of “an industry,” Carlson said that the law “is really about an industry trying to shut down its opponents,” ultimately concluding that pro-choice advocates “worship” abortion “like a God.”
Despite much grandstanding, Carlson failed to accurately describe either the factual basis of the California law or the nature of the lawsuit. (Carlson has a history of failing to accurately address abortion issues throughout his tenure as a prime-time Fox News host.) While Carlson described CPCs as “not hurting anybody,” they actually use multiple deceptive tactics to convince individuals to utilize their services, ultimately dissuading many considering abortion. A yearlong investigation by Cosmopolitan found CPCs “increasingly look just like doctor’s offices with ultrasound rooms and staff in scrubs. Yet they do not provide or refer for contraception or abortion. Many pregnancy-center counselors, even those who provide medical information, are not licensed.”
As Teen Vogue reported, some CPCs also lie about state restrictions that prohibit abortion past a certain week of pregnancy and about the risks of abortions -- including making inaccurate claims that abortion makes a person infertile or causes breast cancer. Some CPCs also lie before people even get in the door -- posing as comprehensive reproductive care clinics or suggesting in their advertising that they offer abortion services or contraceptives, when in reality many CPCs provide neither. Some CPCs also receive direct funding from states. For example, Texas awarded a $1.6 million contract in 2016 to The Heidi Group, an organization led by anti-abortion extremist Carol Everett, for the purpose of providing low-income reproductive health services. Earlier this year, the Heidi Group was found to have failed to deliver on any of its proposals. On the federal level, Rewire found that the Trump administration has awarded “at least $3.1 million … to religiously affiliated organizations and crisis pregnancy centers.”
Similarly, while Carlson decried the FACT Act as an attack on free speech, anti-abortion proponents have long pushed the so-called “informed” consent laws that often require medical providers to lie to patients about the risks of abortion, or provide them information with no basis in science, such as the viability of “abortion reversal” methods. Many have noted that if the Supreme Court's decision falls in favor of CPCs on free speech grounds, it could have unintended consequences for such efforts by the anti-choice movement. As Slate’s Dahila Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “If the FACT Act falls ... it would not necessarily be an unmitigated victory for abortion opponents” given the number of deceptive “informed consent” laws that various states have already passed.
Although the Supreme Court just agreed to hear NIFLA v. Becerra, Carlson’s segment demonstrates that right-wing media are already gearing up to push misinformation about the case and support CPCs' efforts to block abortion access.
Media Matters’ Sharon Kann explained how Facebook’s algorithm spreads lies about abortion
Freelance columnist Rossalyn Warren wrote in a November 10 New York Times op-ed that Facebook’s attempt to limit the spread of fake news on its platform has ignored the widespread dissemination of anti-choice misinformation on its platform.
On October 31, executives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter testified before a subcommitte of the Senate Judiciary Committee about their platforms being used to spread fake news before the 2016 presidential election. Warren explained in her article that so far, Facebook has focused on “politics and Russian interference” around the election while addressing the fake news issue and has ignored “the vast amount of misinformation and unevidenced stories about reproductive rights, science and health” on its platform. She gave the example of an article from fake news purveyor Mad World News that incorrectly claimed that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton supports so-called “partial-birth” abortions -- a phrase coined by anti-abortion groups that has no scientific basis. Warren wrote that in spite of these inaccuracies, the article was “the most-shared article about abortion on Facebook” with “at least 1.1 million” engagements on the platform.
According to Warren, articles from anti-abortion site LifeNews.com were also some of the most-shared articles about abortion on Facebook last year. For her piece, Warren spoke with Media Matters’ Sharon Kann, who said stories from LifeNews “often generate more engagement than the content produced by mainstream news organizations.” Kann also told Warren that Facebook users engage disproportionately more with anti-abortion content than abortion-rights content. This results in more views for the anti-abortion content “as a result of the company’s algorithms.”
Warren also explained that “there are several human and technical barriers that prevent misinformation about reproductive rights from being identified, checked and removed at the same — already slow — rate as other misleading stories.” Anti-abortion sites “do not mimic real publications, and they publish pieces on real events alongside factually incorrect or thinly sourced stories, which helps blur the line between what’s considered a news blog and ‘fake news.’” In addition, Facebook claims that “most false news is financially motivated,” but, as Warren writes, “the incentive for the people who write content for anti-abortion news sites and Facebook pages is ideological, not financial.”
From The New York Times:
Last year, just weeks before the election, an article from a site called Mad World News began circulating around Facebook. The headline read “Before Applauding Hillary’s Abortion Remarks, Know the One Fact She Ignored.”
In the article, the writer says she wants to expose Hillary Clinton’s lies about late-term abortions. She argues that a baby never needs to be aborted to save a mother’s life but doesn’t cite any sources or studies, and presents anecdotes and opinion as fact. Midway through the story, she shares an illustration of what she calls a “Partial-Birth Procedure” — a procedure banned in the United States. In it, she describes how a doctor “jams scissors into the baby’s skull” and how “the child’s brains are sucked out.”
“Don’t let these lies kill another child in such a horrific manner,” she says, concluding the piece. The article was engaged with at least 1.1 million times, making it the most-shared article about abortion on Facebook last year, according to BuzzSumo, a company that tracks social sharing.
So far, Facebook and the public have focused almost solely on politics and Russian interference in the United States election. What they haven’t addressed is the vast amount of misinformation and unevidenced stories about reproductive rights, science and health.
Evidence-based, credible articles about abortion from reputable news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post didn’t make it to the top of the list of “most shared” articles on Facebook last year, according to BuzzSumo. But articles from the site LifeNews.com did.
LifeNews, which has just under one million followers on Facebook, is one of several large anti-abortion sites that can command hundreds of thousands of views on a single post. These sites produce vast amounts of misinformation; the Facebook page for the organization Live Action, for instance, has two million Facebook followers and posts videos claiming there’s a correlation between abortion and breast cancer. And their stories often generate more engagement than the content produced by mainstream news organizations, said Sharon Kann, the program director for abortion rights and reproductive health at Media Matters, a watchdog group. People on Facebook engage with anti-abortion content more than abortion-rights content at a “disproportionate rate,” she said, which, as a result of the company’s algorithms, means more people see it.
There are several human and technical barriers that prevent misinformation about reproductive rights from being identified, checked and removed at the same — already slow — rate as other misleading stories.
First, the question of what’s considered a “fake news” site is not always black and white. Facebook says it has been tackling the sources of fake news by eliminating the ability to “spoof” domains and by deleting Facebook pages linked to spam activity. … But anti-abortion sites are different. They do not mimic real publications, and they publish pieces on real events alongside factually incorrect or thinly sourced stories, which helps blur the line between what’s considered a news blog and “fake news.”
Second, Facebook says one of its key aims in tackling fake news is to remove the profit incentive, because it says “most false news is financially motivated.”
However, the incentive for the people who write content for anti-abortion news sites and Facebook pages is ideological, not financial. Anti-abortion, anti-science content isn’t being written by spammers hoping to make money, but by ordinary people who are driven by religious or political beliefs. Their aim isn’t to profit from ads. It’s to convince readers of their viewpoint: that abortion is morally wrong, that autism is caused by vaccines or that climate change isn’t real.
Simply put, without increased pressure, Facebook’s technical efforts and its human efforts, like fact-checkers’ trawling through flagged content, make it likely that the company, in the months to come, will be seeking out only the “obvious” flags of fake news stories and not the misinformation that is fueled by real people with no financial incentive. That is why those of us who are concerned by the misinformation around reproductive rights need to make ourselves heard.
On October 30, Fox News’ Shannon Bream debuted the evening program Fox News @ Night. The show was new, but one thing stayed the same: Bream’s commitment to misinforming about abortion.
As Mic noted, Bream’s program represents a “departure from a longtime tradition” of playing reruns of other “popular primetime shows” during the 11 p.m. hour. Bream herself has attempted to brand her program as “straight news, not opinion” and claimed the program “will be straight down the middle.” In reality, Bream has a long history of presenting misleading reporting about a number of reproductive rights topics -- and if the first episode of Fox News @ Night is any indication, having her own program won’t change anything.
For example, long after the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood were discredited, Bream gave CMP founder David Daleiden an unchallenged platform to push misinformation. Before that, Bream had played frequent validator for CMP’s claims -- going so far as to anchor a Fox News special on its content, titled Planned Parenthood: The Hidden Harvest. Beyond her emphasis on CMP’s inaccurate contentions, Bream also has a tendency to cite polls commissioned by anti-choice groups to suggest a lack of public support for abortion access.
In back-to-back segments during the October 30 edition, Bream also hosted NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to discuss a recent case involving the Trump administration’s denial of an abortion to an undocumented minor being held in federal custody. According to BuzzFeed, the minor (referred to as Jane Doe) did not ask for “the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation” -- in fact, as Politico reported, she had already “obtained the money” for the procedure. Nevertheless, Fox News’ coverage of the case has focused on a made-up idea that taxpayers should be outraged about the possibility of funding abortions for undocumented immigrants like Doe -- an offshoot of the debunked, but oft-repeated, right-wing myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded abortion.” (In fact, no taxpayer money may go to abortions under the Hyde Amendment.)
During the first segment, Bream not only pressed Hogue on a series of anti-choice talking points about the case (including the myth of taxpayer-funded abortion), but also directly channeled the concerns of anti-abortion groups. In one instance, after Hogue noted that opponents of Doe’s abortion want to “put Roe [v. Wade] on trial through this case,” Bream interjected that what she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups is they were worried this is Roe v. Wade 2.0.” Bream continued that these anti-abortion groups were concerned that Doe’s case was “not just about abortion, but it’s now encouraging -- they think -- in some ways, people coming here from other countries where maybe they can’t get an abortion.”
Bream’s comment about having “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” is unsurprising. In but one example, the afternoon before Bream’s program debuted, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, tweeted that Bream is a “friend” and that she “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.”
— MarjorieDannenfelser (@marjoriesba) October 30, 2017
The Fox prime-time lineup has seen a lot of change over the past year. Following the ouster of Bill O’Reilly for numerous reports of sexual harassment (and more recent news of further settlements still), the network was forced to make changes to its evening talent. As a result, white nationalist golden boy and serial anti-abortion misinformer Tucker Carlson scored a prime-time spot -- a platform he has used to host anti-abortion activists and present their allegations in a way that appeals to his extremist base. In September, after Fox was forced to fire prime-time host Eric Bolling (again for reports of sexual harassment), the network announced Fox News @ Night, hosted by Bream at 11 p.m., and another program, The Ingraham Angle, hosted by longtime contributor Laura Ingraham (who has her own history of spreading misinformation about abortion).
As Variety reported, Fox executives are hopeful that the addition of Ingraham and Bream will finally “cap a flurry of schedule changes” that audiences have endured over the past year. And although Bream has pitched her show as one that “will focus heavily on politics and events in Washington” -- a choice that one media professor told Variety will offer viewers “news, not more punditry” -- audiences shouldn’t be fooled.
If the chyron previewing the abortion-related segment during the October 30 premier is any indication, Bream’s coverage of reproductive rights topics will be more of the same Fox News xenophobia and bluster:
Media widely covered the case of an undocumented minor whom the Trump administration tried to stop from having an abortion this month. While Fox News focused on a made-up story that taxpayers are funding abortions of illegal immigrants, several other news outlets provided comprehensive coverage about the implications of the case, thus identifying key facets of the Trump administration’s extreme push against the right to an abortion.
On October 18, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow abortion access to an undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who is being held in federal custody in Texas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had argued that the government was not impeding Doe’s access to an abortion because, as Mother Jones reported, she was “free to return to her home country for the procedure.” But the DOJ appealed the ruling to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which eventually ruled on October 24 that the government could not stop Doe from having an abortion. On October 25, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that Doe had successfully obtained an abortion.
Doe was forced to jump through all of these legal hoops because, according to the ACLU, the Trump administration made a policy change in March 2017 that shelters could not take facilitate abortion access for minors in their care without “direction and approval” from the director of ORR, Scott Lloyd. The ACLU originally filed this lawsuit as a class action for all Jane Does in ORR’s custody who are seeking an abortion, and further litigation for the class is currently pending.
Before the appeals court’s October 24 ruling, Vice News’ Antonia Hylton obtained an exclusive interview with Doe in which she emphasized her certainty about the decision to have an abortion.
Beyond Vice News' interview, several media outlets highlighted crucial details of Doe’s case that will likely shape the course of abortion access as the Trump administration’s policies continue to follow an increasingly extreme trajectory. Here are four important points that media made about the case:
Trump’s HHS is full of anti-abortion extremists like Charmaine Yoest, Teresa Manning, and Valerie Huber. But Doe’s case exposed another anti-abortion personality in the agency -- one who has direct control over the lives of pregnant minors in custody who may seek an abortion.
During the October 20 edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow detailed the ways Scott Lloyd, the director of ORR, is pushing his anti-abortion agenda onto undocumented minors. According to Maddow, Lloyd “has argued forcefully” that anti-choice groups should not just focus on making abortion illegal in the U.S., but also on opposing the use of contraceptives. Maddow additionally pointed to allegations in Doe’s lawsuit that Lloyd “directed employees underneath him in his agency to tell girls’ parents about their pregnancies against the girls’ will" and that he had "directed federal employees to physically take girls to Christian counseling centers in Texas, so anti-abortion activists at those counseling centers could try to talk them out of having abortions.” Maddow concluded that Doe’s access to a doctor was “being blocked by an anti-abortion activist who somehow got this job that gave him the kind of personal individual control over women’s lives and bodies that he previously could have only dreamed about as an anti-abortion activist.”
As Univision News’ Fernando Peinado further explained, Lloyd’s appointment to ORR “surprised many immigration activists and lawyers” since he has “little experience in immigration.” Peinado stated that Lloyd’s previous experience with refugees “was during his work as chief policy coordinator for the Knights of Columbus” -- a self-identified pro-life group that is popular with right-wing media -- where Lloyd worked with “Christian refugees and other minorities persecuted by the Islamic State in the Middle East.”
BuzzFeed News’ Ema O’Connor linked Lloyd’s current actions with previous writings in which he said that access to contraceptives increases abortion rates; in reality, the opposite is true. Lloyd declared in an article for the National Catholic Register that “American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does.” Lloyd also rejected the idea of funding from the Title X family planning program supporting access to contraceptives because he argued that the “truckloads of condoms” purchased would fail and lead to more abortions.
Rewire immigration reporter Tina Vasquez reported that the anti-abortion agenda being promoted via the United States' immigration system didn’t start with the Trump administration; in fact, anti-abortion policies of the George W. Bush administration contributed to HHS’ current ability to deny abortion access to undocumented minors. Vasquez talked to Susan Hays, the legal director of a nonprofit called Jane’s Due Process that provides legal services in Texas to pregnant minors. Hays stated:
Under Bush, social workers working with minors [in ORR shelters] could make legal decisions because the shelters had legal custody of the minors. But after two social workers helped an unaccompanied immigrant minor obtain an abortion, it really upset the Catholic-run shelter where they were employed and where the child was housed. … In response, Bush changed who has custody of minors.
The change gave ORR legal custody of unaccompanied minors who cross the border. In March 2017, the Trump administration tweaked this policy to require minors to get the specific consent of the ORR director, leaving them subject to Lloyd’s rabid anti-abortion agenda. Vasquez noted that advocates say Doe’s case is a “harbinger of the ‘anti-choice fanaticism’ working its way into the immigration system since Trump’s presidential inauguration.”
The Trump administration recently made a sweeping change to the federal contraception mandate that enabled practically any business to claim either a religious or moral exception to providing contraceptives to its employees. Such actions suggest that the Trump administration will place the objectives of religious groups above the choices -- and constitutional rights -- of Americans.
As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explained, the government’s obstruction of Doe’s planned abortion happened “because the federal government now believes it has a right to promulgate its own quasi-religious viewpoint” and to change “the law to subordinate [Doe’s] choices to government power.”
According to Lithwick, lawyers for the DOJ relied on “a very sweeping view of facilitation” in their argument that they shouldn’t have to “facilitate” the abortion by saying they would be required to offer her post-procedure medical support -- the most elementary of obligations for a government to perform. Lithwick likens the argument to “claims we’ve been hearing in courts from religious objectors for years.” These religious objectors include the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby, who did not want to “facilitate” the coverage of birth control for their employees, or those arguing against federal funding for Planned Parenthood because of the inaccurate claim that “money is fungible” and thus taxpayers will be paying for abortions.
The Trump administration’s use of religion to delay an abortion for Jane Doe caused her unnecessary anguish. As The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan reported, “By delaying her abortion, they subjected her to increased medical risks, dramatically increased costs, and the general physical discomfort of pregnancy for much longer than necessary. The mechanisms behind this fight are nothing but cruel.”
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern used Doe’s case to explain the reality of a future without Roe v. Wade, which then-candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail he would try to overturn. Stern wrote, “If Roe goes, there will be thousands more Jane Does—detained women who would be denied access to abortion by their government. It is these detainees, then, who are on the front line of the abortion battle. That’s because it is their pregnancies that the state can most easily control.”
Stern also highlighted the impact such precedent would have on another vulnerable community in the United States -- the incarcerated -- who are already sometimes denied abortions in federal and state prisons. As Stern explained, the process for getting a court order to have an abortion for someone in prison “is onerous and time-consuming, and officials can drag it out until the pregnancy is viable, rendering an abortion illegal.” Post-Roe, “without a constitutional right to abortion, all women in custody could be forced to carry pregnancies they do not want—then have their children taken away from them while they serve out their sentences or face deportation.”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson and guest Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America (SFLA), on Wednesday repeated the right-wing myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded abortion,” alleging that a recent judicial ruling requires taxpayers to pay for abortions for undocumented immigrants.
On October 18, a federal judge in Texas ordered the Trump administration to quit barring abortion access for an undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who is being held in federal custody in the state by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement. During the hearing, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) argued that the government was not impeding Jane Doe’s access to an abortion because she was “free to return to her home country for the procedure." Judge Tanya Chutkan said she was “astounded” by DOJ’s argument. “She can leave the country or not get her abortion. That’s your position,” she replied. On October 19, the DOJ appealed the ruling, and a federal appeals court in D.C. announced that it would hear oral arguments on October 20. The D.C. court also issued an administrative stay temporarily blocking the teen from having an abortion.
Rather than discuss the facts of the case, on October 18, Carlson hosted Hawkins to repeatedly lie that the ruling would require taxpayers to fund abortions for undocumented immigrants. Carlson claimed, “Liberals are arguing that U.S. taxpayers somehow have an obligation to fund abortions for illegal aliens.” Hawkins agreed, stating that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) -- which argued the case on behalf of Jane Doe -- “sees this opportunity, along with their abortion allies, to mandate that taxpayers facilitate her abortion.” She also said that the organization was attempting to claim that the teen has a “constitutional right to have a taxpayer-funded abortion.” Hawkins alleged that the ruling would set a “dangerous precedence” (sic) for other people to “come to the United States illegally or legally” because the country would “fund a taxpayer-funded abortion for you.”
Unfortunately for Carlson, the facts of the case run contrary to his and his guest’s claims. Despite Carlson and Hawkins’ allegations, Jane Doe requires no government support to receive an abortion. According to BuzzFeed News, Jane Doe did not ask for “the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation.” Instead, as Politico reported, Jane Doe “has [already] obtained the money to pay for” the abortion. But rather than acknowledge those facts, Carlson and Hawkins instead joined in the Fox News chorus of xenophobic scare tactics about undocumented immigrants in the United States. Carlson also has a history of advancing anti-choice misinformation, often by hosting anti-abortion leaders.
Beyond Carlson, right-wing media frequently push the myth that taxpayers fund abortions. Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funding for abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is in danger.
During the October 18 segment, Hawkins additionally talked about the importance of having a “pro-life HHS” because “they’re the ones trying to protect this young girl from the ACLU, from Planned Parenthood who are just simply using her.” However, as Rewire’s Tina Vasquez detailed, this so-called protection is actually harmful: She explained that there are numerous allegations of HHS using underhanded tactics to impede access to abortion for Jane Doe and other undocumented immigrants -- often in direct opposition to the individual’s wishes. As Vasquez noted, this interference is so extreme that some advocates have called Jane Doe's case “a harbinger of the ‘anti-choice fanaticism’ working its way into the immigration system since Trump’s presidential inauguration.”
For example, according to the ACLU’s complaint, Jane Doe and other undocumented immigrants have been forced to go to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which employ deceptive tactics and push medical misinformation to dissuade or intimidate individuals from receiving desired abortion care. And unlike abortion providers, CPCs actually can receive taxpayer funding, despite providing little that resembles genuine health care. The ACLU also alleged that Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, “personally contacted” one or more pregnant undocumented minors in order to dissuade them from having abortions. In one related incident, the ACLU found that an undocumented minor was taken to the emergency room after she had taken the first of two pills used in a medical abortion in order “to determine the health status” of the “unborn child” and potentially stop the procedure.
The stark reality is that, as the complaint stated, many of the undocumented pregnant minors who cross the Mexico border have an “acute need” for reproductive health care; studies have shown that many are pregnant as the result of rapes committed in their home countries or during the dangerous journey across the border. But instead of acknowledging that reality, Carlson and Hawkins opted to advance lies about immigrants and abortion access in order to vilify undocumented minors seeking medical care.
In the 2017 New Jersey gubernatorial election, Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno have faced off in one debate so far, and moderators Sade Baderinwa and Jim Gardner did not ask either candidate about their stance on abortion access -- an issue on which both have been inconsistent. This mirrors a larger pattern, as the New Jersey gubernatorial candidates were also not asked about abortion in 2013. Given that many anti-choice restrictions are imposed at the state, rather than the federal level, the moderator of the next debate has a responsibility to ask Murphy and Guadagno about their positions.
The network recently aired Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s repetition of CMP’s “baby body parts” lie
After Twitter briefly prevented Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) Senate campaign from promoting an ad on the platform featuring an “inflammatory” and inaccurate claim about Planned Parenthood, Blackburn made the rounds on Fox News to push the ad’s anti-abortion talking point about “baby body parts,” which came from the discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP). This isn’t anything new: Fox News has a long history of promoting anti-abortion lies from both Blackburn and CMP.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn has a long history of taking cues from anti-abortion groups to gin up right-wing support -- and her latest attack on Twitter is no different
Anti-abortion groups and media outlets have a habit of claiming censorship in order to boost fundraising by ginning up outrage and support. Now this media manipulation tactic is being employed by a staunch anti-choice ally: Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
On October 5, Blackburn announced a run for retiring Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) seat. As part of this announcement, Blackburn’s campaign tweeted a short video advertising her right-wing bonafides, including her work as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which was created to conduct a politically motivated investigation of Planned Parenthood on the basis of deceptive videos from a discredited anti-abortion organization. Although the panel was regarded by many as merely “an expensive witch hunt,” Blackburn touted her role during the campaign video, claiming that she had “fought Planned Parenthood” and “stopped the sale of baby body parts.”
Although Blackburn's campaign wanted to pay to promote the video on Twitter as an ad, the social media site initially objected, drawing widespread outrage among anti-abortion and right-wing outlets. According to an October 10 Associated Press report, Twitter found that Blackburn’s statement about “baby body parts” violated platform rules because it was “‘deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.’” Twitter allowed the video to remain up but not as promoted content, concluding that the campaign “would be allowed to run the rest of the video” as a paid ad if it ommitted the phrase.
This stance did not last long, however. The next day, Twitter reversed its position and announced that it would allow Blackburn’s campaign to promote the ad, commenting to Politico, “While we initially determined that a small portion of the video used potentially inflammatory language, after reconsidering the ad in the context of the entire message, we believe that there is room to refine our policies around these issues.”
Blackburn's campaign quickly seized on Twitter’s refusal as an act of censorship -- taking a page straight from the anti-abortion media playbook.
As Media Matters has previously noted, anti-abortion extremists have increasingly employed the tactic of alleging “censorship” or claiming that inaccurate anti-choice content is being “shut down” to gin up fundraising support and rile up right-wing media allies. By reacting to perceived slights as instances of injustice or censorship, these groups can incite followers, increase fundraising, and appeal to an audience motivated by anti-elite sentiments but normally less attuned to the activities of the anti-abortion movement.
In one example, anti-abortion extremist Lila Rose alleged that Twitter was censoring advertisements from her group Live Action by similarly prohibiting their promotion as sponsored content. After Rose appeared on the June 26 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss Twitter’s alleged bias, a banner was added to Live Action’s home page begging for donations to combat the act of censorship. By June 30, the organization had announced that it had reached its fundraising goal but nevertheless asked supporters to continue donating in order to “guarantee” Live Action could continue working “to expose the abortion industry.” Other anti-abortion organizations and right-wing outlets also came to Live Action’s defense, working to create even more support for claims of censorship and persecution.
Emulating this tactic, the Blackburn campaign was quick to cry foul and turn the perceived slight into a fundraising opportunity. On October 9, the campaign’s Twitter account circulated a video inaccurately alleging that Blackburn was “banned by Twitter” and asking supporters to share the clip in order to “spread the word” that “Silicon Valley won’t stop our conservative movement with censorship.” The account also shared posts from anti-abortion groups and outlets alleging that Blackburn had been censored. The Blackburn campaign even sent an email to supporters asking for donations, warning that the “liberal elite wants to censor us at every opportunity.” Over the next 24 hours, Blackburn appeared multiple times on Fox News to repeat her claims of censorship and enjoyed a surge in media attention from outlets across the political spectrum. Twitter ultimately caved to the pressure and allowed the campaign to run Blackburn’s ad with the allegations against Planned Parenthood intact.
The symbiotic relationship between Blackburn and various anti-abortion groups or media is hardly a secret. During Blackburn’s time as select panel chair, the committee held three hearings that utilized evidence sourced directly from anti-abortion groups as so-called “evidence” of wrongdoing by abortion providers and related organizations. Indeed, several anti-abortion groups, including (but likely not limited to) New Mexico Alliance for Life, Protest ABQ, Operation Rescue, and the Center for Medical Progress provided “documentation and materials” to the select panel. A member of Protest ABQ even bragged about having influence over the panel's investigators, stating that their research "finally paid off and turned into the panel investigating.” In addition to leveraging connections to anti-abortion groups, Blackburn also leaked an advanced copy of allegations from the panel to Fox News -- before sharing it with minority members -- and provided an exclusive interview inaccurately alleging that Planned Parenthood had operated in “direct violation of federal law.”
Blackburn’s deployment of the censorship tactic elides the more fundamental issue with the ad itself: the fact that it was based on a falsehood. Contrary to Blackburn's claim, multiple state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, while the anti-choice activists responsible for the initial “baby parts” allegations are currently the subject of multiple lawsuits.
Blackburn’s campaign took a page out of the anti-abortion playbook to garner a concession from Twitter. And as New York magazine's Margaret Hartmann noted, Blackburn’s success -- despite the falsity of her claims -- “has probably encouraged Republican midterm candidates to throw some unproven, inflammatory statements into the ads.” Indeed, Blackburn has already taken to calling Twitter's reversal "our first Senate conservative victory."
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Candidates in 2013 were asked about abortion. Moderators in 2017 must do the same.
In the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie have faced off in two debates -- neither of which has included a question about their positions on abortion. On October 9, Northman and Gillespie will participate in a third debate, moderated by NBC affiliate WCYB anchor Paul Johnson and featuring reporter Carmen Forman as a panelist. Given Gillespie’s known extremism on abortion and reproductive rights, Johnson and Forman have a responsibility to ask both candidates about their views on the issue.
The U.S. House of Representatives has promised an October 3 vote on a 20-week abortion ban -- misleadingly named the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act -- that is based on junk science and a longstanding right-wing media myth that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks in a pregnancy. In reporting on the vote, media have an obligation to include scientifically accurate information about abortion including 20-week abortion bans at the state level, how a ban is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, and the personal or medical decisions behind having an abortion after 20 weeks.