Kristan Hawkins | Media Matters for America

Kristan Hawkins

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  • 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.

  • Abortion opponents celebrate Kavanaugh’s confirmation as their chance to end Roe v. Wade

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, anti-abortion advocates stopped downplaying the newest justice’s stance on abortion rights. Instead, once Kavanaugh had secured the necessary votes in the Senate, abortion opponents celebrated his confirmation as an opportunity to end Roe v. Wade once and for all.

    On October 6, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court despite multiple credible reports that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault when he was in high school and college. In order to generate support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, some right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates argued that Kavanaugh would not pose a threat to Roe or abortion rights in general. This was belied by Kavanaugh’s record on abortion access and comments about Roe and contraception before and during his confirmation hearing.

    After his confirmation, abortion opponents dropped this pretense and celebrated Kavanaugh for what he always was: the culmination of years of work by conservative and anti-abortion activists to reverse Roe. Here are some examples:

    Anti-abortion advocates celebrated the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List and frequent White House guest, tweeted in celebration that “Beautiful change is afoot. The wheels are turning.” During the confirmation process, Dannenfelser tweeted in support of Kavanaugh following reports that he had previously committed sexual assault, saying that the anti-abortion movement was not going to “help destroy a man” as part of a “PR image” to appear “pro woman.”
    • Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said in a press release, “For the first time in decades, this nomination -- his nomination -- brought with it the reality of returning to a truly constitutionalist court. Many on the Left couldn’t stand such a thought. And for that, he and his family have paid a tremendous price. … Today was a major step in the journey to restore the Constitution to its rightful and intended role in our Republic.” The idea of “returning to a truly constitutional court” or being a “strict constitutionalist” is often used by anti-abortion advocates to indicate coded support for overturning Roe because they do not believe the Constitution supports the Supreme Court’s decision.
    • Students for Life of America tweeted, “What do you call someone attacked viciously by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and every other anti-life group in the country? Justice.”
    • National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis tweeted, “Just got a fundraising email from Planned Parenthood with the subject line ‘we’re heartbroken.’ I’m not usually a huge fan of spiking the football but...that feels pretty good.”
    • The Federalist’s Bre Payton tweeted, “the tears... they taste... delicious” in response to an actor expressing distress over Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
    • In response to a tweet from NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Ilyse Hogue that “it’s okay to feel anything right now” about Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Media Research Center’s Katie Yoder replied, “Even happiness?”

    Some abortion opponents celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a sign that Roe v. Wade could be weakened or even imminently overturned

    • After Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted a picture of a baby and said, “Soon, babies like this little angel will be protected in the womb by law.” King recently met with President Donald Trump to discuss his proposed federal heartbeat bill that would effectively ban abortion in the U.S.
    • White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said that by nominating Kavanaugh, Trump was fulfilling his promise to appoint justices who would overturn Roe, and that now “people are going to look at state law and circuit law” to determine the legality of abortion. Since former Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement in June, this talking point has been used frequently by abortion opponents to suggest that overturning Roe wouldn’t outlaw abortion, but would instead return power to regulate reproductive rights to the states. However, this argument ignores both the difficulties of accessing abortion -- particularly for low-income people -- in states that could ban or restrict abortion, as well as abortion rights’ precarious reliance on a handful of pro-choice governors and state legislatures.
    • Priests for Life’s Bryan Kemper celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation and outlined what he thought the process would now be for banning abortion nationwide:

    • Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman said in a press release about Kavanaugh’s confirmation that Roe was a "wrongly decided ruling that has cost over 60 million innocent lives. I understand that overturning that horrendous decision will take time, but I believe we are now at last on the final road to accomplishing our goal of ending abortion in America.”
    • Similarly, March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said, “The Supreme Court plays a critical role in pro-life policy and has for decades. We look forward to Justice Kavanaugh’s tenure on the bench and the impact his dedicated public service will have towards creating a country where every human life is valued and protected equally under the law.”
    • The state anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life tweeted, “Texas Right to Life is optimistic that Judge Kavanaugh will prove to be a principled justice who will consistently recognize the Right to Life of all human beings.”
    • On Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress said that he had “never seen Christians as stirred up about anything” as the Kavanaugh confirmation because “they knew that what really was at issue was the fear by the left that if Justice Kavanaugh got on the court, he might diminish in some way the number of babies being murdered every year through abortion -- that he would chip away at Roe v. Wade.”
    • Students for Life of America (SFLA) President Kristan Hawkins tweeted, “It’s done! Onward to reverse Roe and #abolishabortion!! This is the #prolifegen!”
    • On the day of the Senate confirmation vote, SFLA also posted a video titled “We Can Overturn Roe v. Wade.” The video argued that “the end of Roe v. Wade is in our sights now that Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States” and also outlined how Kavanaugh could be the fifth vote to overturn Roe. In the video, Hawkins also emphasized that allowing states to regulate abortion would be advantageous to the anti-abortion movement because SFLA has chapters in every state that would work to outlaw abortion entirely. Here are some screenshots from the video:

    Other abortion opponents used Kavanaugh’s confirmation to mock or attack those opposed to Kavanaugh

    • Eric Barber, a councilman in West Virginia, posted and then deleted a comment in a private Facebook group saying, “Better get you’re (sic) coathangers ready liberals” in response to the news that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was voting for Kavanaugh.
    • American Life League tweeted:

    • One America News’ Liz Wheeler, who has promoted conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood, tweeted:

    • CRTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey -- best known for her fake interview with politician Alexandria Ocasio Cortez -- celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation and lambasted Democrats for their “debased, depraved tactics” and accused protesters of being “unhinged.”
    • Human Coalition’s Lauren Enriquez tweeted that she was “grateful to those men” in the Senate who voted to confirm Kavanaugh “for not letting tantrums interrupt the democratic process.”
    • In response to a video of an anti-Kavanaugh protester, Human Defense Initiative’s Devin Sena tweeted, “Purely demonic. Satan isn't happy that one day soon God's children will be allowed to be born.” As the Senate appeared likely to confirm Kavanaugh, Sena tweeted in celebration, “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton are without question the most egregiously unconstitutional decisions of all time. It's past time they are overturned! #ConfirmKavanaugh.”
    • Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger -- who was sentenced to prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in 1987, and has recently promoted Qanon conspiracy theories -- tweeted in response to a video of anti-Kavanaugh protesters:

  • Wash. Post falls for anti-choice talking points and spin on abortion polling

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Washington Post attempted to explore millennials’ supposed support for abortion restrictions after 20 weeks, but instead pushed anti-choice talking points and failed to account for the intricacies and challenges of producing accurate polling on abortion.

    On January 29, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill that would have banned abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy -- a bill that is based on the scientifically unsound premise that fetuses feel pain by 20 weeks. The Washington Post published an article on January 31 that claimed the bill’s failure “may have offended” a demographic group “both parties are highly interested in winning: millennial voters.” The Post argued that millennials “view later-term abortions differently than abortions overall” by pointing to a Quinnipiac poll from January 2017 that allegedly showed “nearly half — 49 percent — of 18- to 34-year-olds said they would support” a 20-week abortion ban, but that the same group polled at only 9 percent support for the complete outlawing of abortion.

    Accordingly, the Post zeroed in the outrage of younger anti-abortion activists about the failed bill, explaining that the outlet thought that was where “some of the loudest criticism” was originating from. To support this, the Post pointed to a tweet from Lila Rose, the founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action and comments by Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America (SFLA). Hawkins told the Post, “For those Senators who voted against the bill, millennials will be asking how they can embrace such an inhumane procedure for infants who soon can survive outside the womb, and the pro-life generation will hold them accountable.” The article concluded, “The culture battle over abortion is not over — and will continue with the youngest generation of voters.”

    The Post published the anti-abortion talking points of Hawkins and Rose without providing any opposing viewpoints -- giving them free reign to advance their assertions. Beyond quoting Hawkins and Rose, some media outlets have given them a platform to repeat their disingenuous narrative that millennials do not support abortion rights and will ultimately be the group that successfully outlaws abortion. Abortion opponents like Hawkins and Rose often point to polling to support their assertions that millennials, and Americans in general, either want to restrict or completely ban abortion after 20 weeks. Although, the Post and many outlets may attempt to objectively explore Americans' opinions on abortion access, when they do so by relying on decontextualized polling data, such pieces can easily slip into a flawed framing that misrepresents the range of opinions on this topic.

    Polling on abortion should be nuanced and not rely on narrow categories or labels

    As Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained, although “abortion usually gets framed as a two-sided debate” that “Americans support abortion rights, or they don’t,” people “don’t live in this world of absolutes.” Kliff stated that “what most discourse [about abortion] misses is the nuance — the personal factors and situations that influence how each individual thinks about the issue.” Indeed, as Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at PerryUndem -- a public-opinion research firm -- wrote for Vox, her experience as a researcher and pollster demonstrated to her that on abortion, “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” According to Undem, most “standard measures” that firms and outlets use across the spectrum “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue:

    The standard measures ask respondents about when or in what cases abortion should be legal. The question wording and response categories vary across pollsters. But when collapsed into two categories — legal and illegal — you tend to get a divided public.

    [...]

    When it comes to "real life" views on the issue — how people actually experience abortion — the numbers get even more intriguing. 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.

    [...]

    We need to ask questions about how the public views abortion policy — but do so in a more real and accurate way. We shouldn’t, for example, simply ask "Do you support or oppose recent restrictions to abortion?" when we know most people aren’t aware of any trend or what the restrictions might be.

    Kliff's and Undem's criticisms of standard polling methodologies should greatly influence how outlets interpret and deploy the findings of polling about abortion. For example, the Quinnipiac poll cited by the Post gave respondents a limiting set of categories to express whether they support legal abortion or not; those categories were whether abortion should be “legal in all cases,” “legal in most cases,” “illegal in most cases,” or “illegal in all cases.” As one public opinion research specialist told ThinkProgress, these categories and reductive labels, such as 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' “are ‘very superficial,’ particularly because researchers have known for quite some time that the ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ labels don’t accurately reflect the American public’s complicated attitudes about abortion.” Indeed, Vox found that when polls gave people options beyond selecting just ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ “about four in 10 Americans” rejected the binary labels, including 18 percent who chose both.

    Vox’s polling also found that Americans have a variety of misunderstandings about the actual realities of abortion, including the prevalence of abortion (they think it’s rarer than it is) and whether the procedure is safe (they inaccurately think it’s more dangerous than it is). Vox suggested that polling about specific laws restricting abortion access could be misleading if questions do not provide an explanation for what those laws entail. For example, before the Supreme Court decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, only 15 percent of people polled had heard about the case, but when a polling question explained that the law in dispute led to abortions clinics being closed in Texas, 65 percent respondents said the law put “an undue burden on women who are seeking an abortion.”

    Thus, giving people static categories to choose from to express their opinions about abortion -- particularly ones that are divorced from “how people actually experience” the procedure -- leads to misleading findings that are often misused by outlets, intentionally or not.

    Polling on support for 20-week abortion ban should reflect individualized reasoning for access to later abortions

    Right-wing media frequently push the idea that the majority of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban -- often relying on polling as evidence of their claims. However, just as questions asked in narrow categories often fail to accurately reflect Americans’ actual opinions on abortion access, polling that merely asks whether people support a 20-week ban similarly misrepresents public opinion on the matter in a way that unduly bolsters right-wing and anti-abortion claims.

    There’s a drastic drop in support for 20-week bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study on the Zika virus found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, that flipped when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus -- with results showing “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks” in that situation.

    In other words, as Hart Research Associates found, “Once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them.” Polling by PerryUndem also showed that people believe that the the power to decide when to have an abortion should be with the woman, her doctor, and the larger medical community -- and not determined by politicians.

    Reporting on abortion polling should reflect that individuals support abortions access because of the reality that people obtain abortions for a variety of personal reasons -- and that when polling considers the specifics of a person’s experience, respondents are far more likely to support greater access to abortion care.

    Media should avoid the dangerous strategy of incompletely reporting on abortion viewpoints, oversimplifying (whether intentionally or not) public opinion polling, or propping up figures who self-servingly tout this talking point, as the Post’s January 31 article ultimately did.

  • The 5 worst takes from coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.

  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • Fox's Tucker Carlson is mad about an undocumented teen paying for her own abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    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.

  • ABC's World News Tonight Fails To Pushback Against An Anti-Choice Activist's Myth Following SCOTUS HB2 Ruling

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    ABC’s Mary Bruce allowed an anti-choice activist to push the false claim that Texas’ abortion restrictions were about protecting women’s health during a segment on the Supreme Court’s ruling that Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2 was unconstitutional.

    During the segment, anti-choice activist Kristian Hawks falsely claimed the Supreme Court’s ruling jeopardizes women’s health and that women seeking abortion procedures at health clinics will now have to wonder if they’ll “be coming out alive.” ABC’s report failed to report that Hawkin’s allegation were not based in fact, but rather right-wing misinformation frequently pushed to undermind clinics that provide abortions. From the June 27 edition of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir:

     

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We begin tonight with the most sweeping decision on abortion in a generation. Today, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that imposed strict requirements on clinics and doctors, finding those limits placed an undue burden on the constitutional right to abortion. And on the steps of the Supreme Court, you see it there, activists squared off. Jubilation from the pro-choice side, but despair from anti-abortion forces, because this ruling could affect so much of the country. At least two dozen states have passed laws similar to those struck down today. ABC's Mary Bruce is in Washington with the dramatic decision and its resounding consequences.

    MARY BRUCE: At the Supreme Court today, chants of victory from abortion rights advocates. The crowd cheering as interns raced out, carrying the most consequential abortion decision in a quarter of a century. Many of these people have been here since before dawn, making sure they were here to witness this historic decision. The court striking down a Texas law that required abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and that clinics meet standards for surgical centers. Requirements that have already forced more than half of Texas abortion clinics to close, and threatened half of those still open. In a 5-3 decision, Justice Kennedy, the swing vote, joined the court's four liberals to rule that the restrictions went too far, and placed "an undue burden" on the constitutional right to an abortion. Disappointed, the law's supporters say women's health will now be at risk.

    KRISTAN HAWKINS: This means every time a woman walks into an abortion facility in our nation, she's going to have to wonder, will I be coming out alive?

    BRUCE: The implications stretch far beyond Texas. About two dozen states have similar laws.​

    KATE SHAW: Many states have restrictions like Texas's, and I think that those are quite likely unconstitutional after today's ruling.

    BRUCE: And the decision could call into question many other restrictions, such as a required waiting period, counseling, and ultrasounds before abortions.

    STEPHANOPOULOS: And Mary joins us from the Supreme Court right now. Mary, you know, the future of the Supreme Court, right at the heart of the presidential campaign. You've got that vacancy left by the death of Justice Scalia, and perhaps more to come.

    BRUCE: Yes, this decision underscores what's at stake in this election. Clinton tweeting today, "This fight isn't over. The next president has to protect women's rights." And Donald Trump has been noticeably absent from commenting on today's ruling. George?

    STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, uncharacteristic silence. Mary, thanks very much you.

    Laws such as HB 2 are frequently referred to as “TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws,” and seek to restrict access to abortion by requiring clinics to adhere to unnecessary medical standards. TRAP laws are promoted under the guise of public health, despite the fact that abortion is one of the safest surgeries performed in the United States and that many abortions are done with medication instead of surgery.