How anti-abortion groups are using Wash. Post to legitimize their attacks on Planned Parenthood

How anti-abortion groups are using Wash. Post to legitimize their attacks on Planned Parenthood 

››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

On August 2, The Washington Post’s health care newsletter, The Health 202, featured an exclusive preview of an anti-Planned Parenthood report from the anti-abortion Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) -- the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List. After the full report’s publication, anti-abortion groups and outlets pointed to the Post’s exclusive to legitimize the misinformation the report included or promoted the report themselves. 


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Wash. Post’s health care newsletter featured an exclusive preview of an unreleased report from an anti-abortion organization

The Health 202 promoted an unreleased report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute attacking Planned Parenthood. The August 2 edition of The Washington Post’s health care newsletter, The Health 202, highlighted a then-unreleased report from the anti-abortion Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) -- the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List). According to The Health 202, the report was intended to “undermine [Planned Parenthood’s] efforts to downplay its abortion services and highlight other reasons women visit its clinics.” In addition to exclusively previewing the report’s findings, The Health 202 also quoted CLI president Chuck Donovan, describing his comments as arguing that the report proved “Planned Parenthood doesn't provide any medical services not easily available from other providers.” From The Health 202 (emphasis original):

Today the research wing of antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List will release a look at the market share of abortions Planned Parenthood provides versus other kinds of medical care -- trying to undermine the group's efforts to downplay its abortion services and highlight other reasons women visit its clinics. The report says that Planned Parenthood provides 35.4 percent of abortions in the United States but less than 1 percent of the nation’s HIV and pap tests. In the last five years, service-to-client ratios for breast exams and pap tests have declined by 37 percent, the report says.

The findings demonstrate that except for abortion, Planned Parenthood doesn't provide any medical services not easily available from other providers, according to Chuck Donovan, president of SBA List's Charlotte Lozier Institute.

“Planned Parenthood’s commitment to abortion on-demand is clearly more than ideological," Donovan said in a statement. "Their market domination would make such giants in their respective industries as General Motors and Samsung envious – but cornering the abortion market is nothing to celebrate." [The Washington Post, The Health 202, 8/2/17]

Since its launch in March, The Health 202 has frequently quoted anti-abortion organizations

From March through July 2017, 61 percent of The Health 202’s abortion-related quotes were from anti-abortion sources. Media Matters monitored The Health 202 from March 1, 2017, through July 31, 2017, for mentions of abortion, Planned Parenthood, or contraception. The 34 newsletters that mentioned these topics were then coded for the number of quotations about abortion, Planned Parenthood, or contraception from pro-choice and anti-abortion organizations, affiliated individuals, or congressional representatives. In the 34 newsletters, there were 23 total quotations -- 61 percent of which were attributable to anti-abortion organizations, affiliated individuals, or representatives (14 total quotes). Although The Health 202 most frequently quoted representatives from SBA List, it also quoted the anti-abortion groups Students for Life of America and March for Life. The Health 202 also included quotes from anti-choice lawmakers such as Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Missouri state Rep. Mike Moon. [The Washington Post, 3/30/174/5/174/25/175/4/175/11/175/17/175/25/175/26/176/9/17 6/15/17]

During the same time period, 39 percent of The Health 202’s abortion-related quotes were from pro-choice sources. Media Matters also tracked the number of quotes and statements included from pro-choice groups or organizations during the March to July time period. During this time, 39 percent of quotes (nine total) related to abortion, reproductive rights, or contraceptives were attributed to pro-choice organizations, representatives, or lawmakers. These included Planned Parenthood, the National Women’s Law Center, Emily’s List, Rep. Patty Murray (D-WA), and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.). [The Washington Post, 3/30/17, 4/5/175/4/176/1/176/2/176/15/176/28/17]

The Health 202 has also promoted talking points from anti-abortion organizations

The Health 202 omitted context from an earlier Wash. Post fact check that would have discredited an anti-abortion organization. The May 26 edition of The Health 202 summarized a fact check from the Post about claims by Department of Health and Human Services appointee Charmaine Yoest that abortion increases breast cancer risks. The original fact check mentioned that the research was from the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute (BCPI), a group that, as the Post clarified, “advocates for the abortion-breast cancer link theory.” The Health 202 omitted this detail. BCPI was founded by Joel Brind to advance the idea that abortion causes breast cancer, and the group appears to have influenced several state legislatures to require doctors to inform patients seeking abortions of the inaccurate claim. Brind also believes that the National Cancer Institute “is just another corrupt federal agency like the IRS and the NSA” and that birth control and the abortion pill cause cancer. [The Washington Post, 5/26/17, 5/25/17; Washington Monthly; 10/1/04; LifeNews, 12/2/13; Concerned Women For America, accessed August 2017]

The Health 202 gave a platform to the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. After the release of Planned Parenthood’s annual report in late May 2017, right-wing and anti-abortion media were quick to claim the report reflected that the reproductive health organization was not an essential care provider. The June 2 edition of The Health 202 framed its reporting around these talking points, and while it included statements from Planned Parenthood, it also gave a platform to the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). In 2015, CMP began releasing deceptively edited videos alleging illicit behavior by Planned Parenthood officials. The June 2 edition of The Health 202 extensively highlighted allegations from CMP, noting, “The latest footage, which for months was under gag order by a judge, features Planned Parenthood officials and doctors speaking in rather gruesome detail about their experiences with the abortion procedure.” This footage was, in fact, released in violation of an earlier gag order and resulted in CMP leader David Daleiden and two of his attorneys being held in contempt. [The Washington Post, 6/2/17; Glamour, 7/18/17; Media Matters, 8/31/15]

Anti-abortion groups have promoted The Health 202 to legitimize attacks on Planned Parenthood and abortion access

SBA List promoted the Post’s exclusive to legitimize the report’s conclusions. After the release of CLI’s report in the afternoon of August 2, SBA List tweeted a link to The Health 202’s exclusive with an infographic of Donovan’s statement in the midst of a larger tweetstorm about the report’s findings. CLI and The Pro-Life Action League also retweeted this infographic and link to The Health 202. [Twitter, 8/2/178/2/178/2/17]

SBA List has promoted The Health 202 before on Twitter and specifically highlighted a section that discussed the organization’s efforts. SBA List not only shared a link to the July 17 edition of The Health 202, but also highlighted a section of the newsletter praising its work. [Twitter, 7/17/17; The Washington Post, 7/17/17]

Anti-abortion organizations previously pointed to The Health 202 to attack Planned Parenthood, with one calling for it to be “investigated.” Several anti-abortion organizations shared the June 2 edition of The Health 202, titled “It’s not the best time to be Planned Parenthood.” March for Life wrote that Planned Parenthood “must be investigated.”  [Twitter, 6/2/17, 6/2/17, 6/2/17; The Washington Post, 6/2/17]

Students for Life of America shared an edition of The Health 202 that was specifically about abortion. The anti-abortion group Students for Life of America shared the May 17 edition of The Health 202, titled “Abortion is now an issue with no middle ground.” [Twitter, 5/17/17; The Washington Post, 5/17/17]

Anti-abortion outlets also promoted the CLI report 

Christian Post: CLI’s report proves that Planned Parenthood’s care “is neither ‘lifesaving’ nor ‘irreplaceable.’” The Christian Post promoted the “comprehensive report” in an August 4 article, arguing that the findings proved that Planned Parenthood’s care “is neither ‘lifesaving’ nor ‘irreplaceable.’” [The Christian Post, 8/4/17]

Breitbart: CLI’s report demonstrates that Planned Parenthood’s control of “the U.S. abortion market” outpaces “market shares of leaders in other industries.” According to Breitbart’s August 4 article, CLI’s report demonstrated Planned Parenthood’s control of “the U.S. abortion market” outpaced comparative dominance of “market shares of leaders in other industries.” [Breitbart.com, 8/4/17]

Church Militant: CLI report shows “the extent of Planned Parenthood's dominance over the U.S. abortion industry.” The extreme anti-abortion outlet Church Militant wrote in an August 3 article that CLI’s report demonstrated “the extent of Planned Parenthood's dominance over the U.S. abortion industry” and concluded that the organization's “penetration of the abortion market is extraordinary.” [Church Militant, 8/3/17]

LifeSiteNews reprinted the summary of the CLI report to promote its assertion that “no service Planned Parenthood provides is irreplaceable.” On August 3, the anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews reprinted a summary of CLI’s report to attack Planned Parenthood, including a section in which CLI claimed Planned Parenthood controlled the largest “market share” of abortions and its conclusion that “no service Planned Parenthood provides is irreplaceable.” [LifeSiteNews, 8/3/17]

METHODOLOGY

Media Matters reviewed The Washington Post’s The Health 202 newsletter from March 1, 2017, through July 31, 2017, for all mentions of “abortion,” “Planned Parenthood,” or “contraception.” Media Matters then coded for:

  • the number of quotations attributed to anti-choice organizations and their staff, or anti-choice politicians; and
  • the number of quotations attributed to pro-choice organizations and their staff, or pro-choice politicians.
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