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

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

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Media ignore Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s other extremist belief: climate change denial

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Roy Moore, Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, has drawn media attention for his extreme and dangerous views on homosexuality, birtherism, and the role of Christianity in government (even though much of the coverage has been inadequate and misleadingly framed). But one of his extreme positions has received almost no major media attention at all: his absolute denial of climate science.

    Media Matters has found that, from the time Moore announced his candidacy on April 26 to October 31, the major broadcast evening news shows, prime-time cable news programs, and national newspapers have all neglected to report on Moore's views on climate change, one of the most significant issues he would face if elected to the U.S. Senate. Over the same period, four of the top five largest-circulation newspapers in Alabama also failed to report on Moore and climate change.

    The Montgomery Advertiser is the outlier: The Alabama newspaper asked Moore's campaign about climate change but didn't receive an answer. In July, the paper ran an article about climate change and the Senate race, reporting that "Moore’s campaign declined to answer questions on the subject." In August, the Advertiser again reported that Moore "declined to answer questions on the issue."

    Both Advertiser articles refer to Moore's campaign website, which lists a brief position on energy but makes no mention of the climate: "To gain independence from foreign oil, we need to foster development of our own natural resources involving nuclear, solar, wind, and fossil fuels. Coal mining and oil drilling should be encouraged, subject only to reasonable regulations."

    However, despite his recent reticence on the subject, Moore has made his climate denial clear in the past. In 2009, he published an op-ed about climate change on fringe website WorldNetDaily, as HuffPost’s Alexander C. Kaufman recently pointed out. From the WND op-ed:

    Not only is there no constitutional authority for Congress to regulate carbon emissions, but the premise of “global warming” and “climate change” upon which such environmental theories are based does not have the support of a scientific consensus.

    [...]

    Not only do scientists disagree on “global warming,” but there is little hard evidence that carbon emissions cause changes to the global climate.  

    This is an extreme manifestation of climate science denial, and it’s outright false.

    Moore -- who identifies as a Southern Baptist and addressed the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors' Conference in 2005 -- has a denialist position on climate change science that aligns with the Convention’s stance, as do his positions on same-sex marriage and displaying the Ten Commandments in government buildings. In 2007, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution on global warming that cast doubt on climate science and opposed climate action: 

    WHEREAS, Many scientists reject the idea of catastrophic human-induced global warming;

    [...]

    RESOLVED, That we consider proposals to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions based on a maximum acceptable global temperature goal to be very dangerous, since attempts to meet the goal could lead to a succession of mandates of deeper cuts in emissions, which may have no appreciable effect if humans are not the principal cause of global warming, and could lead to major economic hardships on a worldwide scale;

    And in December 2016, as Kaufman reported, 12 former Southern Baptist Convention presidents joined other evangelical leaders in signing a letter in support of Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency, defending Pruitt's call for "a continuing debate" on climate science.

    Mainstream media have a history of inadequate reporting on climate change, especially during political campaigns. But global warming is expected to have serious negative effects on Alabama including more severe drought, sea-level rise, and increased dangerous heat days, and many national and international leaders have called climate change one of the greatest challenges of our time.

    In order to provide a full, fair picture of the Alabama Senate race and Moore’s fitness to be a senator, media should report on his climate denial in addition to his other extreme and disturbing beliefs. And there's a clear contrast to draw, as Moore’s Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, has made addressing climate change a key part of his platform.

    Methodology: Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of print and television outlets using the search terms “Roy Moore” and “climate change” or “global warming.” Our search covered the time period between April 26, 2017, the date Roy Moore announced his candidacy, and October 31, 2017. For television, we searched transcripts of the broadcast evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC and transcripts of prime-time, weekday programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. For print coverage, we searched pieces published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Birmingham News, Press-Register (Mobile), The Huntsville Times, The Tuscaloosa News, and Montgomery Advertiser. We also searched Factiva for pieces published in The Wall Street Journal.