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  • Don't buy right-wing media's gaslighting: Brett Kavanaugh is a threat to abortion access

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, right-wing media have attempted to downplay the odds that, if confirmed, Kavanaugh would cast a deciding vote on abortion rights. In reality, Kavanaugh’s background demonstrates that he will most likely be key to overturning or further gutting Roe v. Wade -- and such an outcome would have devastating consequences for abortion access in the United States.

    On July 9, Trump nominated D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy left after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in late June. Kavanaugh’s name was included on a list put out by the White House that was “preapproved by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.” According to New York magazine, this list was “extremely important to Trump’s relationship with the conservative movement and particularly with conservative Christian leaders.” Subsequently, anti-abortion groups praised Kavanaugh’s nomination as an opportunity to finally overturn Roe v. Wade and put an end legal abortion. And despite right-wing media’s gaslighting, Kavanaugh's record demonstrates that he will likely do just that.

    Kavanaugh’s record on abortion suggests he’ll gladly overturn Roe or further curtail abortion rights

    In 2017, Kavanaugh dissented in a case involving an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen (called Jane Doe) who was in federal custody and wanted to have an abortion. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement was prohibiting Doe from leaving the facility to have an abortion because the agency did not want to “facilitate” the practice.

    • As BuzzFeed News’ Zoe Tillman explained, Kavanaugh said in his dissent that the original order stopping the abortion was “in line with Supreme Court cases that said the government could have an interest in ‘favoring fetal life’” and “that it was not an ‘undue burden’ for the US government to say it wouldn’t ‘facilitate’ abortions for teens in custody.”
    • ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser further argued that “Kavanaugh’s approach” in the case, which would have required Doe to obtain a sponsor in the United States, “very well could have let the Trump administration run out the clock until she could no longer obtain a legal abortion” if the search lasted past Texas’ 20-week cut-off after which abortions are impermissible.

    Beyond the substance of his opinion in the Jane Doe case, others have pointed to Kavanaugh’s reliance on “coded language” as evidence of his underlying intentions about abortion rights.

    • HuffPost’s Laura Bassett pointed out that in his decision, Kavanaugh used “coded language that’s only ever employed by anti-abortion activists” by referring to “abortion on demand.”
    • NBC’s Heidi Przybyla also noted that “code” words like “abortion on demand” are “widely understood to be a signal for … views on Roe.” This language also mirrors that used frequently by right-wing media to fearmonger about abortion and to spread misinformation.

    Kavanaugh’s decision in Doe’s case, as well as his previous comments on abortion-related matters, also demonstrate that he might leave Roe on the books while still obliterating abortion rights.

    • As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explained, Kavanaugh has already proved that “he can pretend to adhere to Roe while hollowing out its core holding” as evidenced by his finding that the Trump administration did not place an “undue burden” on Doe’s ability to obtain an abortion.
    • Kavanaugh also praised former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe during a speech in 2017 -- which Rewire.News’ Jessica Mason Pieklo noted made sense, given that Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe and Kavanaugh’s dissent in the Jane Doe case both “fundamentally den[y] reproductive autonomy all while purporting to be respecting the bounds of the law.”

    Here’s what abortion access will probably look like with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court

    Even before Kavanaugh was officially nominated, right-wing media were already claiming that a Trump-nominated justice wouldn’t be that bad for abortion access. However, with Kavanaugh on the court, a decision gutting or overturning of Roe is likely and would have devastating consequences.

    Although some (including Trump) have argued that overturning Roe will only return abortion regulations “back to the states,” this would functionally outlaw abortion across large parts of the country.

    • As the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Amy Myrick told Kaiser Health News’ Julie Rovner, “We think there are 22 states likely to ban abortion without Roe” due to “a combination of factors, including existing laws and regulations on the books and the positions of the governors and state legislatures.”
    • Reva Siegel, a professor at Yale Law School, wrote for The New York Times that returning the issue to the states would be disastrous because already, “27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider, and we can expect these ‘abortion deserts’ in the South and the Midwest to spread rapidly” if states are given free rein.

    Independent of how abortion is regulated, economic and logistical barriers that already impede access will only grow worse in a world without Roe. As Carole Joffe, a professor in the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program at the University of California, San Francisco, explained:

    Geographic areas without access to abortion place an extreme burden on the disproportionate number of abortion patients who are poor (50 percent are below the official poverty line and another 25 percent are classified as low income). Besides having to pay for the procedure, they need the funds to pay for lodging (some states have waiting periods of 24 hours or more, necessitating overnight stays), child care (about 60 percent of abortion patients are already parents) and of course for the travel itself. And this journey also involves confronting one or more days of lost wages as well.

    • Historian Rickie Solinger wrote for Vox that people seeking abortions “will be forced to flout the law to achieve personal dignity and safety,” but those “with economic resources will continue to have more options and access than others.”

    Regardless of state regulations, conservatives have recently attempted to push federal regulation on abortion. As author and lecturer Scott Lemieux explained for Vox, “a Republican government with slightly larger Senate majorities than it has now would be able to pass national abortion regulations” that could outright or effectively ban abortion.

    Yet right-wing media are acting like Kavanaugh’s nomination is not a big deal for abortion access and attacking those who are concerned as “overreacting”

    Despite the threat that Kavanaugh poses to abortion rights, right-wing media have been busy gaslighting viewers in an apparent attempt to paint Kavanaugh as a “moderate” or otherwise suggest he wouldn’t overturn Roe:

    • Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich said on Fox News’ Outnumbered she was not “as a woman … worried about” Roe being overturned or losing access to contraceptives, and called such fears “scare tactics.”
    • Fox News contributor Byron York claimed on America’s Newsroom that because Kavanaugh “talked a lot about the role of women in his life” and “has two daughters,” he wouldn’t pose a threat to women’s rights.
    • Fox News host Brit Hume said on Tucker Carlson Tonight that “if Roe v. Wade were reversed, it would not mean that abortion would become illegal across this country.” He argued that saying otherwise “is hysterical and overstated.”
    • The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland wrote that “overturning Roe v. Wade will not criminalize abortion,” but instead would mean that “the question of abortion, and any limits on abortions, would return to the states and in most cases the legislative branch.”
    • The Wrap reported that Fox News host Jeanine Pirro said that she thinks Kavanaugh “will follow precedent” in any decision impacting Roe v. Wade.
    • On Fox News Channel’s Hannity, host Sean Hannity mentioned the “fearmongering has already begun” around Kavanaugh’s nomination. Fox’s Gregg Jarrett agreed, saying that “the left is already conjuring up the hysteria, claiming that this means abortion will be outlawed in America,” which he called a “lie perpetuated by the left.”
    • The Heritage Foundation’s John Malcolm said on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight that Democrats were “trotting out, as they always do, scare tactics with respect to Roe versus Wade.”
    • American Constitution Union’s Matt Schlapp told Stuart Varney on Fox Business Network’s Varney & Company that “most conservatives and constitutionalists believe” that without Roe, abortion regulation “goes to the states,” which he claimed was just a continuation of what is “already happening” with abortion regulations.
    • On Fox News Channel’s The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino downplayed Trump’s promise during the 2016 presidential campaign that he would appoint “pro-life justices” as only “shorthand” used “during the campaign” and that he “can’t actually ask any nominee … how they would rule on a specific issue.”
    • During a segment on Fox News Channel’s Your World with Neil Cavuto, the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, who also serves as Trump’s judicial nominations adviser, pointed to a book Kavanaugh wrote about the principle of stare decisis -- the idea that Supreme Court’s previous rulings should be followed -- and said that Kavanaugh’s record shows “he does believe that the courts need to consider precedent.”
    • Responding to a clip of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) talking about the danger Kavanaugh poses for women’s rights, Fox News host Laura Ingraham said, “So, Brett Kavanaugh is essentially -- we’re supposed to believe … -- standing at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic and barring women from going in.” Guest Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) argued that if there was a concern about women’s rights, “how about protecting a woman when she’s in the womb as an infant?”
    • On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch characterized concerns about abortion access as advocates claiming that Kavanaugh’s nomination “means that women by some magical force field are going to be prevented from going and seeking health care.” She continued that “abortion is not health care, nor is it a constitutional right.”
  • The Supreme Court just enabled fake health clinics to lie to patients

    Right-wing media are calling it a "win" for the First Amendment

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT & SHARON KANN

    On June 26, the Supreme Court decided National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in favor of a network of fake health clinics. Right-wing media and anti-abortion organizations framed the decision as a “win” for the First Amendment, but those outlets (and even some more mainstream ones) ignored that these clinics are harmful and actively deceive people seeking abortions.

  • Yes, Kevin Williamson wanted to hang people who've had abortions. Don't let conservatives rewrite history.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This week, former National Review writer Kevin Williamson was fired by The Atlantic after 2014 audio proved that Williamson did, in fact, mean it when he said people who’ve had abortions should be hanged. In the resulting conservative meltdown, what right-wing outlets seemed desperate to do is have any conversation other than the one actually at hand. Instead, they chose to cry censorship, bemoan so-called liberal bias, and tried to rewrite history by saying Williamson was fired for holding a general anti-abortion stance.

    But this retelling is fundamentally untrue. Williamson wasn’t fired because he holds anti-abortion views. He was fired because he repeatedly, across multiple platforms, advocated for the criminalization and brutal execution of people seeking abortion care. And the fervor to distract from that truth would be truly astounding, if it wasn’t so eminently predictable. 

    When news of Williamson’s hiring first broke, a number of pundits across the ideological spectrum tripped over themselves to downplay and excuse his statements -- defending a so-called “provocateur” whose cherished turns of phrase include calling attacking transgender people as being “delusional,” and arguing that “it just simply is not the case that young black men are getting gunned down, unarmed, by police officers in any sort of significant numbers.” These writers -- including The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, who initially framed Williamson’s comment as an “objectionable tweet” -- argued that Williamson hadn’t really meant what he said about people who’ve had abortions being executed, and asked us to kindly calm down. “For heaven’s sake,” wrote The New York Times’ Bret Stephens, “it was a tweet.” Others, such as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum called the rightful outrage over Williamson’s hiring, “weird,” while National Review’s David French implored readers to just “give tolerance a chance.”

    Once Williamson’s meaning proved truly undeniable, leading to his firing, right-wing media outlets raced to reframe the conversation -- ignoring the substance of his remarks to instead cry wolf about perceived ideological intolerance. For example, The Federalist wrote that Williamson “was fired for his opinions on abortion” after “the usual suspects freaked out and proceeded to dig up old tweets and audio.” Washington Examiner published not one, but two, pieces arguing that Williamson was a victim in a larger ideological war. In another example, RedState argued that Williamson wasn’t fired because of his “fanciful views about legal consequences connected to abortion,“ but that he was “kicked out for refusing to back down in expressing that abortion is murder and should be viewed as such even in this current climate.” David French even asked where the respect for Williamson’s tolerance was as he is “the son of a teen mom, born shortly before Roe v. Wade, and narrowly escaped being aborted,” who would’ve been forced to share an office at The Atlantic with people who support abortion access.

    What these defenses, and even Goldberg’s original justification for hiring Williamson, ignore is that statements like Williamson’s send a clear message to the one-in-four women who’ve had abortions in the United States: that their lives do not matter, that they are criminal, and that they deserve (even in hypothetical terms) to be brutally executed for seeking constitutionally protected and sometimes life-saving medical care.

    Williamson wasn’t fired because he’s anti-abortion -- he was fired because he advocated for the brutal punishment of those who’ve have abortions. Even if you grant the premise that Williamson was merely expressing what could happen in a future without legal abortion, that he not only carved out an exception to his overall ambivalent stance on the death penalty for those who have abortions, but also advocated for a method that is considered too inhumane by almost all the states that currently employ capital punishment, takes his comments beyond mere speculation.

    As research from Media Matters has previously shown, the people who are often empowered to shape the conversation about abortion are overwhelmingly men. As a result, these conversations reflect not only an incomplete understanding but also treat abortion as some sort of hypothetical thought exercise or as a political bargaining chip, ignoring real impacts that lack of access has on the lives of real people.

    Furthermore, Williamson’s defense of capital punishment for those who’ve had abortions is extreme but not really that hypothetical. Already, policies at the state level punish people for attempting to access abortion care. As Irin Carmon wrote in 2016: “Just ask Purvi Patel, who is appealing a 30-year prison sentence for her conviction for feticide in Indiana,” or Anna Yocca, Rennie Gibbs, Jennie Lynn McCormack, or Jennifer Whalen. She continued that all these cases all demonstrate how “women have been prosecuted under current restrictions on abortion, at times with major felonies.” Just this week in Idaho, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Bob Nonini was forced to walk back comments that the Associated Press characterized as “women who get an abortion should be punished” including that “that the punishment should include the death penalty.” During the presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (before later backtracking) that he thought there should “be some form of punishment” for people who have abortions. As Robin Marty explained, although the right may claim that punishing people for abortion is merely an “extreme fringe” of the movement, there are already anti-abortion groups and candidates running on platforms incredibly similar to what Williamson advocates. 

    Williamson felt so strongly on this topic that he even confirmed at the time to an anti-abortion publication that he meant exactly what he said. Given that right-wing media outlets have regularly participated in or facilitated anti-abortion harassment, it’s not surprising to see a lack of concern about Williamson’s comments. Conservatives may be desperate to change the conversation, but the fact remains: advocating for the brutal execution of people who’ve had abortions isn’t provocative or tolerant -- it’s cruel.

  • Right-wing media botch GAO report to push myth that taxpayers are funding abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On March 6, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an updated report about the use of federal funds by Planned Parenthood and several other health care providers for providing “preventive, reproductive, and diagnostic health care services in the United States or abroad.” Predictably, even though the report didn’t show any wrongdoing by the provider, right-wing media used its release to promote the longstanding myth that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer funding to support its abortion services.

    According to the March 2018 GAO report, investigators sought to answer how much federal funding had been granted to federally qualified health centers, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America between 2013 and 2015, as well as how those organizations or networks had spent the funds. Right-wing media quickly seized on the data to push the myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded” abortion, even though the report showed no such thing.

    Even before the GAO’s most recent report came out, right-wing media have frequently claimed that U.S. taxpayers fund the provision of abortion services. In reality, 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 at risk. Although Planned Parenthood receives funds to support non-abortion health services, the allocations aren’t a blank check for the organization to spend as it pleases. Indeed, just like any other health care provider -- including the other providers listed in the GAO’s March 2018 report -- Planned Parenthood is reimbursed by the government for the specific non-abortion services it provides to low-income patients via programs like Medicaid. In many other cases, funds that are not reimbursed in this way are specifically allocated to cover a narrow set of health outcomes, such as HIV prevention.

    Nevertheless, right-wing media pushed their misleading reading of the report within their own echo chamber to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. In order to make this point, many outlets ignored the reality that the allocated funding did not support abortion services. For example, in a March 8 article, Breitbart reported that the GAO report had shown that “federal and state taxpayers provided $1.5 billion in funding to abortion providers over a three-year period,” yet it failed to note that none of these funds supported abortion services. This tactic was copied by Newsmax, Washington Free Beacon, Townhall, OneNewsNow, and The Daily Signal, each of which repeated the implication that the money went to abortions. Some outlets went a step further in their allegations, arguing that even if the funding allocated wasn’t for abortion services, it would inevitably be used to support abortions. In one example, LifeSiteNews wrote, “Pro-lifers note that money is fungible, meaning that public funding Planned Parenthood uses for approved purposes frees funds from other sources to be spent on abortions.” The Federalist claimed that such “funds are fungible” because when “an abortion provider gets its hands on government money, it controls how that money is spent.”

    This narrative culminated in a March 12 appearance by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. In the segment, host Tucker Carlson and Black each lambasted anti-choice legislators for failing to strip Planned Parenthood’s funding by making a number of inaccurate allegations about the way the organization used taxpayer funds. In one instance, Black claimed that it was inappropriate for “taxpayer dollars to be going to abortion,” saying that the funding was “set up for family planning” but “abortion is not family planning, it’s family destruction.”

    The GAO's findings rebut the right-wing argument that the federal funding Planned Parenthood received supported the provision of abortion services. For example, in a chart listing the programs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funded at Planned Parenthood, there is no allocation that would include abortion services:

    Although right-wing media may be suggesting that the allocations for “Family planning services” or the “Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program” could include support for abortion, a review of each program in the government’s Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance refutes this claim. Furthermore, the GAO not only reviewed the financial documents of Planned Parenthood and all of its affiliates, but also sought additional documentation and audit information.

    In other words, given the level of scrutiny applied to both the allocation and the expenditure of funds, it is highly improbable money allocated for other uses was spent on abortion care. Once again, the frenzy drummed up by right-wing media appears to be supported with only spin, and no substance.