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  • Anti-LGBTQ media and groups have been crying "censorship" as flawed research on trans teens is re-evaluated

    A Brown researcher published a flawed study about so-called "rapid-onset gender dysphoria" that relied on surveys from anti-trans websites. The report claimed that teens were coming out as trans due to “social contagion”; after concerns were raised, it is now under review.

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In August, a researcher at Brown University published flawed research about so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” a concept that suggests that young people may be coming out as trans due to “social and peer contagion” and that has not been recognized by any mainstream medical organization. Among other flaws, the study was widely criticized for surveying only parents found on anti-trans parent communities rather than transgender people themselves, and Brown and the academic journal that published the study have since pledged to re-evaluate the work. Right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups responded by calling the reassessment “academic censorship” and saying Brown and the journal had caved to “transgender activism.”

    Brown University researcher Lisa Littman published a flawed study that claims teens may be identifying as trans due to social influences

    A Brown University researcher published a study on so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” that suggested teenagers were identifying as trans due to “social and peer contagion.” In August, Brown University researcher Dr. Lisa Littman published a study on so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD) in the online journal PLOS ONE. The study suggested that transgender youth are experiencing a new type of “rapid” gender dysphoria due to social influences, asserting that both multiple peers in pre-existing friend groups coming out as transgender and “increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity” raise “the possibility of social and peer contagion.” From PLOS ONE (citations removed):

    The description of cluster outbreaks of gender dysphoria occurring in pre-existing groups of friends and increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity raises the possibility of social and peer contagion. Social contagion is the spread of affect or behaviors through a population. Peer contagion, in particular, is the process where an individual and peer mutually influence each other in a way that promotes emotions and behaviors that can potentially undermine their own development or harm others.

    Littman’s study surveyed the parents of transgender people ages 11-27, circulating the survey on three websites: 4thwavenow.com, transgendertrend.com, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org. Those websites are online communities primarily for parents of transgender people who deny their children’s identities, and the study acknowledged that the survey was specifically targeted to “websites where parents and professionals had been observed to describe rapid onset of gender dysphoria.” In fact, according to trans researcher Julia Serano, the phrase “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” and accompanying acronym originated on those very websites in July 2016, before Littman’s study or abstract were released. The term and acronym are frequently used by parents who do not accept their children’s trans identities; there is even a website called parentsofrogdkids.com. Prior to releasing her full study, Littman published an abstract in the Journal of Adolescent Health in February 2017 describing supposed parental experiences with ROGD.

    Gender dysphoria is an established diagnosis involving “a difference between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, and significant distress or problems functioning.” The American Psychiatric Association recommends affirming the gender expression of people with gender dysphoria, including through “counseling, cross-sex hormones, puberty suppression and gender reassignment surgery” as well as social transitions not involving medical treatments.

    After fielding concerns about Littman’s methodology, Brown and PLOS ONE announced they would re-assess her research

    PLOS ONE is seeking “further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses” after receiving complaints. On August 27, PLOS ONE announced that it would re-evaluate Littman’s study due to “concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology.” Slate’s Alex Barasch noted that “re-evaluating a study’s content and methodology doesn’t stymie the scientific process; it’s a natural and necessary extension of it.” From PLOS ONE’s announcement:

    PLOS ONE is aware of the reader concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology. We take all concerns raised about publications in the journal very seriously, and are following up on these per our policy and [Committee on Publication Ethics] guidelines. As part of our follow up we will seek further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses. We will provide a further update once we have completed our assessment and discussions.

    Brown University removed a news article about the study after receiving complaints about Littman’s research and its methodology. After experts and advocates pointed out several flaws in the study’s methodology and PLOS ONE announced its own re-evaluation, “Brown determined that removing the article from news distribution is the most responsible course of action.” The next day, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health issued a letter confirming that the article had been removed “because of concerns about research methodology,” acknowledging concerns that the flawed study’s conclusions could harm the transgender community, and reiterating the university’s commitment to academic freedom and “the value of rigorous debate informed by research.” On September 5, the university released an expanded statement, proclaiming, “Brown does not shy away from controversial research.” The statement claimed that the article’s removal from the university’s news site was “not about academic freedom,” but rather “about academic standards,” noting that “academic freedom and inclusion are not mutually exclusive.”

    Researchers, experts, and journalists have found several flaws with Littman’s research

    The World Professional Association for Transgender Health urged restraint of the term “ROGD” and noted that it has not been “recognized by any major medical professional association.” The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which publishes the internationally accepted Standards of Care and Ethical Guidelines for managing gender dysphoria, released a position statement about ROGD on September 4, noting that it “is not a medical entity recognized by any major professional association” and has not gone through “the deliberative processes by which diagnostic entities and clinical phenomena are classified and established.” WPATH’s statement said ROGD “constitutes nothing more than an acronym created to describe a proposed clinical phenomenon that may or may not warrant further peer-reviewed scientific investigation.” From the September 4 statement (emphasis original):

    At present, WPATH asserts that knowledge of the factors contributing to gender identity development in adolescence is still evolving and not yet fully understood by scientists, clinicians, community members, and other stakeholders in equal measure. Therefore, it is both premature and inappropriate to employ official-sounding labels that lead clinicians, community members, and scientists to form absolute conclusions about adolescent gender identity development and the factors that may potentially influence the timing of an adolescent’s declaration as a different gender from birth-assigned sex.

    ...

    WPATH also urges restraint from the use of any term—whether or not formally recognized as a medical entity—to instill fear about the possibility that an adolescent may or may not be transgender with the a priori goal of limiting consideration of all appropriate treatment options in accordance with the aforementioned standards of care and clinical guidelines.

    Researchers writing in PinkNews: Littman’s study “was heavily biased towards specific groups” and “tells us less about trans teenagers than it does about the parents being surveyed.” Writing for PinkNews, researchers Florence Ashley of McGill University and Alexandre Baril of the University of Ottawa said Littman’s research “was heavily biased towards specific groups and in no way can be said to be representative of the general population” because it surveyed parents from specific anti-trans websites. Their report contended that “the study tells us less about trans teenagers than it does about the parents being surveyed.” They also pointed out that research suggesting that trans identities are the result of a “contagion” attempts to frame the narrative in a way that “distinguishes ‘good,’ true transgender people from ‘bad,’ fake trans people, allowing proponents to claim that they have nothing against trans people — well, at least the real ones.”

    Slate’s Alex Barasch: “The sites that participants were culled from are full of damning evidence of bias” against transgender people. Barasch noted that Littman’s study was “purportedly about 256 trans-identified ‘adolescents and young adults,’” but it is “perhaps fairer to say that it’s about their parents, who participated in a 90-question survey about their relationships with and perceptions of their children—with no input from the kids themselves, and no controls to speak of.” Barasch identified several problems with the study’s sample, including that it sourced parental reporting from websites with anti-trans biases such as 4thwavenow.com, which “hosts long missives from parents who have strenuously denied their children’s identities for years.” He continued, “In exclusively surveying parents from these ‘gender critical’ spaces, Littman sharply limited both the relevance and the validity of her results.”

    Barasch added that “one of the study’s most glaring flaws” is that Littman made no effort to substantiate the claims of the parents who participated in her study by speaking to their transgender children. He noted that the study’s findings about "the worsening of parent-child relationships" after the child came out and the children's preference to befriend other LGBTQ kids actually weakened its conclusions about trans identities being a “social contagion” because young LGBTQ people would be more likely to “flock together online or in-person” if they face “skepticism and hostility at home.”

    Finally, Barasch noted that the concept of ROGD “treats the emergence of dysphoria around or after puberty as something new and unusual that should be treated with suspicion” when in fact the medical community recognizes late-onset gender dysphoria, which describes the emergence of dysphoria “around puberty or much later in life.” Barasch highlighted examples of PLOS ONE retracting several other studies that featured “questionable research” and pointed out that “peer review isn’t an automatic assurance of ironclad science” and that the review of the study “is both standard and vital.”

    Researcher Julia Serano: The concept of ROGD originated in 2016 on three blogs “that have a history of promoting anti-transgender propaganda.” In an essay on Medium, biologist and transgender activist Julia Serano explained that the concept of ROGD was not new, but originated in 2016 on three anti-trans blogs -- the same blogs from where Littman drew her sample. Thus, Serano wrote, Littman’s study was “entirely based on the opinions of parents who frequent the very same three blogs that invented and vociferously promote the concept of ROGD.” She contended, “This is the most blatant example of begging the question that I have ever seen in a research paper.” Serano also refuted the study’s assertion that gender dysphoria in the surveyed parents’ children was “rapid,” writing that “the word ‘rapid’ in ROGD doesn’t necessarily refer to the speed of gender dysphoria onset. … Rather, what’s ‘rapid’ about ROGD is parents’ sudden awareness and assessment of their child’s gender dysphoria (which, from the child’s standpoint, may be long standing and thoughtfully considered).”

    Brynn Tannehill in The Advocate: Transgender youth featured in the study may have avoided coming out to “hostile parents,” which could have led to parents perceiving their gender identity development as “rapid.” Responding to an abstract of Littman’s study released in 2017, transgender advocate and author Brynn Tannehill -- who recently published an explanatory book about transgender issues -- pointed out flaws in the hypothesis that young people may be identifying as transgender because of other LGBTQ friends and online LGBTQ media. She noted that “transgender youth in unsupportive homes are much more likely to share their thoughts and feelings with LGBT friends at school and peers online than family.” Tannehill added that those youth often “stick to ‘safe’ LGBT social groups” and “delay telling hostile parents until they cannot bear not to,” which could explain why the parents Littman surveyed from unsupportive online communities thought that their child’s identity came on rapidly.

    Tannehill in INTO: “Littman failed to mention the viewpoints of the groups from which she drew her sample” and did not interview supportive parents or trans youth. Writing for the digital magazine INTO, Tannehill reiterated that the study “failed to address the much more realistic explanation that transgender teens with anti-trans parents look for support from other LGBTQ youth online because they fear the reaction of their families.” She also noted that Littman did not acknowledge the anti-trans viewpoints of the websites from which she drew or sampled, “nor did she make any attempt to reach out to groups for supportive parents” or interview transgender youth.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have claimed Brown “is in denial about transgender identity” and “caved to cross-dressers”

    Family Research Council’s Cathy Ruse: Littman’s study “reveals trouble in transgender paradise.” Cathy Ruse of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council wrote a post in The Stream attacking Brown University for removing news about Littman’s study from its website. Ruse called the move “censorship” and asserted that “there’s an alarming trend of adolescents suddenly announcing they’re in the wrong body.” She also defended the study’s survey of parents rather than the actual transgender young people the study was about, writing that this “acknowledged limitation of the study” is a response to clinicians accepting what transgender patients tell them “at face value, never seeking the parents’ perspective.” Ruse has a history of disparaging trans identities, and she has previously suggested that affirming transgender children “can be child abuse.”

    American College of Pediatricians’ Michelle Cretella: Littman’s study “was quickly silenced” because “transgender activists called for censorship.” Writing for The Heritage Foundation’s right-wing outlet The Daily Signal, American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) President Michelle Cretella said that Littman’s study “was quickly silenced by activists and by Brown University,” which “disconnected its link to the study and issued an apology” for it because “transgender activists called for censorship.”

    ACPeds is a small and extreme anti-LGBTQ group of physicians that broke off from the legitimate American Association of Pediatrics (AAP). Cretella and ACPeds have worked for years to discredit trans-affirming science and policy under the veneer of credibility offered by the group’s misleading name, which “is easily confused with the AAP.” Cretella has claimed that affirming transgender youth is child abuse.

    ACPeds’ Dr. Andre Van Mol posted several times about ROGD on Twitter. ACPeds’ Dr. Andre Van Mol retweeted several posts about Littman’s study, including from two of the anti-transgender parent forums where Littman sourced her data. Van Mol promoted a tweet linking to a petition calling for Brown to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” by supporting Littman and her study. He also tweeted a link to an article about Littman’s study and asserted, “Idealogues (sic) are trying to suppress a study that shows the effect of peer pressure on transgenderism.” Van Mol has a long anti-LGBTQ record, including advocacy in favor of forcibly changing sexuality or gender identity through the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy. He has actively worked to oppose measures to protect LGBTQ people from the practice.

    Illinois Family Institute’s Laurie Higgins: Brown “cave[d] to cross-dressers and their collaborators.” Laurie Higgins of the extreme anti-LGBTQ state organization Illinois Family Institute wrote that Brown “cave[d] to cross-dressers and their collaborators” after feeling “the wrath of men in dresses with flowing tresses and bearded women in dungarees.” Higgins called Brown’s removal of its article about the study “censorship” and claimed, “No matter how well a study is designed and executed, if trannies don’t like the findings, ‘progressive’ universities will not draw attention to it even if the study is conducted by their own faculty.” Higgins previously called transgender identity a “superstition” and compared trans people and their allies to a cult. She has also praised the Trump-Pence administration’s plan to redefine “gender” to exclude the transgender community.

    Right-wing media and proponents of the study have called the re-evaluation “academic censorship” and said Brown and PLOS ONE caved to LGBTQ activists

    Proponents of ROGD launched a petition to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” by supporting Littman’s research. Supporters of the ROGD concept launched a petition urging Brown and PLOS ONE to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” in response to the study’s re-evaluation. The petition implies that the study was being censored, claiming that Brown and PLOS ONE should “resist ideologically-based attempts to squelch controversial research evidence.” The petition, which currently has 4,900 signatures, was shared by some of the same anti-trans websites where Littman collected data for her study, including 4thwavenow and Transgender Trend.

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Brown’s decision: “Acknowledging reality itself becomes a criminal act; superstition reigns. The dark ages have arrived.” Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson claimed that Brown was “censoring” Littman’s study and stopped promoting it because “activists descended” and “were offended by the conclusions of the study.” Carlson claimed that activists found Littman’s conclusions “ideologically inconvenient and therefore unacceptable.” He also asserted that they “demanded that the data be suppressed, and remarkably, Brown caved to their demands.” Carlson has previously denied the existence of the trans community, claimed that trans-affirming policies would hurt women, and hosted anti-transgender guests like ACPeds’ Cretella on his show. From the September 11 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Brown University is censoring a scientific study by one of its own researchers because political activists don't like it. In a paper published earlier this month, a tenured Brown professor called Lisa Littman found that teenagers who say they want to switch genders are often influenced, not surprisingly, by friends and social media like all young people are. Well, the study was solid enough to be picked up by a reputable scientific journal. In fact, Brown’s PR department sounded a press release promoting the study. But then activists descended. They were offended by the conclusions of the study, not because the conclusions were wrong -- no one even argued they were wrong -- but because the conclusions were ideologically inconvenient and therefore unacceptable. They demanded that the data be suppressed, and remarkably, Brown caved to their demands. The university yanked the press release and apologized for sending it in the first place.

    This is not really about Brown. This is what it looks like when reason itself dies: Politics trump science; empirical conclusions are banned; acknowledging reality itself becomes a criminal act; superstition reigns. The dark ages have arrived. This is what they told you the Christian right wanted to do. They were lying. As soon as they took power, they did it themselves. Of course.

    The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro: “The left went insane” over Littman’s study, “so Brown caved” in an act of “academic tyranny.” The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro claimed that “Brown immediately caved” by removing its article because “any effort to actually research the environmental component of transgenderism is met with raucous calls for censorship.” Shapiro alleged that PLOS ONE and Brown “turned against the study because it offended politically correct sensibilities about transgenderism” and called the situation “academic tyranny.”

    Shapiro: “Science is taking a back seat to the realities of political correctness.” On his show, Shapiro repeated talking points from his Daily Wire post and claimed that Brown had “buried the study” and “caved” because “it offended politically correct sensibilities about transgenderism.” He called the move “insane,” claimed that “science is taking a back seat to the realities of political correctness,” and called leaders at Brown “cowards.” Shapiro then predicted that Brown would fire Littman, saying that the left “will go after anyone who does not follow the basic leftist consensus on politics, they will destroy science in order to do so, and they will censor people.” Shapiro has a history of anti-transgender bigotry, including calling transgender troops “mentally ill soldiers” and mocking transgender men and women who date them. He has also called being trans a “mental disorder” and “tyranny of the individual.”

    One America News’ Liz Wheeler: “This is even creepier, I think, than just stifling free speech. This is akin to book banning and book burning.” On the September 7 edition of One America News’ The Tipping Point, host Liz Wheeler railed that Brown’s decision to remove its article on the study was “even creepier, I think, than just stifling free speech,” comparing it to “book banning and book burning.” She continued, “This is taking a scientific study because it doesn't substantiate your political view and erasing it. That's so creepy.” Wheeler’s guest Amber Athey, a Daily Caller contributor, asserted that Brown “decided to get rid of the study not because they think that it didn’t meet scientific standards but just because they don’t like the results of it.”

    Wheeler: Brown is participating in “thought control. … That’s incredible scary. That is 1984.” In another segment, Wheeler repeatedly claimed that Brown’s removal of its post about the study was an example of “thought control.” Wheeler and her guest, The Daily Caller’s Anders Hagstrom, compared the situation to the dystopian novel 1984 and the Soviet era. Wheeler had previously criticized the Boy Scouts for accepting transgender youth and has suggested that affirming trans identities will lead to accepting “transracial, “transable,” and “transbaby” identities in which people believe themselves to be of a different race, ability or disability, or age. From the September 17 edition of One America News’ The Tipping Point:

    ANDERS HAGSTROM (REPORTER, THE DAILY CALLER): I know there’s a study at Brown college where a similar thing happened where this -- I can't remember if it was a he or a she who did this study, but they basically found that something regarding transgenders and a gender dysphoria and the way that children may grow out of it. And people objected to what that study found, and they just said, “OK, you're not allowed to publish that anymore. You can’t do any more research.”

    LIZ WHEELER (HOST): Right, because it might offend activists who are advocating for the transgender ideology.

    HAGSTROM: Yeah, exactly, because it might offend people.

    WHEELER: This is why I say this is thought control, because when you pick and choose what information is to be made public, and you pick and choose what you're going to hide from the American people because it might influence their thought in a way that you don't want. That's incredibly scary. That is 1984. That is thought control. It goes beyond the speech control.

    HAGSTROM: It’s Soviet, yeah.

    WHEELER: The way that you control speech is you control what people are allowed to put in their heads so that they can form those ideas. It's terrifying, and it’s sanctioned now by liberals on these campuses.

    Breitbart’s Tom Ciccotta: “Brown University has decided that not displeasing the LGBT community is more important than having its professors research this phenomenon.” On August 30, Breitbart News’ Tom Ciccotta wrote that Brown had “censored a research paper on gender dysphoria” because the university “decided that not displeasing the LGBT community is more important than having its professors research this phenomenon.” Breitbart often pushes anti-transgender narratives and cites ACPeds’ anti-transgender positions as credible.

    The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski: “Is transgender the new anorexia?” The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski called Littman’s study a “blockbuster” for arguing that transgender identities “might be a ‘social contagion’ -- a maladaptive coping technique for troubled teens, spread by peer groups and the Internet.” Tracinski claimed that Brown retracted its press release “in response to a furious outcry from transgender activists” who saw the research as a “threat.” He also posited that the study began because researchers saw “eerie parallels” of “social contagion” between eating disorders such as anorexia and transgender identities, and then highlighted the study’s assertion that so-called ROGD, “with the subsequent drive to transition, may represent a form of intentional self-harm.” He further claimed that medical professionals who offer gender-affirming care are “ideologically motivated gender dysphoria specialists” who “have engaged in massive malpractice in their zeal to ‘affirm’ their young patients’ self-diagnosis.”

    The Federalist’s Joy Pullman: Brown “repressed” the study because it reinforces the idea that “transgenderism looks a lot like a dangerous fad.” Federalist Executive Editor Joy Pullmann wrote that Brown had “repressed” Littman’s study “after a transgender activist feeding frenzy.” She continued, “The reason trans activists went nuts is that the study reinforces what plenty of parents, public health experts, and doctors have been saying: Transgenderism looks a lot like a dangerous fad.” She also said that transgender advocates “demand[ed] suppressing the results” and that Brown “chose to prioritize the unreasonable demands of a tiny minority above the potential well-being of children and the process of scientific inquiry.” Pullman admitted that “the study design has many flaws — self selection and self reporting among them.” However, she claimed that it was “comparable in quality to studies that LGBT activists amplify when it serves their narratives.” Despite its flaws, Pullman still praised the study because “Littman found a number of things that make transgender narratives look terrible.” The Federalist is a go-to outlet for conservatives to push anti-LGBTQ stories, compare transgender inclusion to “transgender authoritarianism,” and call gender-affirming procedures “mutilation.” From the August 31 post:

    This makes it obvious why transgender activists do not want this information public. It suggests many gender dysphoric young people hit a rough patch in life (or several), have poor or immature coping skills, and got the message from peers, online, or both that transgenderism was a handy, simple explanation for their feelings that also offered instant social acceptance and attention.

    National Review’s Madeleine Kearns: Brown “succumbed to political pressure” and “sacrificed its core principles of scientific inquiry and truth-seeking.” In a post titled “Why Did Brown University Bow to Trans Activists?” National Review’s Madeline Kearns claimed that Brown and PLOS ONE “succumbed to political pressure” by re-evaluating the study and that the university “appears more concerned with its marketability than with finding truth,” which she said “undermines academic freedom.” Though she acknowledged that there were concerns about the sample of parents coming from 4thwavenow and other biased websites, Kearns suggested that Brown’s removal of its article about Littman’s study was “cowardice” and “part of a bigger trend” -- an example of how “a radical ideological lobby has, once again, been highly effective in bullying dissenters into silence.” She concluded that Brown “sacrificed its core principles of scientific inquiry and truth-seeking to the feelings of ‘some members’ of their community.” National Review has a history of providing a platform to anti-LGBTQ figures such as anti-transgender conservative commentator David French, who in a May 9 article repeatedly misgendered Chelsea Manning and declared, “He’s a man.”

  • 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.