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  • Study: Right-wing sources dominate abortion-related news on Facebook

    In the month of April, 63% of links and 72% of posts on Facebook related to abortion news in the U.S. came from right-leaning sources.

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB & NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In 2019, right-wing media have dominated abortion-related coverage with sensationalized anti-choice rhetoric and harmful misinformation. And on Facebook, anti-abortion misinformation is consistently outperforming all other coverage of abortion-related news.

    A Media Matters study of top-engaged U.S. abortion-related coverage on Facebook in the month of April found that 63% of links with the most Facebook interactions came from right-leaning websites, and 72% of the Facebook page posts with the most interactions came from right-leaning pages. Two anti-abortion websites, LifeNews.com and Live Action, made up almost 30% of viral links, and the two main Facebook pages affiliated with these sites made up more than a quarter of the most popular Facebook posts.

    Top-engaged content from right-leaning sources often pushed anti-abortion misinformation. Twenty-three percent of links from right-leaning websites reviewed in this study pushed for six-week bans on abortion (also inaccurately referred to as “heartbeat bills”) based on the anti-choice claim that abortion should be banned as soon as fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically by six weeks. Medical experts, however, say "cardiac activity isn't a credible measure of fetal viability." Right-leaning websites and pages also shared false stories about Democrats supporting “infanticide” (they don’t) and anti-conservative censorship by social media platforms (there is none).

    Sixty-three percent of the top links related to abortion news on Facebook came from right-leaning websites.

    Media Matters reviewed 278 top links related to abortion news which collectively earned 13.6 million interactions on Facebook. Right-leaning websites had 175 links (63%), which earned over 8.6 million interactions (63.6%). Websites that aren’t politically aligned had 80 links (28.8%), which earned 3.8 million interactions (27.8%). And left-leaning websites had just 23 links (8.3%), which earned 1.2 million interactions (8.6%).

    Many of the most widely shared links referenced debunked or misleading narratives about abortion, like the idea that Democratic politicians are endorsing “infanticide” by supporting abortion access later in pregnancy. Twenty-three percent of top right-leaning links related to abortion news in April celebrated the passage of six-week abortion bans. The most popular link during the time frame analyzed was from the right-wing Christian site The Stream, directing Facebook users to an article that quoted a Republican Ohio state representative calling Ohio’s six-week ban “the most compassionate bill we’ve ever passed.” It earned over 904,000 interactions on Facebook. In reality, these six-week abortion laws are effectively a ban on abortion access that will have devastating consequences for patients seeking care.

    Few articles from left-leaning websites and those without political alignment contained any significant discussion of what these bans would mean for patients seeking abortion care.

    One source, the anti-abortion website LifeNews.com, amassed 24% of all top link interactions

    LifeNews.com had by far the most top-engaged links at 58 links (20.9%) and received the highest number of Facebook interactions at 3.2 million (23.9%). Ben Shapiro's The Daily Wire followed at 21 top-engaged links (7.6%) with 943,000 interactions (7%). Live Action came in third with 18 top-engaged links (6.5%), but the interactions it received, 816,555 (6%), were not the third highest in the list. The Stream had only one top-engaged link but received the third-highest number of interactions -- 904,000 (6.7%).

    Overall, 10 of the top 13 domains with the most viral links related to abortion belonged to right-leaning sources; three belonged to websites without political alignment. Seven of the 10 websites whose top-engaged links got the most Facebook interactions were right-leaning; of the other three, two were without political alignment and one was left-leaning. This trend is consistent with data that shows that across all types of content, right-wing publishers dominate on Facebook.

    LifeNews.com, founded by the president of Colorado Citizens for Life, exists explicitly to advocate against abortion and to report “news that affects the pro-life community.” The site regularly publishes sensationalized headlines and misleading stories as part of anti-abortion misinformation campaigns. Almost half of LifeNews.com’s top-engaged links made some reference to Democrats allegedly supporting “infanticide,” a debunked claim misrepresenting later abortion procedures that are often necessary in instances of fetal abnormality or threats to the life of the pregnant person. These inaccurate allegations about “infanticide” have been consistently amplified by right-wing media. One article on LifeNews.com -- which earned 281,000 interactions on Facebook -- falsely asserted in its headline and body that Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam “supported infanticide.” Another article claiming in its headline that Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) was “tired of Republicans trying to stop infanticide” earned over 174,000 interactions. This false narrative is not just inaccurate; it also actively villainizes abortion providers, fueling incidents of anti-choice harassment and even violence.

    Over 72% of top Facebook page posts related to abortion news in the U.S. came from right-leaning Facebook pages

    The 261 top Facebook page posts related to abortion news earned over 4.5 million interactions in total. Of the 261 posts, 190 were posted by right-leaning pages (72.8%) and they earned almost 3.2 million interactions (70.5%). Thirty-eight posts came from pages without political alignment (14.6%); they earned almost 723,000 interactions (16%). And just 33 posts came from left-leaning pages (12.6%), and they earned over 614,000 interactions (13.6%).

    Just two anti-abortion pages earned 25% of all Facebook interactions from top Facebook posts

    As with links, the page associated with LifeNews.com dominated in terms of abortion-related Facebook page posts. Forty-two of the top-engaged posts came from LifeNews.com’s main Facebook page (16.1%), and they earned almost 689,000 interactions (15.2%). Live Action’s main Facebook page had 26 top-engaged posts (10%) that earned over 523,000 interactions (11.6%). The Facebook page affiliated with Live Action President Lila Rose had the fourth highest number of top-engaged posts at 14 (5.4%) and fifth highest number of interactions with over 179,000 interactions (4%). Ben Shapiro’s Facebook page had the third highest number of top-engaged posts at 21(8%) that earned almost 342,000 interactions (7.6%).

    Overall, the top eight Facebook pages with the most top-engaged posts about abortion were all right-leaning; the following two top-engaged pages were both without political alignment. And seven of the 10 Facebook pages that earned the most interactions on posts we reviewed were right-leaning; of the remaining three, two pages did not have political alignment and one was left-leaning.

    Right-leaning sources and anti-abortion sites are still claiming their content is being censored even though they are outperforming left-leaning sources and sources without political affiliation on Facebook

    Some of the highest-performing Facebook pages that regularly discuss abortion belong to groups that routinely claim that tech platforms censor anti-abortion or conservative content. Live Action has sent multiple fundraising emails to supporters alleging that the organization’s content is “being suppressed” by Twitter and Facebook. However, posts from Live Action and the organization's founder, Lila Rose, together accounted for a larger share of top Facebook posts related to abortion coverage (15.3%) than all left-leaning pages combined (12.6%).

    These censorship claims fall in line with right-wing media’s claim that tech companies are supposedly censoring conservative voices. Two Media Matters studies about political content on Facebook, published in July 2018 and April 2019, found no evidence to support these claims. And yet, right-wing outlets and anti-abortion media have inspired Republican lawmakers to hold congressional hearings on the matter.

    Methodology

    Using Newswhip’s social media monitoring program Spike, Media Matters searched for links published online between April 1, 2019, and April 30, 2019, that included any of the following words or phrases in the headline: abortion, abortions, abort, pro life, pro-life, partial birth, partial-birth, fetus, crisis pregnancy, late term, late-term, infanticide, unborn, preborn, Roe v Wade, Roe v. Wade, pro choice, pro-choice, anti-abortion, Planned Parenthood, Title X, gag rule, anti-choice, and anti choice. Researchers filtered search results on Spike by the amount of Facebook interactions and exported data for the 300 links with the most interactions. The search was repeated for Facebook page posts published between April 1, 2019, and April 30, 2019. Data for the top 300 Facebook page posts with the most interactions was also downloaded.

    Researchers individually reviewed all links and posts to exclude irrelevant content, including that which had nothing to do with English-language abortion news coverage in the U.S., coverage that mentioned abortion in the U.S. only tangentially, or content published by satire sources like The Onion or The Babylon Bee. After exclusions, the final sample size analyzed was 278 links and 261 Facebook page posts.

    The political affiliation of most sources had been previously coded as part of earlier Media Matters studies, and the previous political-alignment codes for those pages were applied. For sources without previous coding, two researchers independently coded each domain and Facebook page as either “left-leaning,” “right-leaning,” or without political alignment, as determined by the source’s name and an analysis of its published content. Sources that expressed opposition to President Donald Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at liberals (e.g., protecting abortion rights, calling for action against gun violence, etc.) were coded as left-leaning. Sources that expressed support for Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at conservatives (e.g., restricting abortion rights, downplaying gun violence, etc.) were coded as right-leaning. All right-wing and left-wing media outlets and organizations were automatically coded as right-leaning or left-leaning, respectively. Pages that did not have an ideological leaning were coded as nonaligned. Coding conflicts were resolved by a third researcher.

  • Right-wing media's anti-abortion misinformation playbook for 2020

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump and other conservative candidates have already signaled that anti-abortion lies will be a core part of their 2020 playbook -- tactics that right-wing media are certain to amplify in order to fearmonger and rally support ahead of the election. In line with this, right-wing outlets have already been badgering Democratic candidates about their stances on abortion access, in some cases smearing them with sensationalized and inaccurate tropes about later abortions.

    Following the introduction of measures in New York, Virginia, and other states to ensure abortion access if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, right-wing media generated a firestorm of coverage that mischaracterized Democrats’ efforts to protect abortion rights as promoting “infanticide” or so-called abortion “up to birth.” In reality, the idea that abortions happen up to the “moment of birth” is a fiction fueled by right-wing media and does not reflect any actual medical procedures performed in the U.S. Rather, abortions that happen later in pregnancy are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons, with the people anti-choice advocates compare to murderers often having to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy. In other instances, people need abortions later in pregnancy due to anti-choice restrictions prohibiting or greatly delaying earlier access.

    Beyond broadly alleging that Democrats support abortion “up to birth,” right-wing media have also promoted the false claim that pro-choice candidates are in favor of denying care to babies “born alive” after so-called “failed abortions.” These alleged “born alive” abortions that right-wing media protest are not based in any medical practice or standard of care, as Rewire.News reported in 2013. Nevertheless, Republicans in Congress recently introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to aid so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the bill would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could also be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have used these manufactured controversies as part of a playbook for attacking abortion rights supporters and have already proven they'll deploy the same strategy against candidates. The playbook involves:

    1) Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    2) Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    3) Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    1. Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    The tactic

    Although right-wing media have long represented Democratic positions on abortion in bad faith, the campaign trail has given these outlets more opportunities to hound candidates with inaccurate and sensationalized questions about abortion to intentionally generate outrage. In addition, others in the right-wing and anti-abortion media echo chamber are then able to pick up these comments -- or really any comment from candidates on abortion -- and spin them to fit predetermined anti-choice narratives. Thus far, those anti-choice narratives have been focused on Democrats’ alleged support for abortion “up to birth” or even after.

    Unfortunately, this has permeated beyond right-wing media and several outlets outside of this ecosystem have adopted this inaccurate framing. Already in 2019, non-right-wing outlets have uncritically repeated dangerous lies about abortion from Trump’s State of the Union address and echoed the language used by right-wing media and Republicans about efforts to secure a vote for the so-called Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

    Examples

    Beto O’Rourke

    Presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) received a flurry of inaccurately framed questions about his stance on abortion in March. On March 18, at a campaign event in Ohio, Millie Weaver (also known as “Millennial Millie”), a staffer from the far-right conspiracy outlet Infowars, questioned O’Rourke about his support for abortion access later in pregnancy. Relying on an inaccurate right-wing framing of the topic, Weaver asked:

    Are you for third-trimester abortion or are you going to protect the lives of third-trimester babies? Because there is really not a medical necessity for abortion. It’s not a medical emergency procedure because typically third-trimester abortions take up to three days to have. So, you would -- in that sense, if there was an emergency, the doctors would just do a C-section, and you don’t have to kill the baby in that essence. So, are you for or against third-trimester abortions?

    In her subsequent article about the event, Weaver continued to distort the premise of the question, as well as misrepresenting O’Rourke’s answer. Weaver claimed that she asked “if he supports up-to-birth abortions” and that his answer that abortion should be “a decision that the woman makes” showed he “endorses third-trimester abortions.”

    After that, O’Rourke was peppered with similar questions about abortion from other right-wing outlets and reporters. For example, after Weaver's question, The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito -- known for producing “revealing dispatches from Trump country” that have drawn claims of fabrication and plagiarism -- asked O’Rourke whether he supported access to third-trimester abortions “to make sure” there was “clarity” about his previous answer. Zito ultimately wrote that “O’Rourke has refused to rule out abortions more than six months into a pregnancy,” but she noted on Twitter that supporters’ “cheers” in reaction to his answer “told me so much about the state of what Democrats want from their eventual nominee.” Apparently dissatisfied that his answer didn’t garner broader coverage, Zito followed up with another piece about O’Rourke’s “extreme abortion stance” days later, complaining:

    It is hard to find any D.C. reporters in a mainstream news organization writing about a viewpoint professed by a Democratic presidential candidate as being “extreme” or “radical.” Yet had this been a Republican candidate coming out in support of something the majority of Americans find impossible to support, it would be a headline for days, followed by asking every Republican running or holding office if they support that radical position as well.

    Right-wing media used O’Rourke's answers to these bad faith questions to claim that he supports abortion “up to birth” or beyond and to say that this view represents the Democratic “party line” on abortion. Fox News, Townhall, and The Daily Wire published articles condemning the alleged position of O’Rourke and the Democratic Party on abortion access. Right-wing media figures echoed this approach, with the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro saying on Fox & Friends that “Beto O'Rourke and every other major Democrat feel forced to embrace this position, that you have to be for abortion up to and sometimes beyond the point of birth. It just demonstrates the radicalism of the Democratic Party.”

    Fox News host Sean Hannity dedicated an entire opening monologue on March 19 to this claim. Hannity claimed that O’Rourke’s comments were further evidence of the Democratic Party’s “barbaric abortion agenda” and said, “If Democrats get their way, well, third-trimester abortion, including infanticide during and after birth -- well, that would be perfectly legal and readily available. Sadly, they’re fighting for that. They would protect infanticide seemingly above all else.” To further his point, he also displayed this on-screen graphic:

    Anti-abortion groups and other conservative figures signal-boosted right-wing media’s claims about the alleged “extremism” of O’Rourke’s position (and by extension, the Democratic Party’s). For example, American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp presented the comments as part of Democrats’ efforts to allow so-called “post-birth abortion.” Anti-abortion group Live Action claimed O’Rourke “barbarically defends abortion until birth." Kristan Hawkins, president of anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, tweeted:

    Anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List even sent supporters a fundraising appeal citing O’Rourke’s comment, saying the organization needed followers to make “a pro-life contribution” to help the group “fight back in the name of saving ALL babies and to STOP Beto O’Rourke’s extreme pro-abortion and pro-infanticide agenda.”

    Outlets outside of the right-wing media ecosystem have also adopted this framing at times without offering pushback. Newsweek published Weaver’s question to O’Rourke (but identified her as “a crowd member”) and O’Rourke’s response, but did not provide adequate context about what support for abortions later in pregnancy means or dispute the flawed premise of Weaver’s question. The Hill also reported on O’Rourke’s responses to Weaver and to the Washington Examiner, but focused on his “fundraising status” and "national prominence” without noting the flawed basis of the questioning itself.

    Bernie Sanders

    During a Fox News town hall event, candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was also asked an inaccurate question based on anti-abortion misinformation. Notably, Fox News is attempting to leverage Democratic candidate town halls to sanitize the network’s image, which is currently suffering as companies become less willing to associate with its toxic commentary. During Sanders’ town hall, anchor Martha MacCallum -- who works on Fox’s “news” side but has a history of pushing anti-abortion lies -- asked Sanders, “With regard to abortion, do you believe that a woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment of birth?”

    Sanders’ answer that abortion in the third-trimester "happens very rarely” and “the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician” predictably evoked the ire of right-wing and anti-abortion media, with one headline proclaiming “Bernie Sanders Supports Abortions Up to Birth, Okay to Kill Babies Up to Birth Because ‘It’s Rare.’” During the April 16 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson said of Sanders’ comments, “Like 10 years ago, that would be considered like an extreme position. Today, it's the moderate position in the Democratic Party. Some are defending ‘infanticide’ just flat-out. Safe, legal, and rare. No. That's not at all the position today. It should be free, frequent, and horrifying.” Anti-abortion advocate Lila Rose similarly (and inaccurately) summarized Sanders’ response:

    Elizabeth Warren

    In March, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) received a question about the so-called “Born Alive” bill when someone in a crowd shouted at her, “What about the babies that survive abortion? How come they can’t have health care?” Warren replied that “infanticide is illegal everywhere in America” and moved on. Despite Warren’s accurate characterization of the bill, right-wing outlets spun the answer as Warren defending her “abortion extremism” or intentionally avoiding answering the question.

    Cory Booker

    In April, candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said people have started to ask him if he voted for a bill that allows “us to kill babies when they’re born.” Booker responded by saying, “That is a felony” and explaining that the bill (meaning the “Born Alive” bill) was “put forth to try to create schisms and differences between us.” Predictably, anti-abortion and right-wing media claimed Booker was “defending voting for infanticide.”

    Pete Buttigieg

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media utilized comments from South Bend, IN, Mayor and candidate Pete Buttigieg about abortion and reproductive rights to push misinformation -- with at least one outlet outside of right-wing media circles falling for this false premise in subsequent coverage.

    Following comments from Buttigieg in March that he supported measures introduced to protect abortion access in Virginia and New York, National Review’s David French argued that Buttigieg “has zero appeal to religious conservatives so long as he holds to the Democratic party line on the right of a woman to hire a doctor to kill a viable, living unborn baby.” During Buttigieg’s candidacy announcement speech, he said that “women’s equality is freedom, because you’re not free if your reproductive health choices are dictated by male politicians or bosses.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham argued during the April 15 edition of her show that Buttigieg’s vision of “reproductive freedom” apparently does not include “the unborn child in the womb or, for that matter, the child born ... after a botched abortion in this new Democrat Party. I don't see the freedom there.”

    This framing spread beyond the right-wing media echo chamber on the April 18 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. During the segment, co-host Willie Geist asked Buttigieg about third-trimester abortions, and, after Buttigieg noted that it can be an “incredibly painful set of decisions in these horrifying medical cases,” Geist said, “But to people who would criticize that, they’d say, ‘Actually there is a pretty easy answer -- that’s a fundamental child in the third term … of pregnancy, that is a human being who could be born alive and have a great and full life,’ and so it is a pretty easy question to people who would criticize your answer.” Geist’s question relied on right-wing framing and anti-abortion misinformation that he and the other hosts did not refute. The back-and-forth was picked up by right-wing and anti-abortion outlets, which spread further misinformation about Buttigieg’s answer, with LifeNews.com tweeting that Buttigieg “is perfectly fine with killing defenseless unborn babies in abortions right up to birth.” 

    In each instance, right-wing media relied on either inaccurately framed questions or dishonest spin to generate outrage and drive additional news cycles about alleged Democratic extremism on abortion.

    2. Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    The tactic

    Beyond peppering Democratic candidates with incendiary and inaccurately framed questions about abortion, right-wing media have also attempted to propagate the idea that there is “grassroots” opposition to supporting abortion access. Following the introduction of Virginia and New York’s recent measures, right-wing media heavily promoted the narrative that Democrats are pushing an “extreme” position on abortion that is not supported by their base. This is an approach that the Republican Party -- including Trump himself -- has adopted as part of a 2020 election strategy at both the federal and the state level. Right-wing media and Republicans previously deployed this strategy during the ultimately failed 2017 special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama.

    Right-wing media have also attempted to extrapolate about voters’ probable opposition to a candidate’s position on abortion based on polling about specific abortion policies or viewpoints. Most frequently, right-wing media have touted polls claiming to represent likely voters’ support for bans on abortion after 20 weeks -- which would include procedures performed in both the second and the third trimester. While some polls have suggested that support for abortion access decreases as a pregnancy advances, polls that provide adequate context about the specific circumstances surrounding why a person would choose to have an abortion after 20 weeks don’t show the same results. In fact, as experts have explained, these polls better reflect the reality of abortion later in pregnancy and thus show that people support maintaining this health care option.

    Examples

    To prove allegations of so-called Democratic extremism, right-wing media have cherry-picked examples of people opposing abortion and presented these views as being widely held. For example, after O’Rourke responded to Infowars' question, Fox & Friends First aired two segments that shared the thoughts of random Twitter users who disliked his answer:

    On Fox News’ Hannity, Fox News contributor Lawrence Jones was sent to Texas to ask voters about O’Rourke’s alleged position on abortion, with many in the resulting segment claiming he was problematically extreme.

    Some right-wing media also specifically noted when questions came from non-media participants in an effort to imply that those questioners represented the views of many voters. For example, on One America News’ The Tipping Point, host Liz Wheeler applauded a “student who asked a question” about abortion, saying “professional reporters” wouldn’t do it “because Beto’s a Democrat, and the mainstream media wants to protect the left.” Conversely, many right-wing media outlets failed to note that Weaver, who asked O’Rourke if he would “protect the lives of third-trimester babies,” works for Infowars. The Daily Caller, Fox News, TheBlaze, Washington Free Beacon, and National Review credited either an “attendee” or “a woman” at the event for the question.

    Right-wing media have also pointed to imprecise polling on abortion and a supposed lack of public support for the health care staple in discussions of candidates' answers. Townhall’s Lauretta Brown wrote that O’Rourke’s answer about abortion to Infowars “marks a significant departure from public opinion and state laws.” CBN News said the Democratic presidential candidates “are out of step with the public.” After candidate Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) answered a question on abortion during MSNBC’s Morning Joe by saying “the reality of it is that you got to protect the woman’s right to choose,” Townhall’s Guy Benson tweeted that Ryan was “pandering to” a supposedly extreme position that he claimed was only “shared by roughly one-fifth of the electorate.” The Washington Free Beacon also wrote that Booker had cast votes against anti-abortion legislation “despite popular public opinion” supporting them.

    These assertions are largely based on polling that asks generic questions about abortion. However, polling that puts into context why someone would have an abortion after 20 weeks shows a different result. There’s a drastic drop in support for 20-week bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, that flipped when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus -- with results showing “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks” in that situation. In other words, as Hart Research Associates found, “once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them.”

    In each instance, right-wing media have relied on selective samples of public opinion and opinion polling to give the appearance of widespread opposition to Democratic support for abortion access. In reality, right-wing media have been intentionally fearmongering about so-called Democratic extremism on abortion as part of a 2020 strategy being pushed by Trump and other members of his administration.

    3. Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    The tactic

    Anti-abortion groups and right-wing media have also tried spinning non-abortion comments from candidates to fit anti-abortion groups' stereotypes about Democrats. Right-wing media relied on this approach to spread misinformation and stigma before, employing similar spin to try to connect abortion to the Parkland school shooting, the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and Christine Blasey Ford’s report that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.

    Examples

    At a CNN town hall, when Warren said her “favorite Bible verse” includes the lesson that “there is value in every single human being,” the anti-abortion group Concerned Women for America asked, “But only the ones that are wanted? What about the ones who survive an abortion?” Warren repeated this comment on her Twitter account, prompting The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh to claim that her comment proved Democrats “will actually jump on any opportunity to extol the virtue of human life and the value of human life,” but “you would think they would avoid talking about that because they know 60 million babies have been slaughtered in the womb and they are perfectly OK with that.” He also asserted:

    Even though the Democratic Party is the party of Satan, and even though it has embraced satanism and it has embraced infanticide and all of these forms of just the most -- the darkest, most debauched, evil you can imagine, even in spite of all that, still most Democrats feel the need to pretend to be Christian.

    In response to a tweet from candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) explaining her belief that “housing is a basic human right,” anti-abortion activist Lila Rose replied, “If housing is a basic human right, then I imagine you’re even more passionate about the right for a child to be born?” Following comments from Buttigieg about Trump’s religion, Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy dismissed his criticism because Buttigieg “is a guy who is on the record as a supporter of late-term abortion.” Tucker Carlson said on his show of Buttigieg, “This is a guy telling us what a great Christian he is, who’s for abortion up until birth and for sex-selection. Spare me your Christian talk, please. It's absurd.”

    Similarly, when candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called Trump “a coward,” right-wing radio host Stacy Washington replied, “You believe in abortion up to birth, gun confiscation, open borders and limp-wristed governance. You have no room to call anyone a coward.” When Gillibrand later tweeted about legislation she introduced that would “limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 7 days,” Fox News’ Brit Hume replied with an inaccurate comparison between her comments and the idea that abortion should be between a patient and a doctor. He wasn’t the only one to make this inaccurate “joke.”

    Anti-abortion activist Alveda King wrote a piece for Newsmax claiming that “Booker is touting a new reparations bill for African Americans while secretly supporting an agenda of genocide and infanticide by abortion of millions of black babies.” After comments from candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) that the “number one cause of death for a black child in America today is gun violence,” LifeNews.com tweeted, “Actually @ericswalwell the #1 killer of black children is abortion.”

    Right-wing media regularly dominate the conversation about abortion -- so it is unsurprising that these outlets are working overtime to drive an inaccurate narrative in advance of the 2020 election. Trump and the GOP have emphasized anti-abortion misinformation as a core part of their electoral strategies, and right-wing media have already shown their willingness to manufacture or signal boost these attacks. It is crucial for other media outlets to recognize these tactics and provide important context, rather than repeating lies and misinformation from these sources.

    Graphics by Melissa Joskow

  • Right-wing media and abortion opponents celebrate and defend Alabama law banning abortion

    The law will likely be challenged before it takes effect

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On May 15, Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law banning nearly all abortions in the state with no exceptions for rape and incest. While the law will likely be challenged before it takes effect, right-wing media and abortion opponents defended the lack of exceptions and celebrated it as a sign of Roe v. Wade’s end.

    The Alabama law prohibits abortion with only limited exceptions for “serious health risk” to the life of the pregnant person or because of a “lethal” fetal anomaly. As CNN noted, before the law’s signing, Democrats in the state legislature had “re-introduced an amendment to exempt rape and incest victims, but the motion failed on an 11-21 vote.” In addition to allowing for few exceptions, the law would also it a felony “punishable by up to 99 years in prison for doctors” to perform an abortion. Given patients’ concerns about the immediate accessibility of abortion care, it is important to note that abortion is still legal in Alabama. As Vox’s Anna North noted, the law has been signed by the governor but “does not take effect for six months,” and there are already plans underway to challenge it in court.

    As Republicans and right-wing media have repeatedly fearmongered about Democrats advocating for expanded abortion access and the codification of Roe’s protections at the state level, anti-choice politicians have pushed increasingly extreme anti-abortion bills -- likely as an attempt to capitalize on the opportunity for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe with conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch both now confirmed.

    Here are some of the extreme reactions and celebrations of right-wing and anti-abortion media to the Alabama law

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, celebrated the law as a “landmark victory for the people of Alabama who, like most Americans, overwhelmingly reject the extreme status quo of abortion on demand imposed nationwide by Roe v. Wade.” She added that she believed that “the time is coming for the Supreme Court to let that debate” on the legality of abortion “go forward.”
    • Fox News’ Tucker Carlson responded to outrage over the law’s passage by characterizing it as being indicative of "the modern Democratic orthodoxy: If you love women, you will encourage them to kill their own offspring.”
    • Anti-abortion group American Life League responded to an article saying the law bans “nearly all abortions” by arguing that the law didn’t go far enough. The group tweeted: “All of them should be banned.”
    • Former Turning Point USA Communications Director Candace Owens repeated the myth that Planned Parenthood and pro-choice advocates are promoting “genocide for black America” in a tweet about the Alabama law.
    • Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed on Fox & Friends that abortion opponents believe that “the time is now” to dismantle Roe and therefore return regulation of abortion to the states. Napolitano repeated the false claim that states like “New Jersey or New York” allow “infanticide.”
    • Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson:

    Caption

    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh repeatedly defended the law’s lack of a rape exception, claiming on his podcast that “abortion helps rapists cover up their crimes.” Walsh also said on Twitter that “abortion restrictions protect rape victims” and argued (inaccurately) that Planned Parenthood uses abortion to “assist an abuser in covering up abuse.” As an example, Walsh tweeted a hypothetical scenario alleging that denying an abortion to a “12 year old” who was “raped by her father” meant that there was a better chance that “his crime will be discovered.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro also defended the law’s lack of exceptions, saying on his podcast that those “concessions with regard to rape and incest” are only “a sop to public opinion rather than a principled stand about the value of human life.”
    • On Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt speculated about whether abortion laws like Alabama’s are a potential solution to address the declining U.S. birth rate, asking, “Will we see the numbers go up because more people won't be able to have access to abortions?”
    • LifeNews.com’s Steven Ertelt tweeted, “Democrats are so determined to make sure babies conceived in rape are killed in abortions. If only they were as concerned with putting the rapist in prison.” Ertelt’s outlet LifeNews.com responded to outrage over the draconian Alabama law with a tweet saying, “Funny how everyone complaining about Alabama banning abortions has already been born.”
    • National Review also praised the law:

    • On Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, celebrated the law as a sign that Roe was on the way to becoming “a historical footnote in our country.” Hawkins also tweeted that “abortion is a war on preborn women and men” and offered an inexplicable take on why people were “freaking out” about Alabama’s law:

    • Hawkins’ organization celebrated the Alabama law as “a great step for abolishing abortion and protecting the civil rights of all people, born and preborn!”
    • The Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson tweeted in defense of the law’s lack of exception, writing: “Btw the reasoning behind no exceptions for rape/incest in abortion bans is that an unborn child shouldn't lose their right to life on account of the circumstances that produced them.”
    • One America News Network’s Liz Wheeler asked, “Two questions to ask about the Alabama abortion bill. 1) When does life begin? Science says human life begins at conception. 2) If life begins at conception, what right to do we have to end that life? We don't, therefore abortion cannot be legal.”
    • On Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, conservative writer Eric Metaxas celebrated the Alabama law and other state abortion restrictions. He said these bans are “exactly what's supposed to happen. That's why Roe v. Wade is an abomination. It is not itself constitutional.”
    • Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, lauded Alabama and other states pushing anti-abortion bills and wrote, “We will make our states a safer home for mothers & children.” Rose went on to defend the Alabama law’s lack of exceptions, saying, “It’s disgusting to use the horrific trauma of child rape as pretext for the barbaric 1M legal abortions.” Rose’s organization also claimed that the law does not “go too far” even without the exceptions.
    • Religious media outlet Eternal World Television Network tweeted:

    • Michael Brown, a senior contributor to right-wing Christian site The Stream, wrote about the Alabama law in the context of a literal “civil war” that he alleged was “coming to America” and would be fought over abortion rights. Brown said that although “I hope with all my heart that it will not be a physically violent war,” he expressed concern about “violent attacks by pro-abortion extremists leading to retaliation by those being attacked. (By definition, if you are pro-life, you will not seek to take the life of an innocent person.)”
    • Kimberly Ross, a Washington Examiner contributor, tweeted that supporting rape exceptions “is not pro-life” because “You do not ‘unrape’ a woman by taking an innocent life. This confers worth on another based on feelings, not facts. What’s next?”
    • On Anderson Cooper 360, CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum said that “it does make sense” for abortion providers to get more jail time for performing an abortion than a rapist under Alabama’s law.

    What right-wing media and abortion opponents ignore or attempt to downplay is that the impact of a post-Roe Alabama will be felt mostly by marginalized communities, including poor people and people of color, who may lack the resources to access abortion care by leaving the state. As Rolling Stone’s Alex Morris explained, this new ban -- and the disparities it would exacerbate -- adds to a health care landscape in Alabama where “over a quarter of mothers don’t receive adequate prenatal care and less than half the counties have a delivery room.” In addition, he noted that “not once but twice in the past five years,” Alabama “has ranked 50th in the country in infant mortality.”

    Despite the celebrations of so-called "pro-life" figures, these terrible outcomes are likely to be more common if Alabama's law is allowed to take effect.

  • National Review writer’s distortion invites harassment of an abortion clinic director

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    As abortion clinic director Calla Hales highlighted the numerous potential legal inconsistencies of an anti-abortion bill making its way through the North Carolina legislature, National Review writer Alexandra DeSanctis selectively pulled a tweet from Hales’ Twitter thread to wrongly claim the clinic director didn’t believe infants were legal persons until 30 days after birth. This willful misrepresentation sparked harassment of Hales by right-wing and anti-abortion media -- once again demonstrating the dangerous consequences of incendiary anti-abortion rhetoric.

  • Right-wing media can't stop mis-citing a 2013 abortion study -- and other outlets are repeating the error

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As part of the escalating rhetoric surrounding abortions later in pregnancy, right-wing media and anti-abortion media have consistently -- and erroneously -- pointed to a 2013 study from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health as a piece of “gotcha” evidence allegedly disproving arguments about the dangers of restricting later abortion access. The study doesn't support the purported argument about the frequency of later abortions; that hasn't stopped anti-abortion groups (which repeatedly argue that being "pro-life is pro-science") from touting it -- nor has it stopped other outlets from uncritically allowing or repeating these assertions.

    In 2013, Diana Greene Foster and Katrina Kimport authored a study published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (though it is sometimes inaccurately cited as a study by the Guttmacher Institute, a disclaimer at the bottom clarifies that “the views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute”). This study examined the potential impact of legislation banning abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and attempted to assess the reasons why someone would choose to have an abortion around that time period.

    This January, as state legislatures in New York and Virginia began considering measures to protect abortion access or to remove unnecessary anti-choice barriers, right-wing media continually cited this 2013 study out of context to allege that Democrats had an extreme position on later abortion access. In particular, anti-abortion and right-wing media have cherry-picked language from the introduction of the 2013 study as proof that third-trimester abortions are not performed due to fetal abnormalities or dangers to the life of the pregnant person. In reality, that is not the time period analyzed by the study and those reasons for seeking an abortion were explicitly excluded from its scope.

    The crux of this disingenuous allegation relies on a misinterpretation of a sentence in the study’s introduction stating that “data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” Right-wing and anti-abortion media have taken this sentence as evidence that few, if any, people seek abortion care in the third trimester due to fetal abnormalities or dangers to the life of the pregnant person. There are several issues with this interpretation.

    First, as the study’s co-author Foster confirmed on Twitter, the study “was about abortions at 20 weeks up to the end of the second trimester [around 27 weeks]. It has no relevance to third trimester abortions.” She continued, “My article was intended to increase understanding of the circumstances of women who have abortions after 20 weeks and within the second trimester,” however, “that doesn’t mean that women seeking abortions in the third trimester are just like those in the second trimester.” In addition to focusing on abortions in the second trimester, the 2013 study also explicitly excluded people who had abortions for reasons of fetal abnormality or dangers to the pregnant person’s life from the analysis altogether. As the authors wrote: “Our study has several important limitations. Our data are limited by the exclusion of women who sought later abortions on grounds of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

    Despite this, abortion opponents have alleged the study’s findings about common reasons why people seek abortion care -- “they were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous” -- were all evidence that pro-choice advocates’ claims about the medical necessity of access to third-trimester abortion care were inaccurate. In reality, there are many personal and medical reasons people choose to have abortions in the second and third trimester. As Foster further clarified to Rewire.News after a 2018 congressional report inaccurately referenced the study, “I wouldn’t state that fetal anomaly and life endangerment are a small minority of later abortions because nobody has statistics on this.”

    While right-wing media and anti-choice advocates have erroneously cited this study before, faux outrage spun up in reaction to state abortion measures spurred an uptick in the mischaracterizations and misuse of this study -- mischaracterizations that are now spurring inaccurate coverage from other outlets.

    After New York and Virginia’s abortion measures, anti-abortion and right-wing media cited the 2013 study to counter arguments about the necessity of later abortion access

    • Anti-abortion advocate Abby Johnson wrote in Townhall that the 2013 study showed “the most common reasons why women chose abortion late-term” and claimed that it refuted pro-choice claims that people need to be “able to terminate so late in their pregnancies because of fetal abnormalities.”
    • In February, Hillary Clinton tweeted that abortions later in pregnancy occur “almost always” because a pregnant person’s “health or life is at risk, or the pregnancy is no longer viable.” Townhall’s Lauretta Brown disagreed, claiming that “the Guttmacher Institute cited a study from 2013 that found ‘most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’”
    • In a series of posts, National Review writers cited the 2013 study to question the necessity of Virginia’s abortion measure. The most explicit example came from senior writer David French, who opined:

    So, why do these babies die? The Guttmacher Institute has looked at the reasons for late-term abortion, and the reasons are chilling. First, the top-line finding is clear: “[D]ata suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

    Interestingly, even in some of the anecdotes chosen by Guttmacher, the women describe their decision to have a late-term abortion as “easy” or “very easy.” They didn’t find out they were pregnant until later in the pregnancy, didn’t want the child, and aborted it. Their only challenge was raising the money or finding the clinic. The thought that they were killing a viable infant — a person who would could be raised in a loving home if the mother didn’t want her child — apparently doesn’t factor into their decision-making. It’s treated as casually as an early-term abortion.

    This is the reality of late-term abortion in America.

    • The New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat cited the 2013 study on Twitter to claim “most third-trimester abortions are not performed for reasons of fetal or maternal health.”
    • The Federalist’s David Harsanyi:

    • The Federalist also published several articles incorrectly citing the 2013 study. Ben Domenech wrote that those “seeking 3rd trimester abortions” are not doing so “because of the non-viability of the fetus or fetal abnormalities.” Instead, he claimed, “A 2013 Guttmacher study – no friend of anti-abortion activists – found this was not the case at all.” In another article, Kenny Xu wrote that the 2013 study allegedly “revealed that out of 272 women surveyed who had received an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, none of them received it for any kind of clinical endangerment to the health of the mother.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh incorrectly cited the study and then tweeted about how it was further evidence that so-called “pro-aborts” are “damned dishonest” and “everything they say is a lie”:

    • Breitbart published two articles using the study to allege that “research does not support the common pro-abortion-rights narrative that late-term abortions are performed primarily in cases of ‘severe deformities’ or when the unborn baby is determined ‘non-viable,’” and to claim that it “found that ‘most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’”
    • Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, tweeted that the “pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute” refuted pro-choice advocates’ “claims about ‘tragic’ circumstances of most/all late abortions” involving fetal abnormalities or the health of the pregnant person, again citing the 2013 study.
    • Micaiah Bilger of the anti-abortion media outlet LifeNews.com:

    • Bilger repeated this claim in an article for LifeNews.com, writing, “The truth is that many late-term abortions are elective.” The assertion was repeated in another LifeNews.com article and on the outlet’s Twitter account:

    • Anti-abortion group Live Action published a piece citing the study as evidence that pro-choice advocates were misrepresenting why people have abortions later in pregnancy:

    Abortion supporters will claim, “No one’s going to abort so late in pregnancy unless there’s something wrong with her or the ‘fetus’!” They’re wrong about that. A Guttmacher study points out the reasons why women seek “later” abortions — to use their terminology — and it’s not for the reasons they publicly claim. Instead researchers found that most “were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous.”

    No mention of the mother’s life or health being at risk, or of a fetal anomaly.

    • The Washington Examiner published a “fact check” of a CNN article about abortions later in pregnancy. However, the Examiner’s so-called “fact check” cited the 2013 study to allege that most people do not seek later abortions due to fetal abnormality or risks to the health of the pregnant person. An additional Examiner article said that the 2013 study actually showed “most late abortions are elective, and done for socio-economic reasons.”
    • Americans United For Life’s Catherine Glenn Foster used the 2013 study incorrectly in a thread on Twitter:

    A major anti-abortion movement “research” organization often uses this study erroneously to support inaccurate conclusions

    The Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) is the research arm of the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, and attempts to brand its members as impartial scientific experts, when in reality the organization has an explicit mission to oppose abortion access. Unfortunately, while right-wing media and anti-abortion groups often cite CLI to support inaccurate claims about abortion, other outlets sometimes rely on them without sufficient context or disclosure about the organization’s ideological purpose. CLI has adopted an inaccurate reading of the 2013 study to support anti-abortion positions, using it in both a “report” and “fact sheet” on their website. Although in each instance, CLI included a note that the 2013 study does have “significant” limitations, such as excluding those participants seeking an abortion for health risks or fetal abnormalities, both documents still inaccurately conclude that the study is an effective bludgeon for refuting arguments about the reasons people have abortions later in pregnancy.

    However, CLI’s Twitter account did not mention the potential “limitations” of the 2013 study, and instead repeatedly promoted it to further the popular misinterpretations of the findings:

    Other outlets have allowed anti-abortion advocates to erroneously cite this study

    As the hyperbolic “controversy” over the measures in New York and Virginia unfolded, The Atlantic and The Washington Post both gave right-wing misinformation about the 2013 study an uncritical platform in each outlet’s opinion section.

    The Atlantic published a piece by National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis in which she wrote, “Research from the pro-abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute contradicts the claims that abortions after 20 weeks are most often necessary in heart-wrenching medical emergencies. One study summarized the available data as suggesting that ‘most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’” A note on the piece stated that it was “updated to clarify that the claim quoted from the Guttmacher Institute study came from its survey of existing research, and was not a finding made by the study itself,” but failed to address DeSanctis’ inaccurate primary claim that she had mockingly pushed on Twitter as well:

    Similarly, The Washington Post published an opinion piece by Bethany Mandel, where she said that “according to research from the Planned Parenthood-affiliated Guttmacher Institute, ‘data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’” Mandel also continued promoting this claim on Twitter:

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media will continue to erroneously cite this 2013 study, and it will likely be rehashed by anti-abortion lawmakers in any number of reports or hearings. Other outlets have a responsibility not to repeat this inaccurate characterization of the study -- or else they're helping abortion opponents spread further misinformation with potentially dire consequences.

  • Here are some of the extreme right-wing reactions to a New York law expanding abortion rights

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on January 22 that will protect abortion access even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade -- a very salient threat with Justice Brett Kavanaugh now on the court. Anti-abortion advocates and right-wing media immediately responded by framing the law as a “barbaric” action by Cuomo and the New York legislature.

    The new law, called the Reproductive Health Act, changed a pre-Roe state law criminalizing abortions that was still on the books in New York. As Mother Jones’ Rosa Furneaux explained, abortions after 24 weeks were formerly criminalized because “the law made self-induced abortions a misdemeanor crime, and made providing one a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.” According to Furneaux, “The threat of a more conservative Supreme Court has brought new energy to repealing archaic pre-Roe laws nationwide (just as it has given pro-lifers more hope for overturning Roe).”

    If Roe is overturned, the new law will mitigate the impact in New York and also expand abortion rights in a few other ways. For example, it:

    • Permits abortions after 24 weeks when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk” and empowers doctors to make the decision about “when a woman's health is at risk.”
    • Removes abortion from the state’s criminal code” in order to “protect doctors or medical professionals who perform abortions from criminal prosecution.”
    • Allows medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions in New York.”

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion activists have focused much of their outrage on the portion of the law allowing abortions after 24 weeks for nonviable pregnancies or if the pregnant person’s health is at risk. The reality is that abortions that happen later in a pregnancy are extremely rare (slightly more than 1 percent take place past the 21-week mark), and are performed in response to complicated personal and medical reasons. As The Cut’s Sarah Jones explained, prior to the New York law’s passage, people “who needed later-term abortions to end nonviable pregnancies were forced to travel far outside the state — a financial and psychological burden.” The impact of these barriers cannot be understated. Writing for Jezebel, Jia Tolentino interviewed one New York woman about the excruciating experience of having to travel out of state for a medically necessary later abortion because of New York’s previous law. In The New Yorker, Tolentino recounted the woman’s ordeal: “Her baseline experience of pregnancy had been punishing to begin with, and New York law had made it much worse.”

    Despite the personal nature of these decisions, right-wing media often portray later abortions as part of a supposedly extreme Democratic agenda which allegedly encourages abortions up to the day of birth. Right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates have continued to use this extreme and inaccurate language to stir outrage over New York’s law.

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media pushed the narrative that the law allowed abortions up to birth alongside other bizarre and extreme claims

    • The Daily Wire reported on the law with the headline:

    • On Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham asked her guest to explain how the law wasn’t “Hitlerian” when, in her opinion, it would allow a baby to “be killed” when it “could be born.” She also repeated this talking point on her podcast.
    • On One America News Network’s (OANN) Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler said that, with this law, “a baby that is fully formed … can be brutally murdered inside the womb for any reason that the woman chooses just days before birth.”
    • The Washington Times posted an article with the headline:

    • The Washington Examiner published an article with the headline:

    • After Cuomo signed the bill into law, One World Trade Center’s spire was lit up pink in celebration. In response, LifeSiteNews circulated a petition calling for Cuomo to apologize for “celebrating abortion by lighting up One World Trade Center,” and urging him to revoke his signature from the bill.

    • Janet Morano, executive director of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life, wrote for LifeSiteNews:

    In New York City, thousands more babies of African-American mothers are aborted than born, and the abortion rate among these moms is three times higher than it is for white mothers. Seeing an African-American woman smiling behind Andrew Cuomo as he signed the bill into law was so incongruous. How could she smile, knowing that even more black children will die?

    • Live Action News lamented, “The new law also allows non-physicians to commit non-surgical abortions and moves the abortion law from the state’s penal code to its health code – which removes any threat of the prosecution of abortionists.”

    • LifeNews.com alleged that the law will not allow restrictions on abortion “even for common-sense reasons such as parental consent for minors, informed consent or limits on taxpayer-funded abortions.” The website also circulated a petition calling for Cuomo’s excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church:

    • In an interview with anti-abortion activist Lila Rose on Breitbart News Tonight, host Rebecca Mansour commented that some anti-choice advocates felt “that the law itself could basically make being pro-life illegal because this law has -- calls abortion ‘a fundamental right.’” Mansour likely confused the Reproductive Health Act with a separate call from Cuomo for a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights, although neither would “make being pro-life illegal.” Later in the segment, Rose inaccurately alleged that, with the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, “doing harm is a part of being a doctor in New York,” and called the law “a cash cow for willing abortionists” because of the cost of later abortions.
    • On January 25, Fox & Friends aired a bizarre segment in which Jenna Ellis, the director of public policy at the James Dobson Family Institute, attempted to make a connection between Democratic support for undocumented immigrants and the expansion of abortion rights. Ellis told co-host Steve Doocy that “the progressive left is all about wanting to take down American values and the family,” and claimed that Democrats “want to buy votes” in the form of giving governmental assistance to undocumented immigrants so that they “can continue the abortion agenda.” Fox News ran this chyron during the segment:

    On social media, anti-abortion advocates and right-wing media figures used extreme language to describe the law, and attacked the decision to light up One World Trade Center’s spire after its passage

    • On Matt Walsh’s Daily Wire show, he called the law “an act of unspeakable, unconscionable barbarism” and inaccurately claimed that the law allows you to “kill your child … even a minute before delivery.” He expressed similar sentiments on Twitter:

    • Ohio Republican state Rep.Christina Hagan, who sponsored the state’s version of a so-called “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortions at six weeks, tweeted:

    • Anti-abortion group Human Coalition’s public relations manager Lauren Enriquez:

    • Anti-abortion group Radiance Foundation’s co-founder Ryan Bomberger:

    CBS News also briefly adopted right-wing media rhetoric in a since-changed headline about the law

    • CBS News ran a story about this law with the headline incorrectly characterizing it as “allowing abortions up until baby’s due date if mother’s health is at risk.”

    • Although the headline has since been changed, the resulting framing still invokes similar right-wing media misinformation and stigmatizes medically necessary later abortions. CBS News’ tweet with the original headline remained unchanged.
  • 2018 was marked by anti-abortion extremism, lies, and harassment

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-abortion figures and right-wing media continued to push misinformation about reproductive health in 2018 and tried to insert abortion into nearly every major news story -- no matter how tenuous the connection. The past year also included ample efforts by anti-choice groups to influence federal policy under President Donald Trump, as well as several anti-abortion acts of harassment and violence. Here are some lowlights of anti-abortion extremism this year:

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media attempted to distract from various news stories by drawing inaccurate comparisons to or blaming abortion

    As the Trump presidency entered its second year, right-wing and anti-abortion media attempted to deflect from the administration’s various crises by drawing ridiculous comparisons to reproductive rights or blaming abortion.

    Parkland shooting and the gun-control debate


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • After a February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 dead, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan compared the debate around gun violence prevention policies to calls from the anti-abortion movement to restrict access to abortions after 20 weeks. Noonan argued that lawmakers should “trade banning assault weapons for banning late-term abortion. Make illegal a killing machine and a killing procedure. In both cases the lives of children would be saved.”
    • LifeNews.com’s Steven Ertelt tweeted:
    • During a February 22 appearance on Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, Townhall's Guy Benson talked about the supposed media bias of outlets reporting on the NRA’s political donations but not covering donations from Planned Parenthood’s political arm.
    • Writing for Townhall, conservative blogger Erick Erickson also compared Planned Parenthood to the NRA, saying that “elite opinion makers in America champion Planned Parenthood, which actually does kill thousands of children each year, while savaging the National Rifle Association, which has never killed a child and whose members have actually saved others' lives.”
    • On the March 1 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson asked Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), “What would drive a 19-year-old to want to murder strangers?” In response, Duffy partly blamed abortion, saying, “We dehumanize life in those video games and in those movies, and with abortion.”
    • During the March 2 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham claimed that people should be angier about Planned Parenthood performing abortions than about the role that the NRA plays in facilitating easier access to firearms. Ingraham stated, “If we're going to judge people based on an organization’s blood spilled, well, I hope Planned Parenthood is going to lose all of its partnerships or affiliations given the fact that we have about 57 million babies who never got to see the light of day.”
    • During the March 4 edition of Fox News’ Fox and Friends Weekend, conservative radio host Kathy Barnette said that although the Parkland shooter “killed 17 little souls on that day, but Planned Parenthood kills over 800 babies on a daily basis, and where is the moral outrage on that?”

    Family separation policy


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • On the June 18 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson attacked Democrats for opposing the Trump administration’s policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the U.S. border, saying that the “same people who support third-term, post-viability abortion for purposes of sex selection” were “lecturing” others about “the holiness of children.”
    • Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted:
    • On Westwood One’s The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin said that “suddenly the Democrats care about children” after Trump’s family separation policy went into effect. Levin went on to claim inaccurately that “when it comes to abortion,” Democrats support it “right up to the last second. It can be eight months, 29 days, and they still support abortion.”
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeNews.com responded to a tweet from Planned Parenthood saying children shouldn’t be separated from their parents by alleging that Planned Parenthood was “ignoring how its own practices permanently and violently separate children from their fathers and mothers” and that the organization “does that 876 times a day in abortions.”
    • An article on the website for CRTV’s Louder with Crowder claimed that Planned Parenthood “separates babies from mothers every day. With surgical brutality. These babies are not being stored in chain-linked cages, waiting for processing. Planned Parenthood stores their children in jars. A calvarium in one jar, legs in another. Parts shipped, and sold, separately.”
    • Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor posted this since-deleted tweet:

    Confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • On September 16, The Washington Post published an exclusive interview with Christine Blasey Ford, sharing her previously anonymous account of being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. On September 17, Erick Erickson wrote a post claiming that "the left" was amplifying her account as a tactic to keep abortion legal: “This entire thing is about the right to kill kids, not about the veracity of the accusation.” He continued, “The left is perfectly willing to destroy a man's reputation in order to keep destroying children,” adding that Democrats would use an “uncorroborated, single sourced, 35 year old claim … to protect the right to kill girls in utero.”
    • During the September 17 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson made a similar argument, claiming that Ford’s report came out only because Kavanaugh would likely be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade?” he asked. “Of course it wouldn't have. … Whatever the story is, it's not about protecting women. Don't buy that spin.”
    • From the Washington Examiner:

    • Micaiah Bilger, who writes for anti-abortion outlet LifeNews.com, tweeted at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund account: “If allegations are enough to disqualify someone from something, shouldn't all the allegations against you, Planned Parenthood, disqualify you from getting half a billion of our tax dollars every year?”
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue tweeted a link to a bizarre website that claimed Ford’s account was politically motivated because of the potential impact Kavanaugh’s confirmation would have on the production of a so-called abortion pill. This is a false claim attempting to conflate her research for a pharmaceutical company that developed mifepristone to treat hyperglycemia related to Cushing's syndrome with pills used in medication abortions:
    • On Fox & Friends, Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera said that Ford’s motivation was “all about abortion” because “Kavanaugh is a pro-life guy and this is what it's all about.”
    • Right-wing site RedState argued: “The whole reason Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in the crosshairs of a sexual assault allegation ... is because the left is 100 percent focused on making sure their ability to abort children and profit from it goes uninterrupted.”
    • Religious news site The Stream wrote, “The anti-Kavanaughs — i.e. the Left, the Democrats — could not care less whether he’s innocent or guilty.” Rather, “this is about abortion. It’s about the larger sexual ideology as well, but abortion first and foremost,” because “abortion is both sacrament and god” to those groups.

    Some right-wing media and anti-abortion groups pushed extremist narratives or engaged in harassment

    Harassment, extremism, and violence are not new tactics to the anti-abortion movement. But 2018 featured some particularly notable instances when anti-abortion groups and right-wing media engaged in perpetuating harmful misinformation, conspiracy theories, and extreme narratives about abortion, or fueled anti-abortion harassment:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • In January, the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue started signal-boosting a series of posts targeting Planned Parenthood originating from a far-right message board on 8chan as the organization began delving into the QAnon conspiracy theory. The group leaders Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter having served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- further slid into full embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory over the course of the year.
    • The founders of a group connected to Operation Rescue, Abortion Free New Mexico, also started promoting QAnon-related conspiracies, which the outlet New Mexico Political Report called “a concerning shift in focus and organizing, contradicting their stated goals of non-violence and inclusive outreach.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • In March, National Review writer Kevin Williamson was hired by The Atlantic even though Williamson had previously expressed misogynistic and homophobic viewpoints. Among these was his statement that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.” After initially defending Williamson’s hiring as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced in April that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s doubling down on his argument that those who have had abortions should be hanged -- made in a podcast uncovered by Media Matters the day before Williamson’s firing -- “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”
    • On June 1, right-wing outlet Infowars livestreamed a protest at a Planned Parenthood clinic the day after the anniversary of the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. This stunt continued a long line of right-wing media fostering or encouraging anti-abortion harassment, including the 2015 Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter who had a penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars.
    • In November, right-wing media and anti-abortion figures had a tantrum over what they called a "horrible new ad” attributed to Planned Parenthood -- despite the so-called ad actually being a 2015 video from a political action committee, not Planned Parenthood. However, as conservative figures continued to express disgust, people on social media started to make threats of violence against the health care organization citing shares of the 2015 video online.

    Right-wing media celebrated the Supreme Court giving a boost to anti-abortion fake health clinics

    Fake health clinics (also known as anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers) engage in deception and manipulation in their advertising and interactions with clients with the goal of stopping that person from accessing an abortion. This year, fake health clinics were front and center at the Supreme Court in a case called National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the NIFLA, stopping the implementation of a California law designed to deter some of the manipulative practices of these fake health clinics. Right-wing media celebrated the decision as a “win” for free speech:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • National Review’s editors lamented that the vote was only 5-4, writing that it “should not have been a narrow one,” and that the closeness occurred because “four of the Court’s justices were so hell-bent on promoting the manufactured right to abortion that they were prepared to jettison” the right to free speech. The editors called the California law “an obvious and malicious violation of the First Amendment” and argued that it was “perhaps the best example of the rapidly growing extremism of the abortion-rights movement.”
    • National Review's Alexandra DeSanctis:
    • The Catholic Association’s Andrea Picciotti-Bayer wrote an op-ed for Fox News arguing that the decision “vindicates women and the pregnancy centers who help them” because “the most important service found at a pregnancy center is caring.”
    • In a Newsmax article titled “SCOTUS Gives America a Free Speech, Pro-Life Birthday Gift,” Priests for Life National Director Frank Pavone celebrated the NIFLA decision as “a victory to the fundamental rights which America promised to guarantee at its inception.”
    • Alliance Defending Freedom’s Jessica Prol Smith wrote for The Federalist that "even Americans who call themselves ‘pro choice’ can celebrate this court’s decision to protect authentic options and protect freedom for a woman to choose motherhood.”

    Anti-abortion groups continued to push misinformation about abortion and to allege that they were being censored to rally support and raise money

    Anti-abortion groups continued to promote misinformation on reproductive rights and to use claims that they were being censored by social media companies and news outlets as a tactic to rally support and raise money:


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • In honor of the annual anti-abortion rally the March for Life, right-wing outlets published several articles claiming that the anti-choice movement has science on its side. For example, Fox News’ opinion page published an article by Lauren DeBellis Appell about the March for Life that praised the anti-abortion movement and said it was “winning” in the United States because of technological advancements, including ultrasounds. Christianity Today similarly quoted Denise Harle, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, as saying that “science and technology are on our side” specifically in the context of the myth that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. As The Atlantic noted in a January 18 piece, the anti-abortion movement’s embrace of science could be seen as a “dramatic reversal” because “pro-choice activists have long claimed science for their own side.” Demonstrating support for this view among anti-abortion groups, the January 18 article was picked up by organizations such as the March for Life, Democrats for Life, and the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The March for Life rally adopted the idea that “pro-life is pro-science” as part of its official theme for 2019.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews asked for donations in light of supposed censorship by social media companies. The site posted in March 2018 about the “surprising and disturbing reason why LifeSite’s Spring campaign is struggling.” The reason, according to LifeSiteNews, “is an almost declared war by the globalist social media giants – Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube against websites, blogs and individuals who promote conservative views.” LifeSiteNews pleaded to its readers, writing, “To those of you who were not blocked from reading this letter, we are depending on you much more than normal to help us to reach our goal.” Unsurprisingly, the outlet provided zero evidence of the censorship it was allegedly experiencing.
    • Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress in April 2018, anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) emailed supporters to detail instances where the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies. SBA List then asked supporters to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites!”
    • On October 24, SBA List tweeted that Facebook was “censoring” the organization because it had pulled two of its 2018 midterm elections ads which urged people to “vote pro-life” and to oppose a candidate who allegedly “supports painful late-term abortions.” After the ads were pulled, the group sent out a fundraising email asking people to “Please RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.” SBA List also tweeted that “deleting these ads just weeks before the midterm elections advances the pro-abortion argument" and again claimed that “censoring a #prolife ad that respectfully exposes the brutality of late abortions” meant that Facebook was “publicly taking a stand that they SUPPORT painful late-term abortions of VIABLE children.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights, but the network’s coverage was wrong 77 percent of the time about four common abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures.
    • On One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler frequently alleged that liberals were ignoring right-wing anti-abortion conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood misusing federal funds, supposedly promoting abortion for profit, or engaging in the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors.

    Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services continued to be a hot bed for anti-abortion groups and misinformation

    Last year, Media Matters documented how Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was filled with appointees promoting anti-choice “alternative science” about contraception and abortion. While some of those people have moved to other areas of the administration or just moved on, Trump’s HHS has continued to employ and promote the work of anti-abortion movement darlings in 2018:

    • In January, Politico reported that people like Roger Severino, the head of the Office of Civil Rights in HHS, and Shannon Royce, the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, are part of “a small cadre of politically prominent religious activists inside” HHS who “have spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care — a strategy that's taking shape in a series of policy moves that took even their own staff by surprise.” Royce used to be chief of staff and chief operations officer at the anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council and had previously promoted harmful “ex-gay” conversion therapy.
    • Scott Lloyd became known for denying abortion care to unaccompanied immigrant teens in his custody as the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Lloyd left his position at ORR in November, but he still works with HHS as part of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives and is also planning to write an anti-abortion book. Before his move, Lloyd had reportedly inquired whether a teenager in HHS custody could have her abortion “reversed,” an anti-abortion scam that is not based in science. According to The New York Times, Lloyd also kept a weekly spreadsheet of the “unaccompanied minors who have asked” for an abortion, with information about “how far along” their pregnancy was during his time at ORR. Lloyd was also responsible for slowing down the release of detained children under Trump’s family separation policy as he decided “to personally review requests” for “hundreds of kids.” This resulted in detained children spending “extra time in the jail-like facilities, which have been associated with far more allegations of abuse and mistreatment than the shelters and homestays that hold most of the children in ORR custody.”
    • In May 2018, Diana Foley became deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Population Affairs, which oversees the Title X family planning program. As Rewire.News noted, Foley had “served as the president and CEO of Life Network, which, according to its website, promotes ‘life-affirming alternatives to abortion’ and operates two anti-choice clinics.” Beyond this, Foley had also given a 2016 presentation in which she expressed support for the discredited idea that people pathologically experience emotional and physical difficulties as a direct result of having an abortion.
    • In 2018, Steven Valentine became the chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. As Rewire.News reported, Valentine served as SBA List’s interim legislative director where he actively worked to draft and pass anti-abortion legislation. His brother Billy Valentine still works for SBA List as the organization’s vice president of public policy.
    • Before Matthew Bowman became deputy general counsel at HHS in 2018, he worked for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as part of the organization’s team “litigating some of ADF’s most prominent religious imposition cases.” Rewire.News wrote that during these cases, “Bowman repeatedly promoted the false claim that intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives cause abortions. His distaste for ensuring access to contraceptives extended to writing a January 2015 post for the conservative site TownHall.com with the headline: ‘How the contraception mandate may spread measles.’”

    Anti-abortion violence and harassment continued against abortion providers and clinics

    Every year, the National Abortion Federation releases a report documenting the previous years’ incidents of anti-abortion harassment and violence against providers, patients, and clinics. This year’s report found that “trespassing more than tripled, death threats/threats of harm nearly doubled, and incidents of obstruction rose from 580 in 2016 to more than 1,700 in 2017. We also continued to see an increase in targeted hate mail/harassing phone calls, and clinic invasions, and had the first attempted bombing in many years.” The harassment of abortion providers, clinics, and supporters continued in 2018:


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • In February, a man crashed a stolen vehicle into a Planned Parenthood in New Jersey “injuring a pregnant woman and two others.” According to prosecutors, the man had begun “researching the locations of Planned Parenthood clinics more than a year before.” He was later charged with terrorism, but pleaded not guilty.
    • Flip Benham, the former head of anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America, was arrested in North Carolina and “charged with communicating threats” outside of a clinic in Charlotte, according to The Charlotte Observer.
    • In March, a man in West Virginia was “charged with making threats on Facebook against the Pittsburgh office of Planned Parenthood,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Before the alleged threats, he had written on Facebook “that his girlfriend got an abortion against his wishes in 2010. He said he found out who the clinicians were who aborted his child and said he knew five houses where he could steal an AR-15.”
    • A man suspected of setting off a series of bombs in Austin, TX, was reported to have “previously wrote online that he was opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.”
    • A Planned Parenthood in San Diego was vandalized twice in six weeks.
    • In April, a man who crashed his car into barriers outside of a Planned Parenthood in Seattle was “charged for the assault and the damage but not for targeting the provider of women’s health services,” though he told police in an interview, “Damn right … I blew up Planned Parenthood...Blew Planned Parenthood the fuck up.”
    • A man in New Hampshire pleaded guilty “to leaving a 9 mm bullet at a Beverly medical office where his girlfriend had just terminated a pregnancy.” He told police, “I left the bullet there because they killed my baby."
    • A Planned Parenthood clinic in California closed because a partner organization “received ‘hostile communications’ from anti-Planned Parenthood activists.”
    • Abortion clinics in California and Iowa sustained property damage from targeted actions. In July, a Planned Parenthood in California was set on fire and caused “moderate damage” before being put out. In September, a man was arrested “after allegedly grabbing a log and throwing it at a window of an abortion clinic” in Iowa.
    • A man who was a “self-proclaimed misogynist,” according to BuzzFeed News, killed two women at a yoga studio in Florida in November. In a series of videos he had posted in the years before the attack, “he said that he resented having to subsidize as a taxpayer ‘the casual sex lives of slutty girls’ through the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provisions.”
    • In December, a man was charged with threatening “to murder a United States official” after he left death threats in a voicemail with an unidentified female U.S. Senator’s office. According to Newsweek, the man “became ‘very angry’ after watching online video clips of the senator discussing reproductive rights and criticizing Trump.”
  • An anti-abortion group is parroting a right-wing talking point about censorship to rally midterm support

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the lead-up to the midterm elections, anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) has ginned up controversy, claiming to have been censored by Facebook, which removed two SBA List ads urging people to "vote pro-life." Facebook said it removed the ads for violating content rules about depicting medical procedures or conditions. Outlets should not be fooled: Alleging censorship is a well-worn tactic used by anti-abortion organizations big and small to promote misinformation and raise money.

    On October 24, SBA List tweeted that Facebook was “censoring” the organization because it had pulled two of its 2018 midterm elections ads, which urged people to “vote pro-life” and to oppose a candidate who “supports painful late-term abortions.” The two ads presented stories of children born prematurely and quoted their parents urging voters not to support what the ads described as “late-term abortions.”

    It is important to note that neither ad depicted the reality of abortion -- performed later in a pregnancy or otherwise. SBA List attempted to conflate the birth of premature infants with an inaccurate characterization of later abortions, claiming those procedures induce fetal pain, which is not supported by scientific evidence.

    In an email exchange posted by SBA List, Facebook said that at least one of the ads was pulled because Facebook doesn’t “allow ads that depict medical procedures or conditions”; such content is deemed to “feature sensational or graphic content,” which is not allowed because of its “highly sensitive nature.” Both of the ads showed premature babies in a medical setting.

    SBA List has a history of either intentionally manufacturing or alleging censorship claims to gin up controversy, which is part of a longstanding conservative misinformation strategy. The group’s current cry of censorship is the latest in a long line of similar claims by anti-abortion advocates who use the tactic to generate attention and to raise money. In October 2017, SBA List contended that Twitter had censored the organization when it deleted an ad targeting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the 2017 election, seemingly for the use of inflammatory language. Citing this example and other anti-abortion censorship allegations, SBA List asked people to “make a gift today to get our pro-life message past Twitter’s censorship” and to “fight back against Twitter’s censorship.” SBA List also sent out an email in April 2018 detailing instances in which the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies and directed people to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites.”

    This latest censorship claim by SBA List is no different. The group sent out a fundraising email after the ads were pulled, asking people to “Please RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.” SBA List also tweeted that “deleting these ads just weeks before the midterm elections advances the pro-abortion argument" and again claimed that “censoring a #prolife ad that respectfully exposes the brutality of late abortions” meant that Facebook was “publicly taking a stand that they SUPPORT painful late-term abortions of VIABLE children.” In a press release, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said that “the clock is ticking to Election Day, and Facebook is stifling our ability to get our message out about politicians who support brutal late-term abortions.”

    Right-wing and anti-abortion outlets frequently report on these censorship claims uncritically, often failing to offer any push back. A particularly egregious source of this media behavior is (unsurprisingly) Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who has hosted Live Action’s Lila Rose multiple times to pontificate about the alleged censorship of anti-abortion views by social media platforms and other sources. SBA List’s latest claim was also picked up and promoted by Life News, Breitbart, and Washington Free Beacon. But, more troublingly, it was also treated credibly by Politico in its Politico Pulse newsletter, which briefly reported on the dispute without questioning the claims or including Facebook’s perspective. And Politico’s isn't the only newsletter that has carried water for SBA List. The October 30 edition of The Washington Post's health care newsletter, The Health 202, spotlighted another ad placed by the group targeting Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The Health 202 has uncritically promoted SBA List campaigns or talking points in the past as well.

    SBA List’s tactic of claiming censorship is disingenuous. It is a part of a larger pattern of behavior by anti-abortion advocates -- and conservative media more broadly -- to exploit any perceived slight against them as a strategy to gain attention and financial support for their misinformation. But conservative claims of social media censorship have been soundly refuted. When outlets pick up these claims without pushing back or contextualizing them, they are spreading a false right-wing talking point that conservative voices are disproportionately targeted on social media platforms.

  • Anti-abortion extremists keep crying censorship to raise money

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If there’s one thing Republicans love more than pretending they’re being victimized by liberal elites, it’s raising money off this inaccurate claim -- a tendency demonstrated clearly during recent congressional hearings on the activities of Facebook. During these hearings, Republican members of Congress elevated various overinflated right-wing grievances against social media companies (such as claims of anti-abortion censorship and anti-Christian bias) in order to pressure the platform into allowing greater promotion of inflammatory or inaccurate content. In particular, they seized on pro-Trump YouTubers Diamond and Silk, who have actively lied about Facebook censoring them and then used the attention to raise money. As close watchers of the anti-abortion movement know, this tactic of crying censorship to garner attention and raise funds is a favorite of anti-choice actors. Here are a few that have recently employed this practice:

    Live Action

    Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight in June 2017 alleging that Twitter was censoring Live Action’s ads due to ideological bias. In reality, the content still appeared on Live Action’s Twitter page, but was not allowed to be promoted as an advertisement to other users, not because of bias, but because it violated several of Twitter’s content policies regarding "hate content, sensitive topics, and violence.”

    Instead of altering the organization’s content to meet Twitter’s policies, Rose appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight and used claims of supposed censorship to raise funds for Live Action. As Rose told Carlson, “We’re actually doing a campaign right now to get people to fund Live Action and to get out the information that Twitter is trying to block using other platforms -- using Facebook, using YouTube, using the blogosphere, obviously coming on here and talking with you.”

    Live Action continued to deploy this dishonest tactic even after Rose’s Fox News appearance. Following the June 26 segment, Live Action sent a fundraising email claiming that “Live Action is being suppressed” and asking supporters “to help us strengthen our efforts against the abortion industry.” Live Action’s censorship allegations also animated other right-wing media outlets. For example, on June 29, Christian Broadcasting Network published an article promoting Live Action’s claims about Twitter’s ad policy, which stated that “Live Action has launched a campaign to compensate for their losses due to Twitter’s censoring,” and directed readers to Live Action’s fundraising page. Rose and Live Action also pushed the narrative on Twitter, using the hashtag #DontDeleteMe -- even though all of Live Action tweets remained publicly available on the platform.

    The group also continued to use claims of censorship to raise funds in three October 2017 emails. In one email, Live Action stated that “Twitter is STILL banning our paid ads” and asked whether members would “give a gift to Live Action today so that we can expose more people to the truth.” In another email, Live Action claimed, “While we work to pressure Twitter to lift their ban on ads for pro-life content, we must double our efforts elsewhere” and asked people to “make a gift … so that we can reach more people with the truth.” Live Action made a similar plea in another email, asking people to “consider helping us reach more Americans with the truth about abortion through our other social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.”

    Operation Rescue

    The extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue claimed in July 2017 that Google was censoring parts of its website after its page rankings decreased in the results of searches for “abortions in US” or “abortion statistics.” The group alleged that “Google’s search engine has manipulated search parameters to dramatically reduce exposure” to Operation Rescue's web pages, which contain abortion statistics purporting to show the "truth about abortion." Operation Rescue then sent a fundraising email asking for support to "launch a massive campaign to ensure our critical abortion research and pro-life content is available, and no longer pushed down by the pro-abortion radicals at Google." Prior to the complaint, Google announced a policy change regarding how sites containing misleading or false information would be ranked.

    Susan B. Anthony List

    In October 2017, Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) claimed that one of the organization’s Twitter ads, targeting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the 2017 election, was taken down by the platform, seemingly for inflammatory language. Citing this example and other anti-abortion censorship allegations, SBA List asked people to “make a gift today to get our pro-life message past Twitter’s censorship” and to “fight back against Twitter’s censorship.”

    Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress last week, SBA List reprised this tactic and emailed supporters to detail instances where the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies. SBA List then directed people to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites.”

    Anti-abortion outlets

    Not to be left out of the conversation about supposed anti-abortion censorship, the anti-choice news outlet Life News also sent an email after Zuckerberg’s testimony stating, “Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube are increasingly censoring pro-life voices,” and asking readers to sign a petition and to “make a donation today … so we can continue to stand up to these social media giants [and] their censorship.”

    Another anti-abortion outlet, LifeSite News, also asked for donations in light of supposed censorship by social media companies. The site posted in March 2018 about the “surprising and disturbing reason why LifeSite’s Spring campaign is struggling.” The reason, according to LifeSite News, “is an almost declared war by the globalist social media giants – Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube against websites, blogs and individuals who promote conservative views.” LifeSite argued that its inability to raise funds was due to censorship from Facebook and Google and pleaded to readers, writing, “To those of you who were not blocked from reading this letter, we are depending on you much more than normal to help us to reach our goal.” Unsurprisingly, the outlet provided zero evidence of the censorship it was allegedly experiencing.

    Roe v. Wade -- the movie

    The producer of an anti-abortion film about Roe v. Wade claimed that Facebook temporarily blocked his ability to post an Indiegogo crowdfunding page for the production of the film. On the Indiegogo page, the film is described as “the real untold story of how people lied; how the media lied; and how the courts were manipulated to pass a law that has since killed over 60 million Americans.” According to the film’s crowdfunding page, the film needs “support now more than ever. Facebook has banned us from inviting friends to ‘Like’ our page and from ‘Sharing’ our PAID ads.”

    Rep. Marsha Blackburn

    In October 2017, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced she was running for a Senate seat by tweeting out a campaign video that included a mention of her time as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- a sham investigation based on deceptive and disproven claims by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The video included inflammatory language such as that Blackburn had “stopped the sale of baby body parts.” After Twitter temporarily blocked her from running the tweet as a paid ad due to its inflammatory language, Blackburn claimed censorship and made the rounds on Fox News to push this story. Blackburn also used the opportunity to tweet that the “conservative revolution won’t be stopped by @Twitter and the liberal elite,” urging people to “donate to my Senate campaign today.”

    Anti-abortion groups and outlets have found a great deal of success in crying censorship -- a lesson that wider conservative media outlets and figures appear to be taking to heart. As a recently published report from the right-wing Media Research Center (a report that was readily promoted by outlets like Life News) melodramatically framed the issue: “The question facing the conservative movement is one of survival. Can it survive online if the tech companies no longer allow conservative speech and speakers? And, if that happens, can the movement survive at all?”

  • Tucker Carlson accidentally proved why campaigns to combat abortion stigma are necessary

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    New year, same old Tucker Carlson. During the January 23 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson attempted to attack a recently launched campaign that aims to debunk abortion stigma -- only to demonstrate why such campaigns are actually necessary in the first place.

    The term abortion stigma refers to an idea that abortion is inherently wrong or socially unacceptable. It’s a belief that is culturally ingrained and reinforced in both implicit and explicit ways through media coverage, popular culture, and a lack of accurate information about the procedure itself. In particular, right-wing media and anti-choice groups have worked relentlessly to capitalize on this lack of public knowledge and awareness by demonizing abortion providers and patients and by fearmongering about the safety of abortion procedures. Because abortion stigma pervades when there is a lack of information or factual discussions about abortion, some advocates promote the idea of highlighting individual experiences and personal narratives as a strategy to encourage more public dialogue about abortion being a normal part of health care.

    Accordingly, in early January 2018, Ohio abortion provider Preterm launched a new campaign called “My Abortion, My Life,” consisting of 16 billboards put up around the city of Cleveland, Ohio. According to Preterm, all the billboards feature “a fill-in-the-blank sentence: ‘Abortion is ______’” and are filled in with “a different word or phrase, highlighting the variety of ways abortion is important to our lives.” According to Cleveland.com, Preterm’s director of development and communications issued a news release saying that the organization wanted “to push people to think about abortion in new, diverse ways with these billboards" and wanted “people in our community who have had abortions to know that they're not alone."

    During the January 23 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson hosted psychologist Dr. Robin Bryman to discuss the Preterm campaign and abortion stigma. The segment, in which Bryman (seemingly) supported abortion access, demonstrated how easy it is to rely on talking points rife with abortion stigma.

    Carlson began the segment by asking Bryman about a recent paper by Dr. Gretchen Sisson (of University of California, San Francisco and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health) in which she argued for better depictions of abortion plotlines in television. Although Bryman initially appeared to be in support of abortion access, commenting that the study was “trying to destigmatize [abortion] with women,” her statements quickly veered into essentializing tropes.

    Although Bryman advocated for people to have the option to seek an abortion throughout the segment, she continuously reiterated stigmatizing characterizations of the medical practice describing it as “a very hard decision to make,” “a no-win situation,” and as “traumatic.” Carlson capitalized on Bryman's depictions and kept promoting the idea of abortion as inherently wrong. At one point, when Carlson asked her if there was anything that made her “personally uncomfortable” about abortion, Bryman responded: “Absolutely.” In another instance, Carlson asked Bryman directly about the Preterm campaign, and other efforts like it to encourage public dialogue -- both parties couched their comments in stigmatizing rhetoric:

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): What does that mean, “no-win situation?”

    DR. ROBIN BRYMAN: In other words, it means that a woman that has an unwanted pregnancy has to make a decision. And the decision is a no-win situation. She has to end the life of an unborn baby.

    CARLSON: I mean, I think you’re right. So, why do you hear people say, we should celebrate it, we should convince others there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s not a big deal, it’s a positive thing --

    BRYMAN: Oh, it’s not -- it’s a huge deal. And it’s not a positive thing. And I don’t agree with that. I think it’s a traumatic thing that sometimes there’s no other option. And that’s why I do keep saying that it’s a no-win situation, because it really is.

    Carlson was not alone in his attack on the Preterm campaign. As with other attempts to combat abortion stigma, almost immediately after the campaign launched, it ignited right-wing backlash and became the target of articles from a variety of conservative and anti-abortion sites. Townhall described the campaign as “rather disturbing” and argued that “there’s no way to spin away that abortion is the termination of a baby.” Conservative Review claimed that the campaign “relies on deception and flagrant contradictions” before going through each of the 16 billboard designs with comments, calling some “a malicious lie,” “inherently selfish,” and “depraved.” The article also concluded that “abortion is a ‘sacred’ rite in the culture of death.” Meanwhile, outlets like The Daily Wire and Life News both used the campaign to promote the myth that abortion providers target black communities.

    Although Bryman claimed that individuals should have the option to have an abortion several times during the segment, her answers underscore the importance of having conversations even among pro-choice communities about why abortion isn’t inherently “a hard choice” or “a big deal.” As Preterm explained, “Abortion can be simple or complex. Easy or hard. A blessing or a struggle. It can be all of the above—and more.” And having conversations about those experiences is essential.

    Carlson’s reaction to this campaign and others is largely unremarkable, like much of his commentary that isn’t blatant pandering to white nationalists. What is remarkable, however, is that his attempt to attack Preterm’s campaign actually underscores the necessity of such approaches by advocates to combat abortion stigma.