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  • David Brooks gets everything wrong about abortion after 20 weeks

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After The New York Times published an op-ed by columnist David Brooks claiming Democrats need to support a 20-week abortion ban to remain electorally competitive, several media outlets and pro-choice groups wrote responses that called out Brooks’ inaccurate assumptions. These responses not only highlighted how 20-week bans are based on junk science, but also underscored how the reality of later abortions makes support for abortion access a winning issue for Democrats.

  • Republicans want the media to ignore their draconian abortion bill. So far, the media is playing along.

    The House passed a 20-week abortion ban based on junk science -- and if anti-choice groups get their way, the Senate will do the same

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN, MILES LE & DAYANITA RAMESH


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-choice politicians are making moves on an extreme anti-abortion bill -- but if you’re watching cable news, you might not have heard much about it.

    In October 2017, members of the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy -- and if anti-abortion leaders and their legislative allies get their way, the Senate may soon vote to do the same. In a January 24 article, Bustle warned that a procedural vote on the 20-week ban could come as early as “the start of next week” and described the effort as “a new and more aggressive chapter in the Republican fight against women’s reproductive freedoms.” This comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s Rose Garden speech addressing the 2018 March for Life participants, where he called on lawmakers to pass the 20-week ban and send it to his desk.  

    But if you’re watching cable news, you might not hear much about this draconian measure or the junk science used to justify the harmful and medically unnecessary restriction. Unfortunately, right-wing media are taking full advantage of the silence since last October to fill the void with anti-abortion misinformation and spin:

    Twenty-week abortion bans are built on the inaccurate claim that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks in pregnancy, despite the wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary that such claims do not track with the majority of scientific consensus.

    For example, Dr. Anne Davis, an abortion provider and consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Salon in 2013 that the push for 20-week bans caused patients to begin asking her about fetal pain, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that the fetus does not feel pain at 20 weeks. Davis said, “It’s just another thing these women have to struggle with. And why? These are created concerns. They are not based in science, they are based in politics.”

    Undeterred, right-wing media seized on the passage of the House bill to promote anti-choice misinformation. Outlets such as Townhall and Breitbart lauded the House vote, with the latter arguing that the legislation was “based on the science” that a fetus can feel pain “as early as 18 weeks.” The Washington Examiner claimed that there was “no doubt” about fetal pain or the necessity of banning abortions at 20 weeks. The Daily Signal criticized the Journal of American Medicine Association for disputing the occurrence of fetal pain by 20 weeks and alleged that there were “subsequent studies finding otherwise.”

    Even the researchers behind studies commonly cited by anti-abortion groups and politicians reject such use of their findings. As The Daily Beast explained in a May 2016 article, one researcher “told The New York Times that his frequently-cited research ‘did not deal with pain specifically’” and was being misrepresented by anti-abortion advocates.

    Although the science behind 20-week bans may be scarce, the harm such restrictions do is anything but.

    A ban on abortion at 20 weeks would disproportionately impact low-income people. As the Guttmacher Institute explained, these patients may have to delay an abortion to later in pregnancy “because they had difficulty raising funds for the procedure and travel costs, or because they had difficulty securing insurance coverage.” But anti-choice politicians and right-wing media frequently vilify people who have later abortions and largely ignore the reality that people who seek these procedures do so for a variety of personal and medical reasons. 

    The bottom line is this: Right-wing and anti-choice media are going to talk up unsupported claims of “fetal pain” before 20 weeks and the harmful legislation that follows. Journalists have an obligation to debunk the junk science and right-wing talking points behind this 20-week ban as it moves through the Senate

  • What men's rights activists and other "anti-feminist" men have in common with white supremacists

    It's not just Breitbart.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    The "Men's Rights Movement" (MRM) regularly overlaps with and reinforces white supremacy and the “alt-right” through a shared belief that dominant groups in society -- men and whites, respectively -- are actually oppressed. Along with other "anti-feminist" activists, this misogynist coalition seeks to force its regressive viewpoint on the rest of society, from movie releases to federal education policy. From online harassment to deadly violence, the MRM and its activists are an immediate and growing threat.

  • The right has a new 20-week abortion ban, and it's still built on junk science and right-wing lies.

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    The U.S. House of Representatives has promised an October 3 vote on a 20-week abortion ban -- misleadingly named the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act -- that is based on junk science and a longstanding right-wing media myth that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks in a pregnancy. In reporting on the vote, media have an obligation to include scientifically accurate information about abortion including 20-week abortion bans at the state level, how a ban is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, and the personal or medical decisions behind having an abortion after 20 weeks.

  • Broadly highlights how crisis pregnancy centers promote misinformation instead of medical care

    “It’s reckless and dangerous to approach accepted medical science as one approaches faith -- as if incessantly proselytizing about the grave dangers of abortion makes it true.”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In a May 30 article, Broadly’s Callie Beusman highlighted the “public health crisis” posed by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- anti-abortion organizations that represent themselves as reproductive care clinics, but that employ deceptive tactics and medical misinformation to mislead patients into continuing their pregnancies.

    According to Beusman, the recent opening of the Hartford Women’s Center, a CPC located “a mere 30 feet from Hartford GYN Center, in the same office complex, with nearly identical signage,” is an entirely intentional decision by the anti-abortion organizers behind it. As Beusman explained, CPCs often “employ a variety of deceptive tactics, including posting misleading ads and establishing locations next to clinics and hospitals, with the intent of luring women into their offices” so that they can “bombard them with spurious information” until they either reject abortion or delay the decision long enough “to push the pregnancy past the legal window for termination.”

    Beusman said NARAL described the consequences of allowing CPCs to supplant legitimate reproductive health and abortion care in many communities as a “public health crisis.” For example, despite appearing as a “legitimate family planning clinic on its surface,” Hartford Women’s Center in reality provided “none of the vital health care services women can access next door at Hartford GYN Center: no STI testing, no well women exams, no prenatal care, no birth control.”

    This is not uncommon. A year-long investigation by Cosmopolitan found that CPCs often “do not provide or refer [patients] for contraception or abortion” and that many employees, “even those who provide medical information, are not licensed.” According to Salon, in some cases, states directly fund CPCs to provide misleading information anti-choice in lieu of actual medical services. In one example, in 2016, Texas awarded the second largest contract in the state’s restructured reproductive health program to anti-abortion extremist Carol Everett and her network of CPCs, The Heidi Group. In mid-March, The Dallas Morning News reported that despite being “armed with $1.6 million taxpayer dollars, the Heidi Group has delivered nothing.”

    As Beusman explained, “It's reckless and dangerous to approach accepted medical science as one approaches faith—as if incessantly proselytizing about the grave dangers of abortion makes it true, or as though it's ever morally justifiable to deny care to women in need.”

    From Broadly:

    Hartford Women's Center, which opened its doors for the first time this month, is the newest St. Gerard's location. It's a mere 30 feet from Hartford GYN Center, in the same office complex, with nearly identical signage. This is very confusing, and intentionally so. Hartford Women's Center is what's known as a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), a term used to describe anti-abortion organizations whose sole purpose is to convince women to carry pregnancies to term, oftentimes by posing as legitimate reproductive health care providers.

    CPCs typically employ a variety of deceptive tactics, including posting misleading ads and establishing locations next to clinics and hospitals, with the intent of luring women into their offices. Once women are in their clutches, they bombard them with spurious information: that abortions are extremely painful and perilous, that ending an unwanted pregnancy may result in permanent psychological damage, that an abortion might not even be necessary because miscarriage is so common. In some cases, staff will even lie about the fetus' gestational age in order to push the pregnancy past the legal window for termination. There are currently over 3500 CPCs operating in America, compared with around 800 abortion clinics.

    [...]

    Although Hartford Women's Center resembles a legitimate family planning clinic on its surface, it offers basically none of the vital health care services women can access next door at Hartford GYN Center: no STI testing, no well women exams, no prenatal care, no birth control. Women who end up in the center are told that abortion is murder, that several forms of contraception are also murder, and that choosing to terminate a pregnancy could have ruinous repercussions, including PTSD, breast cancer, and infertility. They're urged to carry their pregnancies to term and promised financial and emotional support if they choose to do so. (In addition to the services advertised on its card, St. Gerard's currently offers free baby clothing and diapers for women who enroll in its education program, social service referrals, and baptism preparation for infants and mothers alike.)

    [...]

    I do not doubt that numerous volunteers and "prayer warriors" who had flocked to the new St. Gerard's location genuinely felt they were doing the right thing: saving the mother from sin, saving the fetus from abortion. I think they believe all their own stories, the Biblical parables and anti-abortion propaganda materials alike. But it's reckless and dangerous to approach accepted medical science as one approaches faith—as if incessantly proselytizing about the grave dangers of abortion makes it true, or as though it's ever morally justifiable to deny care to women in need.

  • These Are The Candidates Right-Wing Media Are Floating To Head The FBI

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Following President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, conservative media floated extreme right-wing personalities to lead the FBI. These possible FBI director replacements have a history of racist and anti-Muslim comments often made on Fox News, and their records demonstrate they can’t be trusted to lead the bureau impartially through the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in 2016.

  • STUDY: Cable News’ Sporadic Coverage Of Trump's Hidden Tax Returns

    Nearly Half Of Cable News Discussion Of Trump Tax Returns Since Inauguration Occurred Within A Week Of Rachel Maddow’s Tax Exclusive

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Media Matters study found that between President Donald Trump’s January 20 inauguration and Tax Day, April 18, evening cable news has dedicated only sporadic coverage to Trump’s failure to release his tax returns. And of the 110 segments spread out over three months, nearly half came within a week after MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow revealed two leaked pages of Trump’s 2005 tax documents. This inconsistent coverage comes as pressure mounts from activists and Republican lawmakers for the president to release his tax returns, and highlights the media’s inability to consistently report on this story.

  • Watch Kellyanne Conway Push Three Anti-Abortion Myths In Under Two Minutes

    Fox Hosts Senior Trump Aide To Spread Junk Science, Myths About Abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    In less than two minutes during a Fox News interview, Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to President Donald Trump, peddled three of right-wing media’s favorite anti-abortion myths.

    Appearing on the January 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Conway responded to a question about the reason she participates in the March for Life, an annual anti-abortion protest, by arguing that "partial-birth" and "sex-selective" abortions are common in the United States -- despite significant scientific and medical evidence to the contrary. She also wrongly claimed that taxpayers foot the bill for abortion care and that fetuses can feel pain when aborted at 20 weeks:

    1. So-Called “Partial-Birth” And “Sex-Selective” Abortions Are Anti-Choice Myths, Based On Junk Science

    Conway cited “partial-birth abortions" and "sex-selection abortions" as reasons she's participating in the March for Life, claiming she could "basically go get a pregnancy test and then go get a sex test and schedule my abortion.” 

    Fact: So-called “partial-birth” and “sex-selection” abortions are anti-choice myths, based entirely on junk science.

    Right-wing media, anti-choice politicians, and Conway herself have often repeated the allegation that both “partial-birth” and “sex-selection” (usually termed “sex-selective”) abortions are a common occurrence. In reality, neither term is medically accurate nor do they describe actual abortion procedures performed in the United States.

    “Partial-birth” abortion is a nonmedical and fabricated term coined by anti-choice groups to vilify and stigmatize individuals who elect to have a later-term abortion. Despite right-wing media’s insistence that “partial-birth” abortions are common, 99 percent of abortions in the United States take place before the 20th week of pregnancy. The Supreme Court explicitly protected the right to an abortion beyond this point when the life or health of the mother is endangered -- meaning late-term procedures are often performed only in instances of medical need. As Rolling Stone reported, late-term procedures occur “when something has gone terribly wrong” and they often represent the “loss of a wanted pregnancy.”

    Conway’s allegations about so-called “sex-selective” abortions are similarly unfounded. Since 2012, anti-choice lawmakers have attempted to legislate against the practice of “sex-selective” abortion. In an October 2016 release, the Guttmacher Institute noted that “sex-selective” abortion restrictions are specifically designed to “make abortion less accessible.” Furthermore, a 2014 report by the University of Chicago Law School, the National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) found that “sex-selective” abortion bans have no evidentiary basis. They wrote:

    The key empirical support for sex-selective abortion bans in the United States comes from a study of census data that is now almost 15 years old. The study by Almond and Edlund found male-biased sex ratios at birth for the second and third children of foreign-born Chinese, Indians and Koreans when they had already given birth to one or two girls. Our study of more recent data from the American Community Survey from 2007 to 2011 reveals that the sex ratios at birth of foreign-born Chinese, Indians and Koreans, as well as all Asian Americans, in the United States are lower than the sex ratios of white Americans, when all births are taken into account. This means that Asian Americans have more girls than white Americans. The National Asian American Survey, a poll conducted among Asian Americans, further reveals that Asian Americans do not have a preference for sons over daughters.

    2. “Taxpayer-Funded” Abortion Is A Right-Wing Media Myth

    Conway listed “taxpayer-funded abortion” as one of the reasons she’s participating in the March for Life.

    Fact: The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal abortion funding -- with negative consequences for abortion access.

    Conway and right-wing media have insisted that Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers use taxpayer money to fund abortion services -- despite a longstanding prohibition on the use of federal funds for this purpose.

    The Hyde Amendment is a budgetary rider that has barred the use of federal Medicaid funds to cover abortion care, except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life. Significantly, days before the March for Life, the House of Representatives voted to codify and dangerously expand the Hyde Amendment.

    A 2016 report from the Guttmacher Institute detailed the devastating impact of the Hyde Amendment on low-income and marginalized communities. The report found that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services.

    Women of color -- especially black women, Latinas, and American Indians -- also suffer a disparate impact from the Hyde Amendment's restrictions.

    3. Fetal Pain Is A Scientifically Flawed Premise And Does Not Justify Bans On Abortion After 20 Weeks

    Conway listed “fetal pain abortion, where nonpartisan and nonpolitical scientists and physicians have said an unborn baby can feel pain at 20 weeks, basically the halfway point,” as a reason she’s participating in the March for Life.

    Fact: Fetal pain is a scientifically flawed premise and does not justify bans on abortion after 20 weeks.

    Conway’s allegations about fetal pain are based on the flawed premise that a fetus is able to feel pain starting around 20 weeks post-fertilization. Assertions about fetal pain have animated right-wing media discussions of abortion and supplied talking points for anti-choice politicians to push for increasingly restrictive and medically unnecessary laws targeting abortion access after 20 weeks.

    Despite Conway’s claim that “nonpolitical scientists and physicians have said that an unborn baby can feel pain at 20 weeks,” there is a wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary. The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen wrote that there is little science supporting 20-week bans, and the few examples that anti-choice lawmakers point to are highly contested in the medical community. As Allen explained, two of the three researchers whose work is commonly cited to support fetal pain bills “have already publicly disagreed with the way in which their findings have been used by anti-abortion advocates”:

    In 2013, Dr. Merker told The New York Times that his frequently-cited research “did not deal with pain specifically.” Even Dr. Anand, who believes that fetal pain could start earlier than the literature suggests, told the Times that he used to testify in court cases on abortion bans but that he stopped because “it’s just gotten completely out of hand.”

    In an interview with Salon, Columbia University Medical Center’s Dr. Anne Davis said warnings about fetal pain are “created concerns” that are “based in politics,” not science. According to Davis, a fetus’s brain is not sufficiently developed to perceive pain until 24 weeks gestation.

    A transcript of Conway’s comments on abortion is below:

    AINSLEY EARHARDT: I know you have had a very busy week, Kellyanne. Today is no different. You’re going to be marching for the March for Life today in Washington along with the vice president. Why are you doing this?

    KELLYANNE CONWAY: I believe in the sanctity of life. I think that if we can promote and protect life from conception to natural death it says an awful lot about our country. It's no mistake that in our own Declaration of Independence life was the very first right that is mentioned. And it was precious then. It remains precious now. We have to stop this culture that just looks the other way. Partial-birth abortions, sex-selection abortions -- I can basically go get a pregnancy test and then go get a sex test and schedule my abortion. That's not America’s foundation. Taxpayer-funded abortion. Of course fetal pain abortion, where nonpartisan and nonpolitical scientists and physicians have said an unborn baby can feel pain at 20 weeks, basically the halfway point.

    And we just have to look at this as a culture of life. Many presidents and vice presidents have said they were pro-life. They were. But to have Vice President Mike Pence go out on that mall today in just a few short hours and address those who are coming around from the country and indeed the world to bond together to protect the culture of life is truly remarkable and historic. I think it's a big day for Vice President Pence. [Fox News Channel, Fox & Friends, 1/27/17]

  • The Questions Chris Wallace Should -- But Probably Wont -- #AskAboutAbortion In The Final Debate

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On October 19, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News will have the last opportunity in a 2016 presidential debate to ask either candidate a direct and meaningful question about abortion -- an opportunity that, if history is any guide, will likely be ignored.

    Throughout this election cycle, reproductive rights advocates have been pushing for debate moderators to #AskAboutAbortion. Unfortunately, given the history of debate questions asked about reproductive rights topics since 1960, if Wallace does ask about abortion it will most likely be framed in the context of the candidates’ faiths or preferences for judicial nominees.

    On October 12, the Commission on Presidential Debates released the topics for the third and final presidential debate -- a list that includes debt, immigration, the economy, and the Supreme Court. Although abortion is not among the given topics, it could play a significant role in any comprehensive conversation about the candidates’ policies for addressing economic insecurity or even immigration.

    Here are the debate questions Chris Wallace should -- but probably won’t -- ask about abortion in the final debate:

    1. Debt And Entitlements

    The intersection between entitlements and federal support for reproductive health care is both substantive and significant in the wider landscape of abortion access advocacy.

    Since 1977, the Hyde amendment has restricted federal funding -- and in particular, Medicaid funds -- from supporting abortion services. The amendment has been re-enacted annually to prevent the use of federal funds for abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

    Because of its restrictions, the Hyde amendment has created a significant barrier for low-income patients attempting to access safe and legal abortion care. In a July 2016 study, the Guttmacher Institute found that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services.

    As Medicaid is an entitlement program, asking about abortion in the context of entitlements would be particularly appropriate given that both Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, have taken an explicit stance on the Hyde amendment.

    As Rebecca Traister explained in New York magazine, Clinton was the first presidential nominee to speak out against the Hyde amendment when she decided to “publicly do battle” against the restriction in January. The Democratic Party also formally adopted repealing the Hyde amendment as a priority in its platform -- marking the first time a major political party has targeted the anti-choice restriction on this scale.

    In contrast, Trump has committed himself to making the Hyde amendment “permanent law” in order to prevent “taxpayers from having to pay for abortions.”

    2. Immigration

    Abortion access is also a fruitful topic for discussion in the context of U.S. immigration policy, particularly the impact of reproductive health care policies that disproportionately affect Latinas and mixed immigration status families living in the border state of Texas.

    Disparate access to health care coverage is an issue impacting many immigrants -- both documented and undocumented -- in the United States. As the Kaiser Family Foundation explained in a January 2016 brief, “Immigrants, particularly those who are not citizens, historically have faced disproportionate barriers to accessing health coverage and care.” These findings affirmed a 2014 study done by the Pew Research Center which concluded that “Hispanic immigrants are more than twice as likely to not have health insurance as Hispanics born in the U.S.”

    In particular, Latinas’ access to reproductive care is significantly impacted not just by the Hyde amendment but also by the financial and logistical barriers created by anti-choice restrictions in states, like Texas, that have a high percentage of Latinos.

    An independent analysis of Texas’ 2014 abortion statistics data by the Texas Observer pointed out the disparate loss of access to abortion experienced by Texas Latinas after the anti-choice law HB 2 went into effect. As Alexa Garcia-Ditta reported, “In 2013, over 24,000 of Texans who got abortions were Hispanic; in 2014, that number decreased by 18 percent to under 20,000.” In comparison, she noted, there was “a 7.7 percent decrease among black Texans who got abortions” and a “6.7 percent drop among white Texans, after the law went into effect.”

    In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) argued that the additional barriers to abortion access created by HB 2 would be particularly devastating to undocumented women, who would face “[b]order patrol agents and internal immigration checkpoints” when forced to travel farther for health care due to clinic closures.

    3. Economy

    Chris Wallace could use the economy category as an opportunity to discuss the myriad financial obstacles individuals confront when trying to obtain abortion care.

    As Salon’s Christina Cauterucci explained, “Studies show that poor women take up to three weeks longer than other women to secure an abortion” partly because of the time necessary to gather the money for the procedure. In a July 2015 report, the National Women’s Law Center noted that low-income persons are also put at a substantial financial disadvantage because they “may have to postpone paying for other basic needs like food, rent, heating, and utilities in order to save the money needed for an abortion.”

    This financial challenge of covering the cost of an abortion adds to the usual barrage of anti-choice restrictions already complicating access to abortion care. Between mandatory waiting periods, long wait times to get an appointment, and the great distances many patients must travel to reach a clinic, abortion care is already out of reach for many -- circumstances media frequently ignore or underestimate when talking about abortion.

    Given the numerous financial considerations that can make both abortion and wider reproductive health care inaccessible, Wallace should use the economy category during the debate to ask the candidates a substantive question about abortion care.

    4. Supreme Court

    In a recent report, Media Matters analyzed all abortion questions asked in presidential or vice presidential debates from 1960 to 2012 and found that 56 percent of questions were framed around religion or used abortion as a litmus test for judicial appointments. Media Matters found that since 1960, a total of 34 moderator or panelist questions cited abortion, and 23 of those were framed in terms of religion or judicial appointments or presented abortion in a stigmatized and negative way.

    This framing for questions is ineffective, unilluminating, and ultimately fails to provide the American public with any understanding of how presidential candidates would support or inhibit access to essential reproductive health care.

    The second presidential debate was a good example of the limited and ineffective nature of this framing. During the October 9 debate, the only mention of reproductive rights came during a question about the nomination of Supreme Court justices -- when Clinton mentioned that her ideal nominee would support upholding Roe v. Wade.

    Questions like this -- although useful in a limited sense -- clearly do not go far enough in pressing candidates to explain and defend their positions on an essential reproductive health issue and the ramificiations of upending abortion law. As a possible solution, the reproductive rights advocacy group Ultraviolet has been conducting a campaign encouraging individuals to submit questions about the issues that “have taken a backseat in the news coverage this election” but that “they think are the most important questions facing women.”

    In a petition, NARAL Pro-Choice America further explained why it is essential that Chris Wallace take advantage of the final opportunity to ask about abortion in a 2016 presidential debate:

    Donald Trump has said women should be punished for accessing their right to abortion, and suggested doctors who provide abortion care be thrown in jail.

    A candidate's position on abortion speaks to their position on gender equality, to whether or not they think all people, regardless of gender, should be able to plan their families and determine their futures for themselves. Such a crucial issue cannot be left unaddressed on the national stage this election year.

    UPDATE: On October 18, after allegations emerged that Trump has sexually assaulted and harassed numerous women, NARAL Pro-Choice America issued a letter urging Wallace to take advantage of a "critical opportunity to hold candidates accountable" and "demand answers about whether our candidates believe women are equal to men in the eyes of the law." The letter -- cosigned by EMILY's List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, CREDO, UltraViolet, All* Above All Action Fund, the National Organization for Women, and Feminist Majority -- continued, "For that reason, we request that you ask the candidates about how they plan to address the crisis of abortion access in our country."

  • A Media Guide To The Hyde Amendment And Its Anti-Choice Legacy

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    September 25 marked the start of a week of action by reproductive rights advocates to raise awareness about the Hyde amendment, its anti-choice legacy, and recent efforts to catalyze support for its repeal.

    The United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action, led by All* Above All’s coalition of reproductive rights activists, not only demarcates the 40th anniversary of the oppressive anti-choice measure’s adoption, but also comes at a significant time politically. Despite the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- which struck down medically unnecessary anti-choice restrictions on abortion access in Texas -- right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have continued to push misinformation about abortion and have doubled down on their support for the Hyde amendment.

    During this week of action -- and beyond -- here’s what the media needs to know about the Hyde amendment, its legacy, and the efforts of reproductive rights activists to eliminate the anti-choice funding restriction once and for all.

    What Is The Hyde Amendment?

    If It’s Been Around For 40 Years, Why Is It Just Now Becoming A Campaign Issue?

    What Are Right-Wing Media Saying About Funding For Abortion And Reproductive Health Services?

    Who Does The Hyde Amendment Most Impact?

    What Can Be Done About The Hyde Amendment?

    What Is The Hyde Amendment?

    The Hyde amendment is a restriction on federal funding for abortion services. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this restriction -- commonly called the Hyde amendment after its first sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) -- was first passed as a budgetary rider “to the fiscal 1977 Medicaid appropriation.” Every year since, “the Hyde Amendment has been reenacted” to prevent the use of federal Medicaid funds from covering abortion services, except in case of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother.

    Because of its restrictions, the Hyde amendment has created a significant barrier for low-income patients attempting to access safe and legal abortion care. Considering the number of financial and logistical barriers women already face in trying to access abortion, the Hyde amendment adds an additional and unnecessary complication.

    If It’s Been Around For 40 Years, Why Is It Just Now Becoming A Campaign Issue?

    In January, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton decided to “publicly do battle against Hyde,” by making the repeal of the anti-choice restriction a top priority, Rebecca Traister wrote in New York magazine. Beyond being the first presidential nominee to publicly speak against the Hyde amendment, Clinton “dropped a bomb on the political conversation about abortion” by drawing attention to “the relationship between reproductive-health-care access and economic inequality,” Traister argued. 

    The Democratic Party also formally adopted repealing the Hyde amendment as a priority in its platform -- marking the first time a major political party has targeted the anti-choice restriction on this scale.

    Although Clinton and the Democratic Party are drawing much-needed attention to the problematic Hyde amendment, the renewed focus on its impact did not originate with them. Instead, as All* Above All co-chair Jessica González-Rojas explained to The Guardian, the credit belongs with “Women of color leaders” who “have been calling for the repeal of Hyde for decades when most mainstream reproductive rights groups did not prioritize this issue.”

    Similarly, ThinkProgress reported in early September, although Hillary Clinton’s commitment to repealing the Hyde amendment “ quickly shot the controversial idea into mainstream political conversations,” it has been the “end goal of dozens of resilient reproductive justice organizations that have been pushing to repeal the Hyde Amendment for decades.”

    Now, during this week of action, All* Above All has mobilized a grass-roots coalition involving “68 organizations in 38 states" working "to show support for lifting bans on abortion coverage for low-income women.” Reproductive rights advocates are not the only ones drawing attention to the Hyde amendment during the election, however.

    More recently, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released a letter announcing that he has a new “pro-life coalition,” led by known anti-choice extremist Marjorie Dannenfelser. As part of the announcement, Trump committed himself to making the Hyde amendment “permanent law” in order to prevent “taxpayers from having to pay for abortions.” Trump also promised to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortion after 20 weeks on the faulty premise that a fetus can feel pain by that point in gestation.

    What Are Right-Wing Media Saying About Funding For Abortion And Reproductive Health Services?

    Right-wing media have a history of not only attacking Planned Parenthood, but also spreading misinformation about the Hyde amendment and federal funding for other reproductive health care services.

    For example, during the December 22 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Eric Bolling reacted to co-host Dana Perino’s statement that “defunding Planned Parenthood” is problematic politically by arguing that funding for abortion services should be “separate” from funding for “women’s services.” Although Bolling did not explicitly name the Hyde amendment, he pushed for Republicans to "defund the abortion part of Planned Parenthood” and set up a “Chinese wall” between abortions and Planned Parenthood’s other services.

    Right-wing media have also misled the public about how much of Planned Parenthood’s resources are strictly devoted to abortion, dismissing the many other types of health care the organization provides to both women and men. In July 2015, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and Fox co-host Andrea Tantaros advocated for defunding Planned Parenthood because, as O’Reilly argued, he did not want “tax dollars going” to abortion providers. Tantaros supported this statement and repeated the myth that because Americans have ample alternatives to Planned Parenthood, “taxpayer dollars should not have to go” to abortion providers.

    Beyond the Hyde amendment, right-wing media have also spread misinformation about the nature of Title X family planning funds that are used by providers like Planned Parenthood to supply necessary reproductive health care such as contraception, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and cancer screenings. Right-wing media have argued that Planned Parenthood is an inappropriate recipient of Title X funds, because the organization is incapable of providing wider reproductive health care. In reality, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are an essential resource for reproductive health care in many communities.

    As a result, in September 2016, the Obama administration proposed a rule that would stop anti-choice lawmakers from diverting federal family planning money -- distributed to states through Title X of the Public Health Service Act -- away from Planned Parenthood. As The New York Times explained, “The rule would make clear that state governments must apportion Title X funds based on a provider’s ability to perform family planning services effectively -- not on other factors like whether a provider also offers abortions.” In April, the Obama administration had “warned officials in all 50 states” that blocking Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding is likely “out of compliance with federal law,” according to The Washington Post.

    Nevertheless, right-wing media alleged that the proposed rule would ensure that there are “millions more in taxpayer dollars for the nation’s abortion market leader at the expense of women’s health.”

    Even when not discussing the Hyde amendment or abortion funding, right-wing media have frequently misrepresented the severity of anti-choice restrictions and downplayed the ways these requirements have made abortion and other reproductive health services less accessible.

    This is an issue that has spread beyond just right-wing media. In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed 14 months of evening cable news discussion about reproductive rights and found that media frequently ignore or underestimate the impact of economic barriers when talking about abortion access. In this study we found that only eight news segments even briefly mentioned the economic barriers women face to accessing abortion.

    Who Does The Hyde Amendment Most Impact?

    1. Low-Income Patients

    Low-income patients and their families are one of the primary groups affected by the Hyde amendment’s restriction on funding for abortion services.

    The Guttmacher Institute found in a July 2016 study that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services. According to Guttmacher’s director of public policy, Heather Boonstra, for women between 15 and 33 who depend on Medicaid, 60 percent live in places (35 states and D.C.) “that do not cover abortion, except in limited circumstances.” As a result, approximately 7 million women are potentially impacted by Hyde’s restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

    In January, Slate’s Christina Cauterucci highlighted Clinton’s focus on repealing the Hyde amendment because of its disproportionate impact on low-income patients. According to Clinton, abortion is not accessible enough “'as long as we have laws on the book like the Hyde Amendment making it harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.'” Cauterucci concluded that if Clinton succeeded in making the repeal of Hyde a central issue in the campaign, it would be “a long-overdue step toward addressing the intersection between economic insecurity and reproductive health.”

    The National Women’s Law Center explained in 2015 that “because of the high cost of the procedure, low-income women are often forced to delay obtaining an abortion,” which increases the out-of-pocket costs. Thus the Hyde amendment exacerbates the substantial financial disadvantage low-income persons already face in obtaining abortion care.

    2. Women Of Color

    Women of color -- especially black women, Latinas, and Native Americans -- suffer a particularly disparate impact from the Hyde amendment’s ban on federal abortion coverage.

    According to a September 2016 research brief from Ibis Reproductive Health and All* Above All on the impact of out-of-pocket costs on abortion access, “Because low-income women and women of color are disproportionately covered by public health insurance programs, restrictions in coverage increase their socioeconomic disadvantage.”

    This assessment matched the findings of the National Women’s Law Center’s study, which noted that women of color were not only “more likely than White women to face financial barriers when seeking abortions” but also “more likely to experience unintended pregnancy, due to racial, ethnic, gender, and economic healthcare inequalities.”

    Black Women

    In 2015 the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda reported that “black women have more than double the unintended pregnancy rate of white women,” which is particularly concerning given that “the risk of death from pregnancy complications was nearly three and a half times higher for Black women than for white women.”

    According to a recent Guttmacher Institute fact sheet, black women do experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy and more frequently elect to abort. Think Progress’ Kira Lerner explained these numbers simply reflect “the difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively.” Lerner noted black women also experience a “racial disparity … for other health measures including rates of diabetes, breast and cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections.”

    Latinas

    Latinas’ access to reproductive care is significantly impacted not just by the Hyde amendment but also by the financial and logistical barriers created by anti-choice restrictions in states, like Texas, that have a high percentage of Latinos.

    According to a joint op-ed from the executive directors of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and Voto Latino, “The first woman known to die of an unsafe illegal abortion after the Hyde Amendment was a Latina” named Rosie Jimenez, who “died from septic shock in October 1977” months after the Hyde amendment first went into effect. Since then, the op-ed explained, the Hyde amendment has continued to have “an especially devastating effect” on Latina communities, due to their high national rates of Medicaid enrollment.

    In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, NLIRH explained the material consequences of barriers created by state anti-choice restrictions, like Texas’ HB 2. NLIRH argued that due to the "significant geographic, transportation, infrastructure, and cost challenges" Latinas already face when seeking medical care, clinic closures caused by Texas’ anti-choice law would create "severe burdens in accessing reproductive healthcare."

    Native Americans

    Native Americans are disparately impacted not only by restrictions on federal funding for abortion, but also by a lack of public awareness about the unique barriers to reproductive health care faced by their communities.

    As Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center executive director Charon Asetoyer explained to Salon, despite the disparate impact anti-choice restrictions have on Native American communities, Native people are often a “silent population” in national conversations about reproductive rights. For example, she noted that although Native Americans are entitled to receive care through the federally funded Indian Health Service (IHS), “We are still struggling to aspire to the Hyde Amendment while others work to get rid of it.”

    Indeed, as a 2002 survey of Native American women’s reproductive health care access found, 85 percent of IHS offices “often refuse to provide Native American women even the limited access to abortion services to which they are legally entitled under the Hyde Amendment.”

    As a result, Asetoyer continued, many Native Americans who wish to access abortion services are forced to incur higher out-of-pocket costs in order to travel to the nearest abortion provider when “A lot of the time women in these situations don’t even have an automobile to drive to the nearest Planned Parenthood, let alone the money to pay for the procedure.”

    3. LGBT Persons

    In an op-ed for Advocate, National LGBTQ Task Force representative Candace Bond-Theriault affirmed that the LGBTQ and reproductive justice movements are “inseparable” because “many of the same people who propose policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people also [are] actively working to deny access to reproductive health care.”

    While the Hyde amendment makes abortion care inaccessible for many, Bond-Theriault highlighted how anti-choice restrictions additionally perpetuate structural inequalities wherein individuals are “stigmatized because of the personal bodily choices that [they] make.”

    Lambda Legal’s Camilla Taylor, Caroline Sacerdote, and Kara Ingelhart previously explained the pervasive and negative forms of stigma that both movements address, noting that, “People who have an abortion -- whether members of the LGBT community or not -- experience something familiar to all LGBT people: stigma.” They emphasized the importance of combating abortion stigma because, “As the LGBT community knows all too well, it is hard to fight against efforts to roll back your civil rights when you have to remain in the closet.”

    In an op-ed titled “Abortion Access and Trans Health Care Are Bound Together in Texas,” Texas Equal Access Fund president Nan Little Kirkpatrick wrote that “the Hyde amendment is discrimination in health care” faced by those attempting to “exercise their reproductive rights as granted by the Supreme Court.” She argued that the effort to take down structurally oppressive measures like the Hyde amendment “expressly highlights the ways that the movements for trans and reproductive justice intersect” because both involve “bodily autonomy.”

    4. Service Members And Veterans

    Because the Hyde amendment is a restriction on federal abortion funding, its impact is felt by anyone dependent on federally subsidized medical care, including service members or veterans.

    After the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision against Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte named the repeal of the Hyde amendment one of the next major goals for pro-choice advocates. According to Marcotte, “The effects of the Hyde Amendment have been devastating” for both low-income families and service members because it means “no federal employees, service women, veterans or women on Medicaid have access to coverage for abortion.”

    What Can Be Done About The Hyde Amendment?

    As Steph Herold, managing director of the Sea Change Program, wrote in an op-ed for Rewire, All* Above All “is playing a pivotal role by introducing pro-active abortion access legislation and encouraging elected officials to come out against the Hyde Amendment.”

    The organization represents a coalition of reproductive justice advocates and women of color whose goals are to catalyze action to “restore public insurance coverage so that every woman, however much she makes, can get affordable, safe abortion care when she needs it.”

    From September 25 to October 1, All* Above All is leading a week of action, which includes “130 activities hosted by 68 organizations in 38 states to show support for lifting bans on abortion coverage for low-income women.” The United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action also includes “a multi-city ad campaign amplifying the voices of Catholics [for choice] across the county” as well as a “celebration of local victories” to earn recognition for the need to repeal oppressive anti-choice restrictions like the Hyde amendment.

    In addition, All* Above All has mobilized support for the EACH Woman Act, proposed legislation that would repeal the Hyde amendment and guarantee “coverage for abortion for every woman, however much she earns or however she is insured.” According to All* Above All, the bill now has over 120 co-sponsors who have committed themselves to affirming that people have the right to make the best reproductive health care decision for themselves and their families.

    To mark 40 years of the Hyde amendment’s dangerous anti-choice legacy, NARAL Pro-Choice America shared the stories of several individuals “from diverse backgrounds and experiences [who] came together to support repeal of Hyde.” Although their stories represent a variety of experiences in trying to gain access to necessary abortion care, the common refrain and message to the media was clear. As one of the individuals, Mary Tobin, wrote: “If equality is truly a pillar that our country represents and embraces, then the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is crucial to upholding our country’s identity.”

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