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  • The Supreme Court just enabled fake health clinics to lie to patients

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

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT & SHARON KANN

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

  • New report confirms abortion is safe. Fox News immediately claimed the opposite. 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    The inaccurate notion that abortion is an unsafe or “risky” medical procedure was put to rest this month, with the release of a new report from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States. But as usual, Fox News didn’t let facts stand in the way of a sensationalist segment attacking abortion as unsafe.

    Following Supreme Court oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra -- a case involving a California law attempting to regulate the deceptive practices of anti-abortion fake health clinics -- Fox News’ Shannon Bream hosted commentator and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. During the March 20 segment on Bream’s show Fox News @ Night, Bream and Huckabee took a rapid detour from the specifics of the California case to mislead audiences about the overall safety of abortion. According to Huckabee, abortion “has a detrimental effect on health of women, both physically and emotionally.” He continued:

    And I try to say if, so many times, if there's two victims in every abortion, one is the baby and the other is that -- a birth mother who may have been talked into this by some provider because it's good business for them. Maybe by a boyfriend, a husband, a mother, a grandmother, or a good friend. But they're not telling them the full picture, either what this is doing to them physically or emotionally for the short as well as for the long term.

    In reality, Huckabee’s assertions about the safety (and the alleged negative effects) of abortion could not be further from the truth. In the March 16 report, NASEM “assessed the quality of abortion care with respect to the six attributes of health care quality: safety, effectiveness, patient-centeredness, timeliness, efficiency, and equity” and found that “legal abortions—whether by medication, aspiration, D&E, or induction—are safe. Serious complications are rare and occur far less frequently than during childbirth.” According to an analysis of the report from Women’s Health magazine, researchers found:

    • Ninety percent of all abortions take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
    • The safety and quality of abortions is highest when they are performed as early in the pregnancy as possible.
    • Complications from abortions are rare.
    • There’s no reason why nurse practitioners and physicians assistants can’t perform abortions, given that they can do them as safely as doctors.
    • Abortions have no long-term effects on a woman’s physical and mental health.
    • Having an abortion does not increase a woman's risk for infertility or breast cancer.

    Notably, NASEM also concluded that the restrictions passed by anti-choice lawmakers “create barriers to safe and effective care.” As the press release for the report stated, “These regulations may prohibit qualified providers from performing abortions, misinform women of the risks of the procedures they are considering, or require medically unnecessary services and delay care.”

    Even without these harmful regulations, the economics of abortion access greatly disadvantage already marginalized communities. Salon’s Christina Cauterucci wrote in 2016, “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. She continued that “the further along the fetus, the more expensive her abortion will be and the more likely she is to experience health complications.” Financial and other barriers, such as the restriction on federal funding support for abortion care (thanks to the Hyde Amendment), ineffective mandatory waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, and more, put early access to abortion care out of reach for many. 

    Despite an ongoing effort by right-wing media and anti-abortion lawmakers alike to attack abortion as unsafe, NASEM’s comprehensive assessment underscores the realities that it is a safe medical procedure, and that attempts to regulate abortion in accordance with ideology has an undeniably harmful effect on patients.

  • Myths and facts about California's pro-choice law regarding fake health clinics

    The Supreme Court will hear a case regulating the deceptive practices of anti-abortion clinics

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On March 20, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. This case concerns a California law requiring unlicensed pregnancy clinics to disclose their lack of medical services and licensed pregnancy clinics to post a notice about low-cost or free reproductive health services offered by the state. Some media outlets have pushed the myth that the law compels anti-abortion fake health clinics to promote pro-choice views, including by advertising for abortions.

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Scott Pruitt's EPA

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of controversies during Pruitt's time in office

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & EVLONDO COOPER

    This post was updated on 4/24/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    The Trump presidency has been called the most unethical in modern history, with its scandals continuously dominating the news cycle. And the questionable ethical behavior extends far beyond the White House to cabinet members and the departments and agencies they oversee, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Journalists covering the EPA have unearthed a litany of scandals, conflicts of interest, extravagant expenditures, and ethically dubious actions involving administrator Scott Pruitt and other politically appointed officials. Here is an overview of the reporting on ethical scandals at Pruitt’s EPA, starting a week after he was sworn in and continuing up to the present:

    February 24, 2017, KOKH: Pruitt lied to senators about his use of a private email account. An investigation by Oklahoma City Fox affiliate KOKH revealed that Pruitt lied during his Senate confirmation hearing when he said he did not use a private email account to conduct official business while he was attorney general of Oklahoma, a finding later confirmed by the office of the attorney general. The Oklahoma Bar Association subsequently opened an investigation into the matter, which could lead to Pruitt being disbarred in the state of Oklahoma.

    May 17, 2017, ThinkProgress: An EPA appointee appeared to violate Trump's ethics order on lobbyists. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter to Pruitt on May 16 noting that EPA appointee Elizabeth “Tate” Bennett had lobbied both the Senate and the House on EPA regulations as recently as 2016 -- an apparent violation of Trump’s ethics executive order barring former lobbyists from participating in any government matter related to their past lobbying within two years of their appointment.

    June 16, 2017, Bloomberg: Pruitt met with oil executives at Trump’s D.C. hotel, then backed away from a regulation on oil companies. On March 22, Pruitt met with oil executives who sit on the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors, and less than three weeks later, the EPA announced that it was reconsidering a regulation requiring oil and gas companies to control methane leaks. The meeting took place at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., which Time has called a “dealmaker’s paradise” for “lobbyists and insiders.”

    August 28, 2017, E&E News: Pruitt gave a Superfund job to a failed banker whose bank had given loans to Pruitt. In May, Pruitt appointed Albert “Kell” Kelly to head a task force on the EPA’s Superfund program, even though Kelly had been fined $125,000 by federal banking regulators and banned for life from banking activity because of misdeeds committed when he was CEO of Oklahoma-based SpiritBank. Kelly had no previous experience working on environmental issues and, as ThinkProgress reported in February 2018, he had a financial stake in Phillips 66, an oil company that the EPA had deemed responsible for contaminating areas in Louisiana and Oregon. In previous years, Kelly’s bank had given a loan to Pruitt to purchase a share in a minor league baseball team and provided acquisition financing when the team was sold. The bank had also provided three mortgage loans to Pruitt and his wife, as The Intercept reported in December.

    September 20, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt's security team drew staff away from criminal investigations. Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail -- the first-ever round-the-clock protection detail for an EPA administrator -- required triple the manpower of his predecessors' security teams and pulled in special agents who would have otherwise spend their time investigating environmental crimes.

    September 26, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent about $43,000 on a private soundproof booth, violating federal spending law. The Post reported on September 26 that the EPA spent nearly $25,000 to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth in Pruitt’s office, even though there was another such booth on a different floor at EPA headquarters. No previous EPA administrators had such a setup, the Post reported. On March 14, the Post reported that the EPA also spent more than $18,000 on prep work required before the private phone booth could be installed, which put its total cost “closer to $43,000.” On April 16, a Government Accountability Office report found that Pruitt’s use of agency funds for the booth violated federal rules. Agency heads are required to notify Congress in advance when office improvement expenditures exceed $5,000. Two days later, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers that his office is investigating Pruitt’s spending on the booth.

    September 27, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $58,000 on charter and military flights. Pruitt took at least four noncommerical and military flights that together cost taxpayers more than $58,000. The most expensive of these was a $36,000 flight on a military jet from Ohio, where Pruitt had joined Trump at an event promoting an infrastructure plan, to New York, where Pruitt then set off on a trip to Italy.

    October 24, 2017, CNN: Pruitt met with a mining CEO, then immediately started clearing the way for his proposed mine. In May, Pruitt sat down with the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, the company seeking to build the controversial Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. Just hours after that meeting, he directed the EPA to withdraw an Obama-era proposal to protect the ecologically rich area from certain mining activities. (In January 2018, Pruitt reversed his decision without explanation.)

    December 12, 2017, Wash. Examiner: Pruitt made a costly trip to Morocco to promote natural gas. In December, Pruitt flew to Morocco to promote natural gas exports during talks with Moroccan officials, as first reported by The Washington Examiner. E&E reported that the trip cost nearly $40,000, according to an EPA employee. The Washington Post reported, “The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that the EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

    December 15, 2017, Mother Jones/NY Times: The EPA hired a GOP opposition research firm whose VP had investigated EPA employees. Mother Jones reported that the EPA awarded a $120,000 contract to Definers Corp., a Republican PR firm specializing in opposition research and finding damaging information on individuals, to do what the firm describes as "war room"-style media monitoring. According to The New York Times, Definers Vice President Allan Blutstein had submitted at least 40 Freedom of Information Act requests to the EPA targeting employees that he deemed “resistance" figures critical of Pruitt or the Trump administration. After the contract was exposed, the EPA canceled it.

    February 11, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $90,000 on first-class flights and other travel in a single week. During a stretch in early June, Pruitt racked up at least $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs, including first-class, business-class, and military flights. The figure did not include the cost of Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail accompanying him on those trips. One first-class flight was for an overnight trip to New York, where Pruitt made two media appearances to praise Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. According to the Post, “[EPA] records show that wherever Pruitt’s schedule takes him, he often flies first or business class, citing unspecified security concerns.” The Associated Press later reported that, for travel where Pruitt had to foot the bill himself, the EPA head flew coach, according to an EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt’s security spending. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Trey Gowdy (R-SC), demanded documentation and explanation for Pruitt’s first- and business-class work travel, but Pruitt missed the chairman’s March 6 deadline to turn over documents. As of April 11, the EPA still hadn’t provided all requested documents, so Gowdy sent Pruitt another letter demanding the information. Later reporting by The Associated Press found that Pruitt flew coach when taxpayers were not footing the bill.

    February 13, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt flew luxury business class on a foreign airline. Pruitt broke with government rules requiring employees to fly on U.S. carriers. He got a waiver to return home from Milan, Italy, in June on Emirates Airline in what CBS described as “one of the world’s most luxurious business class cabins.”

    February 15, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt met with trucking executives, then preserved a loophole to benefit their company. In May, Pruitt met with executives from Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a company that sells big-rig trucks with retrofitted diesel engines. They were seeking to preserve a loophole that exempted Fitzgerald’s trucks from emission rules. Pruitt announced in November that he would provide the exemption, citing a Fitzgerald-funded Tennessee Tech study that found the company’s trucks emitted no more pollution than trucks with modern emissions systems. But just days after Pruitt made his announcement, EPA staffers published findings that Fitzgerald trucks emit 43 to 55 times as much air pollution as new trucks. And after The New York Times reported on the story, Tennessee Tech's president disavowed the Fitzgerald-funded study and asked the EPA to disregard it. The EPA responded by claiming to the Times that it "did not rely upon the study," even though Pruitt had cited it in making his announcement about the exemption. In April, four Republican senators and 10 Republican House members sent Pruitt a letter asking him to close the loophole.

    February 26, 2018, Politico: The EPA has been hit with a record number of anti-secrecy lawsuits. A Politico analysis found that the EPA has “experienced a huge surge in open records lawsuits since President Donald Trump took office” and that 2017 was “the busiest calendar year by far for open-records cases brought against EPA, according to data stretching back to 1992.” A separate analysis by the Project on Government Oversight found that the EPA has been especially slow in resolving Freedom of Information Act requests.

    March 5, 2018, E&E News/AP: An EPA public affairs official was given the OK to do outside media consulting. John Konkus, a top political aide to Pruitt who works in the EPA's public affairs office, was granted permission to work as a media consultant outside of his agency work. In August, when the arrangement was approved, Konkus had “two likely clients” for his outside work and anticipated adding more in the next six months. The EPA has not disclosed who those clients were. Konkus, a former Trump campaign aide, had been put in charge of hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that the EPA distributes annually -- an "unusual" arrangement, as The Washington Post reported in September. According to the Post, "Konkus has told staff that he is on the lookout for 'the double C-word' — climate change — and repeatedly has instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations."

    March 6, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA awarded a bug-sweeping contract to a business associate of Pruitt’s head of security. The head of Pruitt’s security detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, advised EPA officials to hire his business associate for a contract to conduct a sweep of Pruitt’s office for concealed listening devices, a source told The Washington Post. Perrotta’s move prompted Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to ask the EPA for documentation that Perrotta obeyed federal conflict-of-interest rules.

    March 8, 2018, AP: Almost half of EPA political appointees have strong industry ties. An analysis conducted by The Associated Press found that “nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate. Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.”

    March 8, 2018, The New Republic: Pruitt appointed the vice president of a polluting company to the EPA’s environmental justice advisory council. On March 7, Pruitt announced the addition of eight new members to the agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, one of whom was Michael Tilchin, a vice president of CH2M Hill, a big engineering firm. The New Republic reported that since February 2017, CH2M Hill’s work at the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear weapons production facility in Washington state, “has sparked at least three accidental releases of plutonium dust, which emits alpha radiation—'the worst kind of radiation to get inside your body,’ according to KING-TV, the Seattle-based news station that’s been investigating the incidents.” Dozens of workers at the site have tested positive for internal plutonium contamination in the wake of the releases.

    March 28, 2018, Politico: EPA signs research agreement with firm tied to GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. In March of 2017, Pruitt met with executives from Water-Gen, a technology firm based in Israel, at the behest of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and Pruitt had a second meeting with a Water-Gen executive in May. In January of this year, the EPA agreed to study Water-Gen's technology, an “atmospheric water generator” that the company claims can pull drinkable water out of the air and thereby provide clean water in remote areas with poor infrastructure. The meeting came to light after activists sued the EPA and forced the agency to produce Pruitt’s calendar. Important details about the arrangement, including Adelson’s relationship with the company, are still unknown.

    March 28, 2018, HuffPost: EPA gave employees talking points based on Pruitt’s lukewarm climate denial. Staffers at the EPA received an email on March 27 from the Office of Public Affairs with a list of eight approved talking points about climate change, echoing lines that Pruitt likes to use when discussing the topic. Point No. 5 is one the administrator has repeated often: "Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue."

    March 29, 2018, ABC News/Bloomberg: Pruitt paid below-market rent for a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. For the first half of 2017, Pruitt lived at a prime Capitol Hill address in a condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, wife of energy lobbyist J. Steven Hart. ABC News reported that, instead of contracting with a real estate broker, Pruitt worked directly with Steven Hart to arrange the $50-a-night rental agreement, with rent having to be paid only for the nights Pruitt stayed in the unit. ABC also reported that Pruitt's daughter used a second room in the condo from May to August, in apparent violation of the lease agreement. The EPA reimbursed the condo association $2,460 after Pruitt’s security team kicked in the door, mistakenly believing his safety was in jeopardy. While Pruitt was living in the condo, and paying well below market rate, the EPA gave its approval for expansion of the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline, directly benefiting Enbridge Inc., a client of Hart’s lobbying firm, according to The New York Times. Also, Steven Hart “was personally representing a natural gas company, an airline giant, and a major manufacturer that had business before the agency at the time he was also renting out a room to Pruitt,” according to The Daily Beast, and the Harts have donated to Pruitt's political campaigns since 2010. After the condo story broke, EPA’s top ethics watchdog said that he didn’t have all the information he needed when he initially determined that Pruitt’s rental arrangement did not violate federal rules, and the federal government’s top ethics official sent a letter to the EPA expressing concern over Pruitt’s living arrangements, travel, and reports that Pruitt retaliated against officials questioning his spending. And on April 21, The Hill reported that Pruitt met with Steven Hart last year on behalf a client, an executive linked to Smithfield Foods, according to a newly filed disclosure from Hart's firm. Hart and Smithfield contend that the meeting was about philanthropy and did not constitute lobbying, but the disclosure still appears to contradict Hart’s earlier statement that he had not lobbied the EPA during 2017 and 2018 as well as Pruitt’s earlier claim that “Hart has no clients that have business before this agency.”

    March 29, 2018, The Intercept: Nominee to head Superfund program is lawyer with long record of defending polluting companies. Pruitt has repeatedly claimed that he wants to prioritize the EPA Superfund program, which cleans up sites contaminated by industry. But Trump’s nominee to oversee the Superfund program, Peter Wright, seems unlikely to help the cause. As The Intercept reported, "For the last quarter-century, he has defended companies responsible for some of the biggest of these industrial disasters, including Dow Chemical, where he has worked for more than 18 years, and Monsanto, where he worked for seven years before that." Nonetheless, Pruitt enthusiastically endorsed Wright's nomination. 

    March 30, 2018, CNN: Taxpayers paid for Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail during his personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. Pruitt’s security team accompanied him on trips home to Oklahoma as well as on a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl, according to a letter that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and shared with CNN.

    April 2, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA staff looked into the possibility of leasing a private jet for Pruitt’s travel. Pruitt’s aides contacted NetJets, a company that leases private planes, about "leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis" to accommodate Pruitt’s travel needs. After receiving NetJets’ quote of about $100,000 a month, senior officials objected and the plan was abandoned.

    April 3, 2018, The Atlantic: The White House told Pruitt he could not give two of his closest aides a pay raise, but he used a loophole to do it anyway. In March, Pruitt sought permission from the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office for substantial pay increases for two of his closest aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp. The White House said no. Pruitt then exploited a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase Greenwalt’s salary from $107,435 to $164,200 and Hupp’s salary from $86,460 to $114,590.

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt may have violated ethics rules by having his aide research housing arrangements for his family. Millan Hupp, whose salary Pruitt boosted by 33 percent against the White House’s wishes, did considerable legwork to help Pruitt and his wife find a home last summer. This may have been an ethics violation, as federal officials are barred from having their staff do personal tasks for them, according to ethics experts. 

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt abused a little-known loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire loyalists and ex-lobbyists. In 1977, Congress passed an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act allowing the EPA to hire expert personnel without Senate or White House approval. The section was added to ensure the agency could hire the staff it needed to protect public health, but Pruitt broke from tradition and used the provision to “bring in former lobbyists along with young spokesmen and schedulers,” according to The Washington Post. Pruitt’s controversial hires included loyalists from his home state of Oklahoma, former industry lobbyists such as Nancy Beck, and James Hewitt, the son of radio host and MSNBC personality Hugh Hewitt -- one of Pruitt's most ardent public defenders. The Post reported that "ethics experts say hiring lobbyists through the provision breaks with some of Trump’s ethics rules."

    April 5, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt asked to use vehicle siren during non-emergency, reassigned staffer who objected. Several weeks after taking his position as head of the EPA, Pruitt was stuck in D.C. traffic and asked to use his vehicle's lights and sirens to get to an official appointment more quickly, sources told CBS News. According to CBS, “The lead agent in charge of his security detail advised him that sirens were to be used only in emergencies. Less than two weeks later that agent was removed from Pruitt's detail, reassigned to a new job within the EPA.”

    April 5, 2018, ABC News: EPA improperly paid for repair to Pruitt's condo door, congresswoman says. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who sits on the subcommittee that oversees the EPA’s budget, took issue with the EPA using agency funds to repair a door in Pruitt’s condo after members of his security detail broke it down when they believed a napping Pruitt was unresponsive. “I know that Congress appropriates money for the EPA to protect human health and the environment – not for repairs to the administrator's residence,” McCollum wrote in a letter to the EPA.

    April 5, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt reassigned and demoted EPA officials who questioned his spending. Four career EPA employees and one Trump administration political appointee were demoted or reassigned after they confronted Pruitt and expressed concerns over his excessive spending on furniture, travel, and his security detail.

    April 5, 2018, Salon: Pruitt was involved in a questionable real estate deal while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. Documents obtained by the nonprofit watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that in 2011, Pruitt, then-attorney general of Oklahoma, and his wife flipped a Tulsa home for a $70,000 profit after buying it just days before a court ruled that it had been fraudulently transferred. Kevin Hern, a major campaign donor to Pruitt, bought the house through a dummy corporation. According to Salon, “Evidence suggests that Pruitt planned the quick turnaround on the property in advance.”

    April 5 and 6, 2018, Politico/Politico: Pruitt was late paying his rent and “overstayed his welcome” at the lobbyist-linked condo. Pruitt was sometimes slow in paying rent to his lobbyist landlords. He also stayed in the condo longer than initially agreed. The original $50-a-night rental agreement was supposed to be for just six weeks, but Pruitt ended up using the condo for about six months. Politico reported, “The couple, Vicki and Steve Hart, became so frustrated by their lingering tenant that they eventually pushed him out and changed their locks.”

    April 6 and 9, 2018, Wash. Post/The Atlantic: Doubts cast on Pruitt’s claim that he did not approve controversial pay raises. During an April 4 interview with Fox News correspondent Ed Henry, Pruitt claimed that he did not approve controversial pay raises for his aides Greenwalt and Hupp and had learned about the raises only when the media first reported on them. But on April 6, the Post reported that two EPA officials and a White House official “told The Post that the administrator instructed staff to award substantial pay boosts to both women.” Additionally, administration officials told The Atlantic that an email exchange between Greenwalt and EPA human resources “suggests Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on a controversial pay raise.” The day after The Atlantic’s article came out, EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson took responsibility for the pay raises, issuing a statement reading, “Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA's HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me.”

    April 10, 2018, Wash. Post/Politico: EPA staffers questioned the justification for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail, and one was then fired. Sens. Whitehouse and Carper sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee calling for a congressional inquiry into Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail. In their letter, the senators cited several internal EPA documents that questioned the rationale for Pruitt’s detail, highlighting in particular a February 14 assessment by the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security that concluded that the justification for Pruitt’s security detail (emphasis in original) “DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant ‘threat specific’ information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the Administrator.” Politico reported that one of the EPA career officials who drafted the assessment, Mario Caraballo, was removed from his post on April 10. On the same day, The New York Times also reported that the EPA “has been examining posts on Twitter and other social media about Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, to justify his extraordinary and costly security measures.” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times that the EPA may have violated federal law if the agency was aggressively monitoring Pruitt’s critics.

    April 10, 2018, HuffPost: As EPA head, Pruitt has met with dozens of his former campaign donors. An analysis conducted by the nonprofit MapLight found that Pruitt “has met with more than three dozen organizations that donated to his past campaigns and political committees in the last year,” HuffPost reported. “The donors include major oil and gas companies, electricity providers, coal producers, and conservative think tanks. At least 14 of the meetings were with organizations from Oklahoma, where Pruitt served as attorney general from 2011-16.”

    April 12, 2018, Politico Pro/Mother Jones: EPA staff were concerned about Pruitt’s misleading statements on emissions standards. Emails obtained by Greenpeace via the Freedom of Information Act showed that EPA experts were worried about Pruitt spreading “troubling” and “inaccurate” information in his justification for rolling back Obama-era auto emissions standards. Agency staffers pointed out multiple inaccuracies in Pruitt’s March 20 USA Today op-ed, including Pruitt’s claim that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards “have pushed manufacturing and jobs to Mexico” -- a claim contradicted by the EPA’s own analysis and many other reports. To support his argument, Pruitt cited an analysis written by an author with no background in CAFE from the now-defunct National Center for Policy Analysis.

    April 12, 2018, NY Times: Lawmakers demand information about Pruitt's travel habits and luxury hotel stays. Five Democratic lawmakers sent Pruitt a letter seeking documents related to additional spending abuses after their staff members met with Pruitt’s dismissed former chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski. According to the letter, Chmielewski revealed that Pruitt insisted on staying in luxury hotels priced above allowable limits and pressed for flights on airlines not listed on the government’s approved list so that he could earn more frequent flier miles. Chmielewski also told congressional investigators that Pruitt would direct staff to schedule trips for him to fly back home to Oklahoma and desired locations, telling them, “Find me something to do.”

    April 12, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt used four different email addresses at EPA. Pruitt has used four different email accounts during his time as EPA administrator, according to an agency official and a letter sent by Sens. Merkley and Carper to the EPA's inspector general. Pruitt’s use of multiple email accounts has prompted “concerns among agency lawyers that the EPA has not disclosed all the documents it would normally release to the public under federal records requests,” according to the Post. On April 17, the Post reported that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) will examine whether Pruitt is fully complying with public records requests.

    April 17, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt upgraded to larger vehicle with bulletproof seat covers. In June last year, Pruitt upgraded his official vehicle to a larger, more high-end Chevy Suburban equipped with bullet-resistant seat covers. Federal records show that the Suburban cost $10,200 to lease for the first year and that the lease included an extra $300 a month worth of additional upgrades.         

    April 18, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt faces multiple investigations into his ethics and use of taxpayer money. Pruitt is the subject of multiple investigations by the EPA’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the House Oversight Committee, a Times guide to Pruitt’s investigations revealed. The newest investigation, examining Pruitt’s use of his security detail during personal trips to the Rose Bowl, Disneyland, and basketball games, “brings the number of investigations into Mr. Pruitt’s use of taxpayer money and possible ethics violations to 10,” the Times reported.

    April 19, 2018, Reuters: EPA spent $45,000 to fly aides to Australia in advance of a Pruitt trip that was later canceled. Pruitt sent two aides and three security agents on business-class flights to Australia last August, at a cost of about $45,000, to do advance work for a trip the administrator planned to take, EPA officials told Reuters. The trip was canceled when Pruitt decided to travel instead to Texas to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It has not been rescheduled.

    April 21, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt’s partners in ethically questionable behavior in Oklahoma now work for him at EPA. New York Times reporters examined Pruitt’s career in Oklahoma and identified multiple instances of excessive spending and ethics lapses, noting that “many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past.” The article focused on Pruitt's purchase of a lobbyist-owned home in Oklahoma City when Pruitt was a state senator. According to real estate and other public records, Pruitt purchased the home “at a steep discount of about $100,000” from its prior price through a shell company formed with his business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Pruitt did not disclose the house in his financial disclosure forms at the time, “a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules,” according to the Times. Years later, when he was the state's attorney general, Pruitt awarded more than $600,000 worth of state contracts to Wagner’s law firm from 2011 to 2017. Another business associate, Albert Kelly, led the bank that issued the mortgage for the home. After taking the reins at the EPA, Pruitt gave high-ranking positions within the agency to both Wagner and Kelly.

  • 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."