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

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

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    HAGSTROM: It’s Soviet, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Anti-abortion ballot measures based on right-wing misinformation are a threat to reproductive health

    With Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, West Virginia's and Alabama’s new state constitutional amendments could further restrict abortion rights

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Election Day, voters in Alabama and West Virginia passed amendments that will not only codify anti-choice misinformation in their state constitutions, but will also place further restrictions on abortion access. Anti-abortion advocates portrayed the measures as harmless and unlikely to impact abortion rights. However, the amendments are actually part of a long-term strategy to end abortion access in these states should the Supreme Court -- now with a newly minted Justice Brett Kavanaugh -- eliminate federal abortion protections by overturning Roe v. Wade.

    West Virginia’s Amendment 1 added language to the state's constitution declaring, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” Alabama’s Amendment 2 featured almost identical language, but also included a requirement that the state’s “public policy” is “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life” -- a subtle way of asserting the scientifically unfounded belief that life begins at conception.

    Before the midterm elections, anti-abortion advocates in Alabama and West Virginia depicted the amendments as innocuous measures, and criticized what they viewed as hysterical prognosticating from pro-choice advocates about their dangers. Several representatives of Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama wrote in an op-ed that they had “watched with outraged disbelief the absurd attacks that Planned Parenthood is hurling at Amendment Two,” and asserted that such characterizations of the amendment were based in “lies” and “distortions.” Similarly, Yes on 1, the anti-abortion campaign in West Virginia, said that opponents of the measure had “some hysterical claims about what will happen when Amendment 1 passes.” Right-wing media and abortion opponents also deployed this tactic when Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by painting pro-choice advocates predicting that he would overturn or restrict Roe as emotional and delusional. However, many of those same abortion opponents celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a step toward that very goal.

    Anti-abortion groups in both states pushed similar misinformation about their respective constitutional amendments before Election Day. Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama sent out a so-called “Myth Busters Memo” attempting to debunk claims from pro-choice groups that the state’s amendment would “outlaw all abortions without exceptions” and prohibit certain types of fertility treatment. Yes on 1 similarly whitewashed the West Virginia amendment, alleging that it was not a threat to abortion access because “no rights will be taken away” with its passage.

    In reality, both of these amendments are dangerous because both could be enforced to prohibit all abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. As Lauren Holter explained for Rewire.News, the West Virginia amendment “does not include exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or threats to the pregnant person’s life,” and Alabama’s amendment “could lead to the criminalization of some forms of contraception and in-vitro fertilization" because it establishes the standard of "personhood" upon conception.

    West Virginia and Alabama are not the first states to pass anti-abortion constitutional amendments, and their common language stems from a previous state amendment pushed by anti-abortion groups in Tennessee. Pacific Standard described that “pro-life legal tactic” as “the culmination of a decade-long battle against abortion rights,” and noted that since it was passed in 2014, “Tennessee has again implemented 48-hour waiting periods, a ban on public funding, and a ban on abortion after viability.”

    West Virginia’s The Register-Herald spoke with Jessica Arons, senior advocacy & policy counsel for reproductive freedom at the American Civil Liberties Union:

    Arons sees West Virginia’s ballot measure as “‘one piece of the puzzle”’ in a national strategy by anti-abortion activists to enact laws that sound reasonable, but when you take a closer look, make it harder to access abortion.

    "They make it sound like they’re just trying to protect women’s health and safety, but the reality is they’ve been designed to cut off access to care and to shame and harass women for seeking abortion services," she said.

    The ending of Medicaid-funded abortion in West Virginia would be the “immediate impact,” Arons said, “but the proponents of this measure, again, they’re playing the long game.”

    Enacting anti-choice restrictions under the guise of protecting patients’ health is a longstanding right-wing tactic for eliminating abortion access. As part of this strategy, anti-abortion advocates frequently couch anti-choice restrictions aimed at banning or limiting abortion access in neutral or seemingly helpful language, such as burdensome and unnecessary clinic regulations disguised as safety precautions, but with the true purpose of closing clinics. This tactic was quickly picked up by right-wing media who lament abortion as unsafe -- despite the fact that having an abortion is an incredibly safe and normal part of health care.

    Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, told Glamour’s Macaela Mackenzie that West Virginia’s amendment “is something that we consider to be discriminatory, something that targets people of color and people with lower incomes and discriminates against people based on the insurance coverage that people have.” Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described how West Virginia’s amendment in particular makes it easier for the state legislature to pass anti-abortion legislation, in addition to its “immediate ramifications” for those on Medicaid, who will “lose their ability to access funding for abortion care.”

    Cauterucci also noted that in West Virginia, which still has an unenforced pre-Roe ban on abortion on the books, the new amendment “would, in concert, criminalize abortion providers as felons if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.” This could also prove true in Alabama, as Rewire.News’ Imani Gandy forewarned:

    Prosecutors in Alabama could, technically, begin enforcing an abortion ban immediately. They don’t have to wait for the Supreme Court to reverse Roe. Prosecutors could begin charging abortion providers for performing abortions under the state’s pre-Roe ban, testing the willingness of state court judges to defy federal law and let those cases proceed.

    The midterm elections resulted in several Democratic flips of governorships and legislatures that could potentially protect and even expand abortion access. However, those gains are of little comfort to people who need abortion access in West Virginia and Alabama, or to those in other states that are also vulnerable to further anti-choice restrictions and media misinformation from anti-abortion advocates.

  • The state-by-state impact of overturning Roe with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court

    Right-wing media claim that letting states regulate abortion isn’t a threat for reproductive rights -- it is.

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, right-wing media downplayed the impact that Kavanaugh -- who has a stamp of approval from the conservative Federalist Society -- would have on abortion rights in the United States. Some media outlets and figures claimed that if Roe v. Wade was overturned, it would merely return abortion regulation “to the states” and have a minimal impact on abortion rights. Here’s a state-by-state guide to what a world without Roe would look like, as reported in the media, if and when Kavanaugh casts the deciding vote.

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

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, media have been speculating about the possibility of a nominee selected by President Donald Trump casting the deciding vote overturning Roe v. Wade.

    While some mainstream outlets have rightly warned about the likelihood and negative impacts of overturning, or even further hollowing out, Roe’s protections, many conservative outlets and figures deployed a variety of excuses either to suggest that Roe is not at risk or to downplay any potential negative effects such a move would have. But make no mistake -- the Trump administration and its anti-abortion allies haven’t been shy about their goal: making abortion inaccessible or even illegal in the United States, no matter what the consequences.

    In 2016, then-candidate Trump said in response to a debate question about whether he would overturn Roe: “Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justice on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen. And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.” Previously, in July 2016, then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said that he believed that electing Trump would lead to the overturning of Roe and that he wanted to see the decision “consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.” In return, anti-abortion groups have also supported the administration -- a fact underscored by Trump’s keynote address at the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) gala in May.

    Despite the administration’s promise, conservative media and figures are deploying a number of inaccurate excuses to either deny or downplay the severity of the threat to abortion rights with another Trump-appointed justice on the court:

    1. Claiming that abortion rights are safe because Roe is precedent, and none of the current justices will vote to overturn it.

    In the aftermath of Kennedy’s announcement, some conservative media argued that abortion rights are not threatened because the sitting justices -- including Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump’s previous nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch -- would be reticent to overturn precedent.

    For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Similarly, during a June 27 appearance on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Short-serving former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said it is unlikely that Roe would be overturned because “the court recognizes that there are certain fundamental principles that are in place and certain presidential precedent-setting principles in place." He concluded, “I know there are conservatives out there that want it to be overturned but I just don't see it happening."

    It appears highly unlikely that the new Supreme Court would keep Roe intact. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that Kennedy’s retirement “ensured” that Roe will be overturned -- even if it ultimately will “die with a whimper” as the Supreme Court would allow anti-choice lawmakers to foist “extreme regulations on clinics, outlawing abortion after a certain number of weeks, or barring a woman from terminating a pregnancy on the basis of the fetus’ disability or identity.” As Stern concluded, “the constitutional right to abortion access in America is living on borrowed time.” This argument was also echoed by The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan who contended that one more Supreme Court vote against abortion would mean that “the conservative minority in this country will have the power to uphold laws designed to force pregnant women into motherhood.” During the June 27 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, host Nicole Wallace explained that the impact of Kennedy’s retirement means “actually talking about a future generation growing up with abortion being illegal again” and “young women and men taking the kinds of risks that a generation now hasn't had to consider.”

    2. Arguing that Roe is “bad” law, and therefore a Trump nominee would only be correcting judicial overreach.

    In other instances, conservative media have argued that Roe is "bad" law because the constitution doesn't include a right to abortion. By this logic, they contend, a reversal of precedent is inconsequential because the new nominee would merely be helping correct previous judicial overreach.

    In an opinion piece for The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro argued that Roe v. Wade is a decision that was rendered “without even the most peremptory respect for the text and history of the Constitution,” but that “pleased the Left.” An improved Supreme Court, according to Shapiro, “would leave room for legislatures – Democrats or Republicans – to make laws that don’t conflict with the Constitution.”

    In National Review, Rich Lowry similarly said that Roe “is, in short, a travesty that a constitutionalist Supreme Court should excise from its body of work with all due haste.” Lowry concluded that Roe “has no sound constitutional basis” and implied that it should be overturned because it is an embarrassment for the court.

    The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway claimed on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, “Even people who are pro-choice recognize that it was a poorly argued judicial decision.” She also said that Trump does not need to ask the judicial candidates about Roe v. Wade as “so many people regard it as such a poorly reasoned decision.” Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress also said on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump doesn’t need to ask about Roe because “there is no right to abortion.” Jeffress continued that though abortion is “nowhere in the Constitution” there is, however, a constitutionally protected “right to life that has been erased for 50 million children butchered in the womb since 1973.”

    But, as legal analyst Bridgette Dunlap wrote for Rewire.News, these claims that Roe is bad law are part of a conservative tactic to invalidate abortion rights more broadly. She explained: “In order to portray abortion rights as illegitimate, conservatives like to argue—inaccurately—that the Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade by inventing a right to privacy that is not grounded in the Constitution’s actual text.” Instead, she noted, Roe is based on the idea that “using the force of law to compel a person to use her body against her will to bring a pregnancy to term is a violation of her physical autonomy and decisional freedom—which the Constitution does not allow.”

    In addition, Roe is not just an important acknowledgement of the right to legally access abortion care -- even if states have already chipped away at the accessibility of that care. As Lourdes Rivera of the Center for Reproductive Rights explained in the National Law Journal, overturning Roe would impact the right to privacy and mean “uprooting a half-century of judicial decision-making, with profound consequences for our most cherished rights and essential freedoms.” Lawyer Jill Filipovic similarly wrote for Time magazine that “if Roe is done away with under the theory that privacy rights don’t exist, this could mean that there is no constitutional right to birth control, either.” In addition, she said, “cases that came after Roe, including Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated a Texas law that criminalized sex between two men, were decided on similar premises — and could be similarly imperiled.”

    3. Claiming that abortion would not be completely outlawed because regulatory power would merely be “returned to the states.”

    A common argument by conservative media -- and in some cases, Trump himself -- is that an overturning of Roe would merely return abortion regulations to the states and not completely outlaw the practice.

    For instance, according to Fox News guest and constitutional attorney Mark W. Smith, even if Roe were overturned, it wouldn’t “outlaw abortion” in the United States, it would just allow “states and voters [to] decide what to do about abortion.” Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano also made this claim, saying the “worst case scenario” is that if Roe “were to be repealed or reversed, the effect would be the 50 states would decide” their own abortion regulations. This inaccurate claim was also made during segments on CNN and MSNBC. During a June 27 appearance on CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, CNN legal commentator and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued that “all overturning Roe v. Wade does is” give the regulation power “to the states.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol made a similar claim on MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, when he argued that overturning Roe would merely “kick [abortion regulation] back to the states.”

    In reality, sending abortion regulation “back to the states” would functionally outlaw abortion access across large parts of the country. As Reva Siegel, a professor at Yale Law School wrote for The New York Times, returning the issue to the states would be disastrous because already, “27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider, and we can expect these ‘abortion deserts’ in the South and the Midwest to spread rapidly” if states are given free reign. New York magazine’s Lisa Ryan similarly reported that currently “there are only 19 states in which the right to abortion would be secure” if Roe is overturned.

    This landscape could easily worsen with anti-abortion groups turning their attention more directly to legislation on the state level rather than the federal level. As HuffPost’s Laura Bassett noted, a number of “abortion cases are already worming their way through the lower courts” that could further entrench abortion restrictions in a number of states. In 2016, ThinkProgress explained what a world before Roe looked like: “Wealthy women were able to access safe, though illegal, abortions, but everyone else had to risk their safety and sometimes their lives, and doctors had to risk going to jail.”

    4. Casting blame on abortion rights supporters for “overreacting” or trying to “attack” any Trump nominee on principle.

    Another common reaction among conservative media has been to cast blame back on abortion rights supporters. In this case, right-wing media have attacked supporters of Roe for “overreacting” to the potential loss of abortion rights, and accused others of opposing Trump’s nominee not on facts, but on principle.

    For example, during the June 27 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne, guest and attorney Gayle Trotter argued that abortion rights supporters were just “trying to scare people” in order to “defeat the president’s nominee.” Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo also echoed this argument during a June 27 appearance on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. According to Leo, “The left has been using the Roe v. Wade scare tactic since 1982, when Sandra O’Connor was nominated. And over 30 years later, nothing has happened to Roe v. Wade.”

    Similarly, on June 29, Trump supporters and YouTube personalities Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, popularly known as Diamond and Silk, appeared on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to discuss potential replacements for Kennedy. During the segment, Diamond asked why Democrats were “fearmongering” and “going into a frenzy” before knowing the nominee or their position on abortion. After interviewing Trump on Fox Business about his thought process for nominating Kennedy’s replacement, Maria Bartiromo said on the Saturday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend she believed that “all of this hysteria” about a potential overturn of Roe was being "a little overdone” by the left.

    Pro-choice advocates are not “overreacting” to potential attacks on the protections afforded by Roe. As journalist Irin Carmon explained on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Kennedy’s retirement “is the point that the conservative movement, that the anti-abortion movement, has been preparing for for 40 years” by “taking over state legislatures and passing laws that are engineered to chip away at the abortion right.” Carmon said that even with Kennedy on the bench, “access to abortion, and in many cases contraception, was a reality [only] on paper already.” Now, “it is disportionately Black and brown women who are going to suffer with the regime that is going to come forward.” Attorney Maya Wiley similarly argued on MSNBC’s The Beat that overturning of Roe would mean “essentially barring a huge percentage of women from huge swaths of the country from access” to abortion.

    5. Claiming that there’s no public support for Roe or abortion access.

    Polling shows a large majority of Americans support the outcome of Roe. But some right-wing media personalities have said that such findings ignore other polling about Americans’ supposed support for restrictions on later abortion.

    For example, The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack argued on Fox News’ Outnumbered Overtime that the claims of support for abortion access are inaccurate because there is a “great misunderstanding about Roe v. Wade” and the impact it has on abortion restrictions and that “there is actually pretty popular support for second trimester regulations.” This talking point has been used elsewhere, such as by the Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet Life News, in an attempt to discredit perceived support for Roe.

    The argument deployed by McCormack has also frequently been used by right-wing outlets in the past -- despite the disregard such an argument shows for the complexities involved in abortion polling. As Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at the public-opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures” that are used “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue. In contrast to right-wing media and anti-abortion claims, polling done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Hart Research Associates shows that support for later abortions goes up when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances.

    As Trump prepares to announce his selection for the Supreme Court on Monday, July 7, right-wing and conservative media will only offer more of these excuses to downplay that Roe v. Wade is firmly in the crosshairs.

  • Masterpiece Cakeshop was just the beginning. ADF is pushing several other license-to-discriminate cases through the courts.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post has been updated with additional information.

    On June 4, the Supreme Court granted a narrow ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case in favor of a Christian baker named Jack Phillips who refused to serve a gay couple. Phillips was represented by anti-LGBTQ hate group and legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is pushing several more cases that could determine whether public accommodations can legally discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    The Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop cited “hostility” against ADF’s client by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the commission’s original decision on the matter. At the same time, the court also reaffirmed protections for LGBTQ people in the marketplace. This means the Masterpiece ruling applies to only this specific case and has thus “left open the possibility that other cases raising similar issues could be decided differently,” according to The New York Times. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion:

    The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

    Kennedy’s prescient statement is reflective of the many similar religious exemptions cases -- in which businesses in the open marketplace seek to exempt themselves from serving LGBTQ people equally based on religious beliefs -- that are making their way up the courts. And those many cases almost all have one thing in common: Alliance Defending Freedom.

    ADF has been relentless in its work to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in nearly every aspect of life, which includes leading the fight against transgender student equality in schools across the country and advocating for the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, which seeks to alter LGBTQ people’s sexuality or gender identity. And in addition to Masterpiece Cakeshop, ADF in the last few years has been involved in several other religious exemptions cases, some of which could again bring ADF and its allies before the nation’s highest court. As Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern noted, ADF’s strategy is to “target bakers, florists, photographers who might be anti-gay, find a case that had come up, and then encourage them to fight that case as far as they could.” What’s more, ADF's staff and its allied attorneys -- of which there are more than 3,200 -- are serving in high-up positions in the offices of state attorneys general and even on the federal bench, where they may increasingly play a role in cases such as Masterpiece Cakeshop.

    There are currently at least seven active or potentially active cases to watch -- all spearheaded by ADF and its allies -- that could eventually make discrimination against LGBTQ people in the marketplace the law of the land:

    1. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. Washington: In the case most likely to be heard before the Supreme Court next, ADF is representing a Washington state florist who refused to create floral arrangements for a gay wedding. In February 2017, the Washington state Supreme Court unanimously ruled against ADF’s client, and in July 2017, ADF appealed the case to the Supreme Court. According to The Hill, it now “has been re-listed for discussion at the court’s next conference on Thursday,” June 7, when the court may decide whether to hear the case. 

    2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes: ADF is representing a Michigan funeral home that fired an employee for coming out as a transgender woman, saying that its owner and other business owners have the right to “live and work consistently with their faith” and that the funeral home’s sex-specific dress code “is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one.” In March, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, and ADF announced that it is “consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal.”

    3. Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix: In April, ADF argued before the Arizona Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, the owners of a calligraphy business, who challenged a Phoenix, AZ, ordinance protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. The lawsuit is a pre-enforcement challenge, meaning that the business challenged the nondiscrimination protections “seeking permission to refuse service to same-sex couples without actually being found in violation of the law,” according to ThinkProgress LGBTQ Editor Zack Ford. On June 7 and in the wake of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against ADF's client, affirming that the business must serve same-sex couples. In response to the ruling, ADF announced that it plans to appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.

    4. Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey: In October, ADF filed an appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, videographers in Minnesota who wanted to add wedding videos to their business services. The business owners sued the state because of a provision in the Minnesota Human Rights Act that prohibits them from discriminating against same-sex couples, making the lawsuit a pre-enforcement challenge. Briefs to the court have been submitted, but it has not yet made a decision.

    5. 303 Creative v. Elenis: In September, ADF filed an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its client, a Colorado graphic designer who challenged a state nondiscrimination law that protects LGBTQ people. According to ADF, a September ruling by a federal judge “placed her legal challenge on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.” The judge also said that the designer could not sue to challenge the law because she could not adequately prove that a gay couple requested her services. The court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in May but will now hear them in September.

    6. Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast: ADF represented a Hawaii bed-and-breakfast owner who denied a room to a lesbian couple. In February, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, upholding a 2013 decision that said she could not discriminate against same-sex couples. ADF has not updated its web page about the case in the months following the ruling or announced whether it will seek to appeal.

    7. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals: In April, ADF attorneys filed a brief to the Kentucky Supreme Court in support of a “promotional printer” who declined to create custom T-shirts for the Lexington, KY, Pride Festival. The Kentucky Supreme Court has not yet decided the case.

    These are just seven of the many religious exemptions cases in which ADF has played a hand. It has also successfully pushed for federal Justice Department guidance that makes it easier for people, businesses, and government employees to discriminate against LGBTQ people using religious exemptions. And it successfully wrote, justified, and defended the most sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions bill in the country, which went into effect in Mississippi last year.

    Though the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop may not have clarified whether public accommodations have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is just the beginning of a fight playing out in courts across the country at the hands of ADF.

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante. 

  • Kevin Williamson also said on his podcast that people who’ve had abortions should be hanged

    Update: Williamson out at The Atlantic

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/5): After previously defending the hiring of former National Review writer Kevin Williamson as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced on April 5 that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s defense of his belief that those who have had abortions should be hanged -- made in a podcast uncovered by Media Matters yesterday -- “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”

    Original article below. 

    The Atlantic recently sparked outrage after hiring former National Review writer Kevin Williamson -- who notoriously argued that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide” with punishment including hanging. Although some have tried to make light of these comments, in reality, Williamson both defended and again promoted this belief during a September 2014 edition of his National Review podcast.

    Williamson has a long history of producing problematic articles and commentary on a variety of topics, including on abortion, transgender people, and immigrants. Several of Williamson’s defenders have downplayed his history emphasizing, in particular, that Williamson’s tweets on abortion should not be taken seriously. 

    For example, the National Review’s David French alleged that Williamson was being subjected to “the unbelievably tedious ‘gotcha’ exercise of angry progressives combing through” his articles and “attempting to define” him by pointing to “a few paragraphs, a sentence here or there, or an ill-considered tweet or two.” Similarly, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum wrote that although he found some of Williamson’s work problematic, he dismissed the severity of his comments on abortion, saying: “Lots of conservatives believe that abortion is murder. Williamson was willing to take this publicly to its logical endpoint -- that women who get abortions should be prosecuted for murder one -- but that act of folly is the only difference between him and every other right-wing pundit.” 

    As Slate reported, in a memo sent to staff at The Atlantic, even Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg argued that he didn’t think “taking a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation is the best journalistic practice” and that he “would also prefer, all things being equal, to give people second chances and the opportunity to change. I’ve done this before in reference to extreme tweeting.” This sentiment was echoed by The New York Timesmuch maligned columnist Bret Stephens who remarked in his column: “I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet.” 

    However, as Williamson himself explained in a September 2014 episode of his National Review podcast, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” he had no problem defending his view that he supported capital punishment for those who had an abortion and that what he “had in mind was hanging.” Notably, although Williamson did hedge saying that he was “kind of squishy on capital punishment in general” he was “absolutely willing to see abortion treated like regular homicide under the criminal code.”

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON (CO-HOST): And someone challenged me on my views on abortion, saying, “If you really thought it was a crime you would support things like life in prison, no parole, for treating it as a homicide.” And I do support that, in fact, as I wrote, what I had in mind was hanging.

    [...]

    WILLIAMSON: My broader point here is, of course, that I am a -- as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general -- but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code, sure.

    Later in the same episode of the podcast, Williamson continued that when it came to punishment for those who had abortions, he “would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging” -- going so far as to say that he had “a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment” because “if the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence. Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else.”

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON (CO-HOST): But yeah, so when I was talking about, I would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging -- which kind of, as I said, I’m kind of squishy about capital punishment in general, but I’ve got a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment. I tend to think that things like lethal injection are a little too antiseptic --

    CHARLES C.W. COOKE (CO-HOST): Sure, if you’re going to do it.

    WILLIAMSON: -- quasi-medical -- yeah, if the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence.

    COOKE: I absolutely agree.

    WILLIAMSON: Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else.

    [...]

    WILLIAMSON: I think in some ways it’s worse than your typical murder. I mean, it’s absolutely premeditated --

    COOKE: It’s clinical.

    WILLIAMSON: --it’s clinical.

    COOKE: Literally.

    WILLIAMSON: Yes, it’s something that’s performed against the most vulnerable sort of people. And that’s the sort of thing we generally take into account in the sentencing of other murder cases. You know, murdering a four year old kid, is not the same as killing a 21-year-old guy.

  • 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.

  • Recent reporting on violence against trans inmates illustrates the dangers of Trump administration rescinding protections

    Anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom is negotiating with the Trump administration to undo Obama-era guidelines protecting transgender inmates

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump administration is considering undoing protections for incarcerated transgender people after reportedly being in “negotiations” with anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Transgender inmates are frequently housed with members of the opposite gender and experience the highest reported incidence of sexual violence in prisons and jails. The dangers they face are illustrated by a number of recent media reports on lawsuits trans women have filed regarding their treatment while incarcerated.

    On January 4, The Dallas Morning News reported that ADF is representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The suit demands that the bureau “remove all transgender inmates” from a female-only prison in Fort Worth, TX. In an effort to settle the lawsuit, ADF is “in negotiations with the federal government” over undoing policies that protect transgender inmates. The article predicted that the Trump administration was “likely to undo” those policies. ADF lawyer Gary McCaleb, who has also been active in ADF’s work against transgender student equality in schools, told The Dallas Morning News that he was “pretty confident” that the BOP would change some of its transgender inmate protections, particularly on the issue of whether transgender women are housed with non-trans prisoners. ADF’s work here is just one piece of its relentless campaign against LGBTQ equality.

    In weighing whether to remove protections for incarcerated trans people, ADF and the Trump administration will likely be taking aim at two pieces of Obama-era guidance. One is a January 18, 2017, “Transgender Offender Manual,” which gave guidance on the treatment of transgender inmates and sought to “ensure the Bureau of Prisons (Bureau) properly identifies, tracks, and provides services to the transgender population.” The other guidance likely to be affected is the Justice Department’s 2012 standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) that require detention facilities to “incorporate unique vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming inmates into training and screening protocols.” Those rules say that “in deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates, … the agency shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems.”

    According to Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, transgender protections under PREA can work as “a mechanism through which trans inmates essentially sue prisons for violating their rights under federal law.” Thus, the attempts by ADF and the Trump administration to alter those policies could affect transgender inmates’ ability to sue for inhumane treatment.

    Recent coverage of a number of lawsuits filed by transgender women who reported sexual and physical violence and harassment in prisons and jails demonstrates the countless hardships transgender inmates encounter. In November, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a transgender woman filed a lawsuit against the county and jail officials after she was “placed in a male holding cell” in Allegheny County, PA. The woman was “raped and physically assaulted by [an] inmate -- despite her cries for help and seeking assistance through the cell’s emergency call button.” The woman also said she was “harassed physically and called derogatory names” and had men watch her shower and strip-search her.

    On January 5, the Associated Press reported that a transgender woman incarcerated in Illinois “is seeking a rarely granted transfer to a female prison” after experiencing “sexual assault, taunting and beatings” in male prisons. Her lawsuit described “how guards and fellow inmates would regularly single her out for brutal treatment,” saying “that guards made her and another transgender inmate perform sex acts on each other as the guards hurled slurs and laughed.” The AP reported on another filing from her lawyers that said it had been “devastating psychologically” for her to be unable to present “herself as a female” while incarcerated. The article noted the “greater risk of abuse” for trans inmates, including that “nearly 40 percent reported being victims of sexual misconduct by other inmates and guards — compared to around 4 percent of the general prison reporting such abuse.”

    On that same day, Reuters reported that the state of Massachusetts “asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman” who is housed in a men’s prison. In her lawsuit, the woman said that she has been subjected “to strip searches by male guards” who “routinely groped” her and forced her “to shower in the presence of male inmates.” In yet another January report, the New York Post wrote that a transgender woman who was incarcerated in the notoriously violent Rikers Island jail complex is suing New York City and correction officials after being “beaten so severely by several guards that they broke her jaw, knocked out teeth and left her with two black eyes.”

    In December, Aviva Stahl wrote a piece for The Village Voice, titled “New York City Jails Still Can’t Keep Trans Prisoners Safe,” analyzing the state of incarcerated transgender people in the city's jails. Stahl’s report noted that advocates say the city’s Department of Correction has failed to protect transgender prisoners and that “some trans women have been denied entry” into the city’s Transgender Housing Unit (THU) or “been transferred into male facilities after their external genitalia were observed in medical exams.” Stahl noted that these failures are violations “of national prison anti-rape standards,” the very standards that could be affected by the negotiations between the ADF and the Trump administration. The article added that transgender people have “the highest reported incidence of sexual violence of any demographic group studied, more than eight times the rate for prisoners overall,” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. A 2007 study found an even higher rate for transgender women: “59 percent of transgender women housed in men’s prisons had been sexually abused while incarcerated, as compared to 4 percent of non-transgender inmates in men’s prisons.”

    These abuses are happening even with the Obama-era protections in place. If ADF is successful in getting the Trump administration to rescind these limited protections, trans lives and bodies will be at still further risk.

  • Fox News is firing up the right-wing spin machine for the Supreme Court's new abortion case

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson fearmongered about a reproductive rights case that the Supreme Court just decided to hear -- signaling the start of another right-wing misinformation campaign about abortion.

    On November 13, the Supreme Court agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case that involves a California statute called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. Under California's FACT Act, licensed crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- which are anti-abortion organizations that represent themselves as reproductive care clinics -- are required to display a notice at their facility and in advertising materials which states, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women,” and directs people to call a number to determine if they qualify for such services. CPCs not licensed by the state of California are also required to post a notice stating that they are “not licensed as a medical facility” and that they have “no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.” The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) -- which represents both licensed and unlicensed CPCs in California -- challenged the law as a violation of CPCs' free speech rights to not promote abortion or contraceptives. The lower courts ruled in favor of upholding the state law and the case is now before the Supreme Court.

    The Supreme Court’s last major abortion case -- Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- involved a Texas law that placed, under the guise of supposedly protecting women’s health, medically unnecessary requirements on facilities that perform abortions. The Supreme Court ultimately found that the law created an undue burden on abortion access. While some outlets reported on the law’s substantial harmful effects after it caused many abortion facilities in Texas to close, right-wing outlets ignored its impact to push a myth that the measure was necessary to protect the health of those accessing abortion in the state.

    During a November 15 segment on the NIFLA v. Becerra case, Carlson defined California’s FACT Act as an attack on CPCs' freedom of speech -- rather than as a necessary restriction because many centers utilize deceptive tactics or medical misinformation to dissuade patients from having an abortion. During the segment, Carlson mischaracterized the law as “forcing” CPCs “to provide information on how to get a state-subsidized abortion” and said that it “would force pro-life centers to literally advertise and tell people who come in, ‘Hey, there is a free abortion waiting for you if you want one.’” Carlson also incorrectly implied that CPCs should not be regulated because they are “not hurting anybody.” Classifying facilities that offer abortion as part of “an industry,” Carlson said that the law “is really about an industry trying to shut down its opponents,” ultimately concluding that pro-choice advocates “worship” abortion “like a God.”

    Despite much grandstanding, Carlson failed to accurately describe either the factual basis of the California law or the nature of the lawsuit. (Carlson has a history of failing to accurately address abortion issues throughout his tenure as a prime-time Fox News host.) While Carlson described CPCs as “not hurting anybody,” they actually use multiple deceptive tactics to convince individuals to utilize their services, ultimately dissuading many considering abortion. A yearlong investigation by Cosmopolitan found CPCs “increasingly look just like doctor’s offices with ultrasound rooms and staff in scrubs. Yet they do not provide or refer for contraception or abortion. Many pregnancy-center counselors, even those who provide medical information, are not licensed.”

    As Teen Vogue reported, some CPCs also lie about state restrictions that prohibit abortion past a certain week of pregnancy and about the risks of abortions -- including making inaccurate claims that abortion makes a person infertile or causes breast cancer. Some CPCs also lie before people even get in the door -- posing as comprehensive reproductive care clinics or suggesting in their advertising that they offer abortion services or contraceptives, when in reality many CPCs provide neither. Some CPCs also receive direct funding from states. For example, Texas awarded a $1.6 million contract in 2016 to The Heidi Group, an organization led by anti-abortion extremist Carol Everett, for the purpose of providing low-income reproductive health services. Earlier this year, the Heidi Group was found to have failed to deliver on any of its proposals. On the federal level, Rewire found that the Trump administration has awarded “at least $3.1 million … to religiously affiliated organizations and crisis pregnancy centers.”

    Similarly, while Carlson decried the FACT Act as an attack on free speech, anti-abortion proponents have long pushed the so-called “informed” consent laws that often require medical providers to lie to patients about the risks of abortion, or provide them information with no basis in science, such as the viability of “abortion reversal” methods. Many have noted that if the Supreme Court's decision falls in favor of CPCs on free speech grounds, it could have unintended consequences for such efforts by the anti-choice movement. As Slate’s Dahila Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “If the FACT Act falls ... it would not necessarily be an unmitigated victory for abortion opponents” given the number of deceptive “informed consent” laws that various states have already passed.

    Although the Supreme Court just agreed to hear NIFLA v. Becerra, Carlson’s segment demonstrates that right-wing media are already gearing up to push misinformation about the case and support CPCs' efforts to block abortion access.

  • Lessons from coverage of the Trump administration's attempt to block an undocumented teen's abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media widely covered the case of an undocumented minor whom the Trump administration tried to stop from having an abortion this month. While Fox News focused on a made-up story that taxpayers are funding abortions of illegal immigrants, several other news outlets provided comprehensive coverage about the implications of the case, thus identifying key facets of the Trump administration’s extreme push against the right to an abortion.

    On October 18, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow abortion access to an undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who is being held in federal custody in Texas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had argued that the government was not impeding Doe’s access to an abortion because, as Mother Jones reported, she was “free to return to her home country for the procedure.” But the DOJ appealed the ruling to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which eventually ruled on October 24 that the government could not stop Doe from having an abortion. On October 25, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that Doe had successfully obtained an abortion.

    Doe was forced to jump through all of these legal hoops because, according to the ACLU, the Trump administration made a policy change in March 2017 that shelters could not take facilitate abortion access for minors in their care without “direction and approval” from the director of ORR, Scott Lloyd. The ACLU originally filed this lawsuit as a class action for all Jane Does in ORR’s custody who are seeking an abortion, and further litigation for the class is currently pending.

    Before the appeals court’s October 24 ruling, Vice News’ Antonia Hylton obtained an exclusive interview with Doe in which she emphasized her certainty about the decision to have an abortion.

    Beyond Vice News' interview, several media outlets highlighted crucial details of Doe’s case that will likely shape the course of abortion access as the Trump administration’s policies continue to follow an increasingly extreme trajectory. Here are four important points that media made about the case:

    HHS employs an anti-abortion extremist to look after undocumented minors

    Trump’s HHS is full of anti-abortion extremists like Charmaine Yoest, Teresa Manning, and Valerie Huber. But Doe’s case exposed another anti-abortion personality in the agency -- one who has direct control over the lives of pregnant minors in custody who may seek an abortion.

    During the October 20 edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow detailed the ways Scott Lloyd, the director of ORR, is pushing his anti-abortion agenda onto undocumented minors. According to Maddow, Lloyd “has argued forcefully” that anti-choice groups should not just focus on making abortion illegal in the U.S., but also on opposing the use of contraceptives. Maddow additionally pointed to allegations in Doe’s lawsuit that Lloyd “directed employees underneath him in his agency to tell girls’ parents about their pregnancies against the girls’ will" and that he had "directed federal employees to physically take girls to Christian counseling centers in Texas, so anti-abortion activists at those counseling centers could try to talk them out of having abortions.” Maddow concluded that Doe’s access to a doctor was “being blocked by an anti-abortion activist who somehow got this job that gave him the kind of personal individual control over women’s lives and bodies that he previously could have only dreamed about as an anti-abortion activist.”

    As Univision News’ Fernando Peinado further explained, Lloyd’s appointment to ORR “surprised many immigration activists and lawyers” since he has “little experience in immigration.” Peinado stated that Lloyd’s previous experience with refugees “was during his work as chief policy coordinator for the Knights of Columbus” -- a self-identified pro-life group that is popular with right-wing media -- where Lloyd worked with “Christian refugees and other minorities persecuted by the Islamic State in the Middle East.”

    BuzzFeed News’ Ema O’Connor linked Lloyd’s current actions with previous writings in which he said that access to contraceptives increases abortion rates; in reality, the opposite is true. Lloyd declared in an article for the National Catholic Register that “American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does.” Lloyd also rejected the idea of funding from the Title X family planning program supporting access to contraceptives because he argued that the “truckloads of condoms” purchased would fail and lead to more abortions.

    The immigration system in the US is “a harbinger of ... ‘anti-choice fanaticism’”

    Rewire immigration reporter Tina Vasquez reported that the anti-abortion agenda being promoted via the United States' immigration system didn’t start with the Trump administration; in fact, anti-abortion policies of the George W. Bush administration contributed to HHS’ current ability to deny abortion access to undocumented minors. Vasquez talked to Susan Hays, the legal director of a nonprofit called Jane’s Due Process that provides legal services in Texas to pregnant minors. Hays stated:

    Under Bush, social workers working with minors [in ORR shelters] could make legal decisions because the shelters had legal custody of the minors. But after two social workers helped an unaccompanied immigrant minor obtain an abortion, it really upset the Catholic-run shelter where they were employed and where the child was housed. … In response, Bush changed who has custody of minors.

    The change gave ORR legal custody of unaccompanied minors who cross the border. In March 2017, the Trump administration tweaked this policy to require minors to get the specific consent of the ORR director, leaving them subject to Lloyd’s rabid anti-abortion agenda. Vasquez noted that advocates say Doe’s case is a “harbinger of the ‘anti-choice fanaticism’ working its way into the immigration system since Trump’s presidential inauguration.”

    The Trump administration is using religion to deny people the right to an abortion

    The Trump administration recently made a sweeping change to the federal contraception mandate that enabled practically any business to claim either a religious or moral exception to providing contraceptives to its employees. Such actions suggest that the Trump administration will place the objectives of religious groups above the choices -- and constitutional rights -- of Americans.

    As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explained, the government’s obstruction of Doe’s planned abortion happened “because the federal government now believes it has a right to promulgate its own quasi-religious viewpoint” and to change “the law to subordinate [Doe’s] choices to government power.”

    According to Lithwick, lawyers for the DOJ relied on “a very sweeping view of facilitation” in their argument that they shouldn’t have to “facilitate” the abortion by saying they would be required to offer her post-procedure medical support -- the most elementary of obligations for a government to perform. Lithwick likens the argument to “claims we’ve been hearing in courts from religious objectors for years.” These religious objectors include the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby, who did not want to “facilitate” the coverage of birth control for their employees, or those arguing against federal funding for Planned Parenthood because of the inaccurate claim that “money is fungible” and thus taxpayers will be paying for abortions.

    The Trump administration’s use of religion to delay an abortion for Jane Doe caused her unnecessary anguish. As The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan reported, “By delaying her abortion, they subjected her to increased medical risks, dramatically increased costs, and the general physical discomfort of pregnancy for much longer than necessary. The mechanisms behind this fight are nothing but cruel.”

    This case is a “preview” of the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the abortion rights of the most vulnerable

    Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern used Doe’s case to explain the reality of a future without Roe v. Wade, which then-candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail he would try to overturn. Stern wrote, “If Roe goes, there will be thousands more Jane Does—detained women who would be denied access to abortion by their government. It is these detainees, then, who are on the front line of the abortion battle. That’s because it is their pregnancies that the state can most easily control.”

    Stern also highlighted the impact such precedent would have on another vulnerable community in the United States -- the incarcerated -- who are already sometimes denied abortions in federal and state prisons. As Stern explained, the process for getting a court order to have an abortion for someone in prison “is onerous and time-consuming, and officials can drag it out until the pregnancy is viable, rendering an abortion illegal.” Post-Roe, “without a constitutional right to abortion, all women in custody could be forced to carry pregnancies they do not want—then have their children taken away from them while they serve out their sentences or face deportation.”

  • What media are getting wrong about Trump, Mattis, and the transgender troop ban

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media outlets widely and misleadingly reported that Defense Secretary James Mattis had “frozen” President Donald Trump’s plan to ban transgender people from the military. A few days after Trump sent him a directive on the issue, Mattis announced on August 29 that he would “carry out the president’s policy direction” while “in the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.” But Mattis’ statement was exactly in line with each step of Trump’s directive, which granted the defense secretary time to “determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving” in the military.

    Numerous headlines and reports on August 29 suggested that Mattis had paused Trump’s transgender military ban, framing the situation as if Mattis was defying Trump’s orders. The New York Times said Mattis had “kicked President Trump’s proposed ban … down the road,” and an ABC affiliate’s headline said Mattis had made the decision “despite Trump’s order.” The Washington Post said Mattis announced “that he is freezing the implementation of” the ban. Many other headlines asserted that Mattis’ announcement constituted a freeze of or “hold on” Trump’s policy. Similarly, Politico’s Eliana Johnson called Mattis’ statement “kind of a rebuke” of Trump’s announcement during an appearance on MSNBC.

    But Mattis’ statement is exactly in line with Trump’s August 25 directive. That directive gave Mattis until February 21 to “determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military” and called for “further study” of the issue even though there has already been extensive study on transgender service members. A Pentagon-commissioned 2016 Rand Corporation study found that “allowing transgender personnel to serve openly” would have “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness” and minimal costs.

    Trump’s directive explicitly called for reinstating the ban, asking the Pentagon to “return to the longstanding policy and practice on military service by transgender individuals that was in place prior to June 2016,” when the Obama administration announced that transgender Americans “may serve openly” in the armed services.

    Other experts and media figures have pointed out media's incorrect framing of Mattis' response, with Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern calling it “an extreme mischaracterization of the facts.” Stern wrote that Mattis “is doing exactly what Trump directed him to do in a recent memo” and noted that the defense secretary “is not suspending the ban or disobeying Trump, but simply following orders.” The Slate report also quoted Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney, saying that Mattis’ “statements do not change the directive nor has he been given the power to retain transgender service members indefinitely.” And Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center of Lesbian Rights, told Stern that USA Today’s “inaccurate reporting” is “playing into a patently bogus strategy to make it appear that there is going to be some new 'study' that will legitimize what is already a forgone conclusion: the discriminatory banning of military service by transgender people, based on a characteristic that has no bearing on their fitness to serve.’”

    A report by ThinkProgress’ Zack Ford noted similar points, saying that though “multiple outlets” reported that Mattis “had somehow frozen, paused, or stalled” the ban, there “is no justification for this framing.” Ford continued, “Mattis’ statement says that the military will implement the order exactly as directed.” The article laid out the expectations set forth in Trump’s memo, noting that Mattis’ statement “matches what was in Trump’s order.” And though the Post published a piece about Mattis “freezing the implementation” of the ban, another story in the newspaper noted that “defying orders was not what Mattis was doing.” The report added that Mattis’s actions were “to freeze [the ban’s] impact for the moment” and that “such a delay was pretty much authorized by Trump in his formal memorandum.” It continued, “Mattis did not reverse Trump or defy him on the broader ban against new recruits who are transgender people.”

    There are repercussions to the misleading reports and headlines on Mattis’ statement. Stern’s post in Slate concluded that the stories about a “freeze” “serve the administration’s narrative in two ways: They legitimize a ‘study’ that is designed to reach a foregone conclusion, and they falsely portray the ban as more lenient or unsettled than it really is.” This morning, a panel discussion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe suggested that perhaps Trump “didn’t really want to” implement the ban. Host Joe Scarborough remarked that “Donald Trump saying I really don’t want to do this” would make “a lot of sense,” and he also echoed debunked but insidious arguments that Trump might be “supportive” of LGBTQ rights.

    Despite those suggestions on Morning Joe, media should have no doubts about Trump’s intention to ban transgender people from the military. On July 26, Trump explicitly said on Twitter that “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” and he has done nothing to indicate otherwise since then. Trump’s August 25 directive clearly stated his intent to reinstate the ban, and Mattis’ statement did not suggest that he would not be complying with the directive.

  • Betsy DeVos just perpetuated years of right-wing attacks on rape survivors

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Many have questioned the incomprehensible logic of President Donald Trump’s proposal to collaborate with Russia on cybersecurity policy, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be deploying a similar strategy: collaborating with rape deniers on policy regarding campus sexual assault. This comes after right-wing media spent years questioning the severity of sexual assault and attacking the credibility of survivors.

    First reported by Politico, DeVos planned a July 13 meeting with “advocates for survivors of campus sexual assault, as well as with groups representing students who say they were wrongfully accused.”

    Politico identified several invitees as representatives from the men’s rights groups Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and National Coalition for Men -- all of which have dedicated themselves to combating what they believe is rampant false reporting of sexual assault, and the lack of attention paid to the “true victims”: those who are accused.

    As The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified SAVE as an organization that is “promoting misogyny” and "lobbying to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Jaclyn Friedman, an expert on campus sexual violence, told Silverman that groups like SAVE not only “actively publicize the names of rape survivors in order to intimidate them,” but also “blame women for ‘instigating’ men's violence against them” and believe that “victims' sexual histories should be fair game in rape cases.” According to ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, organizations like FACE, National Coalition for Men, and the like are no better in their advocacy, nor less extreme in their beliefs.

    Despite posturing from these groups, false rape reports are actually a statistical minority -- representing between 2 and 8 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Survivors already face rampant challenges when reporting sexual assault, and it is unlikely the Department of Education’s invitation to these men’s rights groups will improve these conditions.

    A July 12 press release explained that DeVos would meet with the various groups in a series of “listening sessions” meant to “discuss the impact of the Department’s Title IX sexual assault guidance on students, families and institutions.” In 2011, the Obama administration provided schools with guidance on how to “review and enforce Title IX complaints,” emphasizing the role assault and harassment play in the creation of “a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX.” Many have speculated that DeVos’ openness to including men’s rights organizations in the meetings is just the latest signal that the department will revoke these protections.

    In April, ProPublica implied that DeVos’ selection of Candice Jackson to head the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was a sign of bad things to come for Title IX and anti-sexual violence protections, noting that Jackson had previously “arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” and that she called women who accused Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.” In June, ProPublica published a memo from Jackson that directed OCR staff to make changes to investigative procedures that “advocates fear will mean less consistent findings of systemic discrimination at colleges.” As ThinkProgress previously reported, DeVos herself has “long donated to organizations that frequently side with students accused of rape and sexual abuse.”

    The men’s rights groups DeVos plans to meet with aren’t alone in waging war on sexual violence protections and survivors. Some of Trump’s favorite right-wing media figures and staunchest cable news supporters have put on a masterclass in how to not report on sexual assault. After an uncovered 2005 audio showed Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, many Fox News employees seemingly made it their jobs to either downplay the severity of his comments or attack the many women who came forward with specific allegations against him.

    Even before Trump, right-wing media were especially adamant in their campaign of misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment. Beyond disputing the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, right-wing media figures have called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a “coveted status,” blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although she has since fled the network in an attempt to rehab her image at NBC, former Fox News star Megyn Kelly was a chief proponent of the “war on boys” talking point -- which was just part of her long history of criticizing sexual assault prevention measures and minimizing the credibility of survivors.

    Fox itself has spent the better part of the past year -- when not providing the ultimate safe space for Trump and his administration -- embroiled in a series of sexual assault allegations after years of harassment at the network. Such allegations ultimately led to the ouster of both the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and longtime host (now aspiring podcast provocateur) Bill O’Reilly, as well as the recent suspension of Fox Business host Charles Payne.

    Although right-wing media have engaged in some of the most overt attacks on survivors, many other outlets are far from magnanimous in their coverage of sexual assault. As coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed, media have a bad habit of sympathetically highlighting the past accomplishments of the accused, or bemoaning the costs to their lives and careers.

    The New York Times fell into this very trap in a July 12 article about the meetings. The Times began its report by highlighting the “heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault” before going on to describe the consequences they faced, ranging from “lost scholarships” to expulsion. In one case, as the Times noted, a man had tried to “take his own life” but “maintained he was innocent” and “had hoped to become a doctor.” In another example, the Times highlighted the comments of the father of an accused student who complained that his son’s “entire world [was] turned upside down” and that, as the paper put it, he had been “forced to abandon his dream of becoming a college wrestling coach.” Reporting like this -- although seemingly benign -- not only perpetuates victim blaming, but also downplays the severity of allegations by treating offenders as the real victims.

    Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described DeVos’ planned meetings as “a classic case of false balance, because the two sides here do not have equal merit.” She noted that one side includes “advocates for sexual-assault victims” while the other is made up of “trolls who have made it their lives’ work to defend domestic violence.” She concluded that however unfortunate the decision to invite these men’s rights groups to meet, it was unsurprising. After all: “As a representative of an administration run by a man with an interest in protecting sexual harrassers, DeVos has every reason to side with the latter.”

    Undeterred, survivors aren’t letting DeVos off the hook that easily. While she meets with men's rights groups that have systematically tried to silence and shame survivors, organizations that advocate for them will be outside the Department of Education making their voices heard.

  • Some of the best media take downs of Trump’s “repugnant grab bag” of a budget

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    On May 23, President Donald Trump released his vision for the fiscal year 2018 federal budget titled, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” which called for deep cuts to Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), student loan assistance, and anti-poverty programs geared toward working- and middle-class Americans while providing gargantuan tax cuts for top income earners and increasing military spending. As details of the budget began to surface in the lead up to the announcement, Media Matters identified some of the best take downs from journalists and experts hammering the proposal for its “ruthless” cuts.