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

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The tactic

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

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

    Examples

    Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Bernie Sanders

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

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

    Elizabeth Warren

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

    Cory Booker

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

    Pete Buttigieg

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

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

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

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

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

    The tactic

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

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

    Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The tactic

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

    Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Graphics by Melissa Joskow

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

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • The Washington Examiner published an article with the headline:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

    Parkland shooting and the gun-control debate


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

    Family separation policy


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

    Confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler’s segments are light on news, but full of outrage -- with Wheeler frequently alleging that liberals are ignoring right-wing anti-abortion conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood misusing federal funds, promoting abortion for profit, or engaging in the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors.

    OANN premiered in 2013, established, at least in part, to “provide a platform for a broader spectrum of voices on the right than Fox now offers.” During the 2016 presidential election, the network pushed pro-Trump stories and secured interviews with then-candidate Trump. Since the election, the network has also received some preferential treatment from the Trump administration at press events.

    The Washington Post reported in 2017 that, besides giving positive coverage of Trump during his campaign, one of OANN’s owners also “directed his channel to … encourage antiabortion stories,” including those “about Planned Parenthood’s purported promotion of abortion” that the owner saw on other right-wing media sites. The results of this strategy are nowhere more obvious than on the network’s prime-time show The Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler. Often, host Liz Wheeler’s segments on abortion center on her complete disbelief that liberals don’t buy the latest right-wing conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood.

    Right-wing media, in general, love to attack Planned Parenthood, making a number of false accusations such as that it sells fetal body parts, that the federal money it receives goes to support abortion care, or that it could be easily replaced by other, noncomprehensive health care centers that actually don't provide a full suite of reproductive health care services. Wheeler has frequently contributed to this echo chamber of misinformation about Planned Parenthood, which is facing possible deep cuts to its federal funding pending potential adoption of new Title X rules. For example, even though the Hyde Amendment prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion, Wheeler claimed in a May 18 segment that as a member of the so-called “abortion lobby,” the organization’s “only goal, politically, is to get taxpayer funding for abortion” and that its “profits are blood money.” Wheeler continued that Planned Parenthood’s “agenda is, as it always has been, unlimited, unrestricted abortion for profit” and that it is opposed to the proposed Title X rules because “they will not give up this money because all they want is unrestricted abortion.”

    Wheeler has also repeatedly elevated a recently resurrected anti-abortion conspiracy theory from 2011 alleging that Planned Parenthood covers up sexual abuse suffered by minors who come to its facilities for abortions. On a June 4 episode, Wheeler accused her guest -- a Democratic strategist -- of being “willing to brush aside the cover-up of sexual assault of children” because he was concerned that “abortion would be targeted, that Planned Parenthood would be targeted” by potential funding cuts.

    Wheeler pushed her position in two subsequent interviews with congressional Republicans who had signed on to a letter calling for an investigation into Planned Parenthood as a result of these allegations. In an interview with Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), Wheeler said, “I don’t know where your Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives are -- why their signatures are missing from this letter?” and said that she felt “disgusted” by “Democrats in Congress” for not signing on. Wheeler similarly opined before an interview with Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) that “not a single Democrat thinks covering up the abuse of children is worth an investigation. At least not when a Democratic ally like Planned Parenthood is responsible for the cover-up.” According to her, this supposed scandal should “be an issue that would just obliterate party lines.”

    Wheeler also has a knack for tying stories dominating the news cycle to so-called liberal hypocrisy on abortion and Planned Parenthood -- no matter how far-fetched the connection.

    Following the February 14 mass shooting in Parkland, FL, and calls from many for closer scrutiny of the National Rifle Association’s political donations, Wheeler said that not only was it a “hideous lie” that the “NRA buys off politicians in an effort to push a pro-gun agenda that costs the lives of millions of children,” but also that it was “ironic because liberals have no problem with another organization that also donates to politicians and actually does kill millions of children -- Planned Parenthood.”

    Wheeler -- and other right-wing media figures -- also used reactions to the Trump administration’s family separation policy as an opportunity to rail about abortion. Addressing liberals, Wheeler argued, “If you care so much about exploited and abused children, where’s your outrage about the 1 million unborn children who are aborted every single year in our country?” Wheeler then pivoted to the made-up story of Planned Parenthood’s cover-up of sexual abuse to hypothetically ask, “Where is your outrage that Democrats in Congress refuse to call for an investigation into this pattern of Planned Parenthood covering up the sexual abuse of children?”

    In the most bizarre example, Wheeler attempted to downplay the contents of a tape obtained by CNN of a conversation between Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen. She tried to draw a parallel between outrage over the tape with what she perceived as a lack of liberal interest in supposed scandals about Planned Parenthood. Wheeler said the tape was “A-OK with the left,” but “secret recordings inside Planned Parenthood exposing law-breaking activity are taboo to the left?” Wheeler was referring to the discredited videos from the Center for Medical Progress falsely purporting to show Planned Parenthood profiting off the sale of fetal body parts.

    Watch this bizarre segment for yourself here:

  • Right-wing media attempt to distract from family separation policy by attacking abortion rights instead

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the Trump administration’s implementation of a policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the border, some self-described “pro-life” organizations and media figures have failed to denounce this policy. Others, though, have seemingly attempted to distract from the outrage about the policy by making outlandish and inaccurate comparisons to abortion.

    • Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh said the outrage over the Trump’s administration policy was a “manufactured crisis” and pointed to Democratic support for Planned Parenthood as a sign of hypocrisy. Limbaugh said, “You want to talk about separating families, look no further than the abortion mills of Planned Parenthood.”
    • On the June 18 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson attacked Democrats for opposing the Trump administration’s policy, saying that the “same people who support third-term, post-viability abortion for purposes of sex selection” were “lecturing” others about “the holiness of children.”
    • Liz Wheeler, host of One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, dismissed the focus on Trump’s policy during the June 13 edition of her show, saying, “If you care so much about exploited and abused children, where’s your outrage about the 1 million unborn children who are aborted every single year in our country?” Wheeler then pivoted to discussing a made-up story about Planned Parenthood, asking, “Where is your outrage that Democrats in Congress refuse to call for an investigation into this pattern of Planned Parenthood covering up the sexual abuse of children?”
    • On NBC’s Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, defended the policy by alluding to abortion saying that “nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms, from their mothers’ wombs, frankly, but we have to make sure that [Department of Homeland Security] laws are understood.”
    • On Westword One’s The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin said that “suddenly the Democrats care about children.” He went on to claim inaccurately that “when it comes to abortion,” Democrats support it “right up to the last second. It can be eight months, 29 days, and they still support abortion.”
    • Anti-abortion outlet Life News responded to a tweet from Planned Parenthood saying children shouldn’t be separated from their parents by saying that Planned Parenthood was “ignoring how its own practices permanently and violently separate children from their fathers and mothers” and that the organization “does that 876 times a day in abortions.”

    • An article on CRTV’s Louder with Crowder website claimed that Planned Parenthood “separates babies from mothers every day. With surgical brutality. These babies are not being stored in chain-linked cages, waiting for processing. Planned Parenthood stores their children in jars. A calvarium in one jar, legs in another. Parts shipped, and sold, separately.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois attacked U2's Bono for supporting legalized abortion access in Ireland while criticizing Trump's policy of separating families at the border.

    • Yahoo! Lifestyle picked up the framing from anti-abortion outlets in an article headlined “Planned Parenthood called hypocritical for protesting Trump's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy.” The article highlighted several anti-abortion tweets suggesting that abortion is worse than the Trump administration’s policy.

    Anti-abortion organizations, politicians, and media figures also adopted this farcical comparison on social media

  • Right-wing media use Parkland school shooting to rail against abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: This piece has been updated to include additional examples.

    On February 14, after a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 dead, right-wing and anti-abortion media made outlandish comparisons between gun regulation and abortion restrictions, as well as comparing the National Rifle Association (NRA) to Planned Parenthood.

    • Peggy Noonan, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, compared the debate around gun violence prevention policies following the Parkland shooting to calls from the anti-abortion movement to restrict access to abortions after 20 weeks. Noonan claimed, “On gun law, Republicans oppose banning assault weapons such as the AR-15, the one the Parkland shooter used, because of the numbers, power and contributions of gun owners and the NRA. Democrats oppose banning late-term abortion because of the numbers, power and contributions of the rising left, feminists and Planned Parenthood.” Noonan argued that lawmakers should “trade banning assault weapons for banning late-term abortion. Make illegal a killing machine and a killing procedure. In both cases the lives of children would be saved.”
    • After Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said that gun regulation is needed because Americans cannot stand by while “our babies are being slaughtered,” The Western Journal -- which is known to peddle fake news -- highlighted conservatives on Twitter who “were quick to point out the glaring hypocrisy in her statements, suggesting that one cannot decry the deaths of babies while being such a strong advocate for the practice of abortion,” including actor James Woods’ tweet:

    • The Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson similarly attacked Harris with an article titled “Pro-Abortion Senator Horrified About ‘Slaughter of Babies.’”

    • RedState’s Josh Kimbrell wrote, “It is a contradiction in political philosophy to promote Planned Parenthood while accusing gun rights advocates of being against life.” Kimbrell claimed that while Planned Parenthood “is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths every single year,” the NRA “does not advocate gun violence or promote a culture of death.” Instead, Kimbrell argued, the NRA “provides excellent gun safety training resources to all ages.”
    • During a February 22 appearance on Fox News @ Night, Townhall's Guy Benson talked about the supposed media bias of outlets reporting on the NRA’s political donations but not covering donations from Planned Parenthood’s political arm. He was referring to a Senate vote against a ban on abortions at 20 weeks:

    GUY BENSON: CNN, one of our rival networks, tweeted out a list of the Republicans who had voted no, with a list of their ratings from the NRA, and people were highlighting how much money they had taken from the NRA. And that type of coverage simply did not exist with the Democrats and Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby when they voted for a life-and-death issue against the strong wishes of the American people. And, to me, that dichotomy is striking and unavoidable.

    • On the February 21 edition of One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler also compared donations from the NRA and Planned Parenthood. Wheeler said that not only was it a “hideous lie” that the “NRA buys off politicians in an effort to push a pro-gun agenda that costs the lives of millions of children,” but also that it was “ironic because liberals have no problem with another organization that also donates to politicians and actually does kill millions of children -- Planned Parenthood.”
    • Writing for Townhall, conservative blogger Erick Erickson also compared Planned Parenthood to the NRA, saying that “elite opinion makers in America champion Planned Parenthood, which actually does kill thousands of children each year, while savaging the National Rifle Association, which has never killed a child and whose members have actually saved others' lives.”
    • Christian Schneider, an opinion columnist at USA Today, wrote that the “double standard” of media coverage could be summed up as: “When Democrats work on behalf of a special interest that aborts millions of children, they are doing so from a place of conscience and ideological purity. When Republicans argue in favor of Second Amendment rights, it is because they have been bought off by a disfavored lobbying group looking to profit from carnage.” Schneider explained that this “double standard” is a “cynical ploy that only devalues Congress in the voters’ eyes. And it is especially destructive when applied only to one party.”
    • Fox News’ Laura Ingraham used the high schools students who survived the Parkland shooting and have been calling for gun safety policies to make a comparison to media coverage of the anti-abortion March for Life. On the February 20 edition of her Fox News show, The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham said that “the media has a little double standard problem here” because of what she deemed under-coverage of the March for Life. She claimed that “18- to 34-year-olds were the second most likely age group to oppose” abortions after 20 weeks -- a statistic the media should think more critically about before reporting -- and said the media should “give those kids some mention as well and maybe a little empathy, or at least a little fair coverage. That would be nice. The kids count? Well, that means all of their views.”
    • Tucker Carlson made a similar comparison to the March for Life on the February 21 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. Carlson said that “thousands of other children come to Washington for the March [for] Life,” and that “like the kids from Parkland, they’re against killing.” Carlson also questioned the media response to the March for Life in comparison to coverage of the Parkland shooting, asking, “Do the media hold these kids up as the last word on the subject? Do they attack anyone who questions them? Please. A lot of news outlets don't even bother to cover that march at all.”

    Other outlets promoted similar talking points comparing abortion restrictions and gun regulation

    • On the February 20 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Time magazine’s Michael Duffy and MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell praised Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column in which she called for a “trade” between banning assault weapons and restricting abortion after 20 weeks:

    MICHAEL DUFFY: Science is chasing politics in both those cases. And Peggy Noonan wrote a really interesting column on Saturday, I think, where she said --

    ANDREA MITCHELL: It’s a wonderful column.

    DUFFY: -- where she said -- she had a proposal at the end that was shocking at first when you read it that basically said the right should give on late-term abortion -- I'm sorry, the left --

    MITCHELL: The left, exactly.

    DUFFY: -- should give on late-term abortion and the right should give on some of these gun restrictions, particularly with respect to assault weapons. And that that’s a vote, she said, for life in general. And she cited young people as a changed political factor.

    MITCHELL: I'm glad you mentioned that, Mike. Because she is ahead of the curve in all of these cultural issues, I think, Peggy has a unique sensibility. And --

    DUFFY: It was an interesting trade up.

    • In a column for the Chicago Tribune, John Kass made an argument similar to Noonan’s. He argued that Republicans can call for “gun-violence restraining orders” and Democrats can agree to support a ban on abortion after 20-weeks as both "common sense" compromises.

    The comparison also spread to social media and message boards

    • On Reddit, the “r/The_Donald” forum featured several threads touting right-wing media’s comparisons between Planned Parenthood and NRA or abortion with guns. The titles of these threads included “If You Want To Take My Guns, I Want To Take Your Abortions That Kill 300,000 Children A Year” and “2017 killing statistics. Planned Parenthood: 328,348. NRA members: 0." Some of these threads drew significant engagement from users:

    UPDATE: Right-wing media continued using the Parkland shooting to attack Planned Parenthood and abortion rights

    • Radio host Michael Graham wrote for The Federalist that politicians who claim to be personally opposed to abortion, but vote for pro-choice policies are “too timid to vote” for abortion restrictions “because Planned Parenthood is the NRA of the Democratic Party. Only worse.” Planned Parenthood is worse, Graham said, because although some Republicans support gun regulation, no Democrat supports abortion restrictions “because Planned Parenthood and its allies wouldn’t let it happen.” Graham further argued that “Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby are proof that you don’t need a gun to be a bully.”
    • National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis compared outrage over politicians taking donations from the NRA to what she perceived as a media silence about politicians taking donations from Planned Parenthood, noting that “mainstream outlets” never “point to the campaign contributions that Democratic politicians accept from Planned Parenthood and its close cousin NARAL.” DeSanctis stated, “If the Left and its friends in the media truly cared about the influence of ‘dark money,’ they would bother to report this information about Planned Parenthood.”
    • On the March 1 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson asked Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), “What would drive a 19-year-old to want to murder strangers?” In response, Duffy partly blamed abortion, saying, “We dehumanize life in those video games, in those movies, and with abortion.”
    • Duffy returned to Fox News during the March 2 edition of The Ingraham Angle, where Duffy and host Laura Ingraham repeatedly claimed that calling out Planned Parenthood instead of the NRA made more sense to them. Ingraham stated, “If we're going to judge people based on an organization’s blood spilled, well, I hope Planned Parenthood is going to lose all of its partnerships or affiliations, given the fact that we have about 57 million babies who never got to see the light of day.” Duffy agreed, saying, “If you want to save kids' lives, I would look to the Democrat (sic) Party and Planned Parenthood and the left-wing media. And Planned Parenthood killed 300 of the most defenseless, voiceless, little babies last year alone.” After Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) wondered how the conversation moved to abortion and attempted to bring it back to gun regulation, Ingraham stated, “I thought it was pretty clear, but I'll explain it again if you’re confused. We're talking about the blood of children, innocent children who were gunned down in that school, and we're talking about the blood of the most innocent who are defenseless in the womb.”
    • On March 2, NRA TV contributor Dan Bongino claimed on Tucker Carlson Tonight that it is “so beyond stupid” to debate with liberals on gun regulations because, he said, liberals don’t support putting “any abortion laws on the books” as “they’ll all be ignored” anyway, but believe “gun laws, those will really work.” Host Tucker Carlson agreed with Bongino’s argument, saying that for liberals, “abortion, which is not mentioned in the Constitution is the beating heart of our constitutional rights.”
    • Fox contributor David Bossie argued on the March 2 edition of Fox News’ The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino that “it's interesting that people want to protect Planned Parenthood by killing babies on one hand and, on the other hand, they want to take guns away.”
    • During the March 4 edition of Fox and Friends Weekend, conservative radio host Kathy Barnette said, “Tragically Nikolas Cruz killed 17 little souls on that day, but Planned Parenthood kills over 800 babies on a daily basis, and where is the moral outrage on that?” Host Rachel Campos-Duffy replied, “Absolutely.”
  • The most extreme right-wing reactions to Cecile Richards' departure from Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 24, BuzzFeed reported that Cecile Richards plans to step down as president of Planned Parenthood. Richards confirmed the news on January 26, saying she is departing the organization some time this year. Immediately, anti-abortion and right-wing media and groups took the opportunity to smear Richards and Planned Parenthood in a number of outlandish ways.

    • The Federalist inaccurately claimed that Richards was leaving “amid an ongoing federal investigation.” The story pointed as evidence to the Department of Justice’s procedural request to the Senate judiciary committee in December 2017 for documents related to the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos, which purport to show Planned Parenthood engaged in illicit practices.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews published a piece that quoted CMP’s founder David Daleiden who alleged that Richards was leaving because “the secret is out that Planned Parenthood is a taxpayer-sponsored crime syndicate of industrial-scale child killing."
    • On One America News’ Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler said that although some might refer to her as "a conspiracy theorist,” her previous segment “about the legacy of Cecile Richards” was “666 words exactly.” She made the same point on Twitter.
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue’s Senior Vice President Cheryl Sullenger -- who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- posted on social media a series of photoshopped images of Richards wearing an orange jumpsuit in a prison cell and used a variety of hashtags, such as #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon. Sullenger’s use of the hashtags was likely an attempt to connect Richards’ departure to the right-wing campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller and the conspiracy theory thread on 8chan message board, respectively.

    • The Stream, an outlet founded by televangelist James Robison, posted a story titled “Can Cecile Richards Live With All the Ghosts?”

    • The Daily Wire called Richards “Planned Parenthood’s chief maniacal ghoul” and stated that “we can only hope Cecile Richards returns swiftly to the obscurity of whichever cavern of Hell spawned her.” The image accompanying the article -- titled “3.5 Million People Are Dead Today Because Of Cecile Richards” -- depicted Richards with devil horns and tail, photoshopped on an ultrasound image of a fetus with a halo.

    • Fake news purveyor Conservative Tribune responded to news of Richards’ departure, commenting, “It takes a special kind of evil to go to sleep at night knowing babies are being killed under your watch.”
    • Catholic newspaper National Catholic Register published a blog post that asked, “Does Richards sleep well at night, or are sleeping pills required to stop the nightmares of babies’ souls that come to visit?”
    • After Hillary Clinton tweeted at Richards thanking her for her work, far-right blog The Gateway Pundit published a piece titled, “Hillary Clinton Thanks Planned Parenthood Pres Cecile Richards For Overseeing the Murder of Millions of Babies - Twitter Responds.”