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Abortion

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  • MSNBC's Ari Melber calls out Sen. Susan Collins' hypocrisy on abortion

    Melber: Collins’ "stated views" on abortion "are openly, blatantly, repeatedly contradicted by her record"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Media outlets have long touted Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) as one of the few pro-choice Republicans in Congress -- a label she herself has embraced. But on the February 13 edition of MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber, host Ari Melber explained that Collins’ reputation is contradicted by her record, including her recent vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and her endorsement of his subsequent abortion-related decision.

    After Justice Anthony Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court in 2018, Collins said she wouldn’t vote for a replacement who “demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade.” After Collins met with Kavanaugh, she released a statement saying that she was reassured about his stance on Roe v. Wade because he claimed to believe that Roe was “settled precedent.” As many media outlets argued at the time, Collins had no reason to be reassured by Kavanaugh’s statements given his record on abortion-related matters. In fact, Kavanaugh’s nomination represented a substantial threat to the abortion protections in Roe. But Collins did not waver -- even after Christine Blasey Ford reported that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were both in high school -- and she ultimately served as a key swing vote to confirm him.

    On The Beat, Melber explained that Collins’ vote to confirm Kavanaugh was both out of line with her stated “pro-choice” views and that it is already proving to be a mistake given Kavanaugh’s recent vote to deny a stay in a Louisiana case concerning abortion access. The case involved a law that required abortion providers to “have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals” and was “essentially identical” to the law the court struck down in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. A majority of the court voted to block the law from going into effect while the case goes through litigation, but Kavanaugh voted against that decision and “wrote a four-page explanation of why he thought the law should go into effect.”

    In the report, Melber noted that Collins has voted to confirm nominees considered anti-abortion to the Supreme Court in the past:

    ARI MELBER (HOST): Note that Sen. Collins has some experience with a pattern here. We’re going to show it to you because she backed Trump and voted to confirm [Neil] Gorsuch as well as Kavanaugh just like she voted to confirm [Samuel] Alito. As for [Clarence] Thomas, the fourth vote [in the Louisiana case], well she wasn't even in office yet.

    Melber also explained that Kavanaugh’s first vote in an abortion-related case -- the Louisiana decision, which came almost “as soon as he joined the court” -- has already largely refuted Collins’ claim that he would protect Roe v. Wade:

    MELBER: The Collins vote helped ensure that Trump could put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court while also claiming, as you just saw -- she claimed his words assured her that these abortion precedents were safe and wouldn't change. Was she right? When will we know? Why am I talking to you about this right now -- this important issue? Well, when will we know? It didn't take long. This is in the news right now because Justice Kavanaugh just voted to back a very restrictive state law to eliminate access to abortion for most people who live in Louisiana, making abortion unavailable everywhere there but a single clinic, according to abortion rights experts and advocates in the state. This was considered a very significant case.

    Kavanaugh taking a position in the minority against the current precedent protecting choice. And this is something he's doing as soon as he joined the court. Note, that's what his conservative backers expected, and note, that’s what his liberal critics expected. So it appears one of the only policy experts in the country who would claim to be surprised by this ruling to restrict choice would be Susan Collins. Now, if Kavanaugh had his way, that controversial ruling that I just described drastically restricting choice, that would be law today. And if that approach worked in that state it’d be open season in many other conservative states. The only reason this is so important, the only reason this is not law, is that other justices including a different Republican appointee, John Roberts, voted the other way. Roberts siding with several Democratic-appointed justices to block this law under -- you see where we’re going -- under the Roe precedent that Collins has discussed so much. Now, let’s look at the justices who voted with Kavanaugh. This is so important. Four of them there. So they’re now one vote shy of a majority to do this kind of thing to restrict, drastically, choice and abortion doctors in the United States.

    Melber also highlighted Collins’ continued defense of Kavanaugh -- even after his recent vote -- and her allegation that he wouldn’t vote to overturn or weaken Roe:

    MELBER: She still claims, even now, that she's doing her part to keep the court pro-choice against all this evidence. And responding to Kavanaugh’s new opinion, she cites this as a “very careful dissent” as proof the idea he would still repeal Roe is quote "absurd." Is it? Now, we asked Sen. Collins’ office whether, point-blank, she views Kavanaugh’s ruling as a limitation on abortion access, which it is, and a narrowing of Roe’s protection or not. She did not reply to those questions today. But if last fall anyone was unclear how then-Judge Kavanaugh would approach abortion laws on the Supreme Court, the answer is now clear. Facts matter. Now, our report tonight does not in any way pretend to address all the strongly held personal, moral, and religious beliefs on abortion in the Senate or across our nation. But it does reveal that in this important debate, full of people in power and out of power standing up for their views, taking risks for their views, fighting for years for their views -- Sen. Susan Collins’ record reveals herself to be on an unusual island where her stated views are openly, blatantly, repeatedly contradicted by her record.

  • Wash. Post health care newsletter repeats right-wing spin on abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Following an avalanche of right-wing media coverage attacking Democratic efforts to protect abortion access at the state level, more mainstream outlets have begun to pick up and promote this anti-choice misinformation. A recent notable example comes from The Washington Post’s health care newsletter, The Health 202, which pushed right-wing misinformation about state abortion measures, medical procedures for abortions later in pregnancy, and Democrats' support for abortion rights.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law that criminalized abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy to allow abortions “when the fetus is not viable” or when there is a risk to the health of the pregnant person. Legislators in Virginia also introduced (and have since tabled) a bill in January that would eliminate some restrictions on abortion care, including reducing the number of doctors required to consent for a patient’s third-trimester abortion from three to one -- removing a medically unnecessary barrier to access.

    Right-wing media responded to these measures with a deluge of inaccurate coverage and extreme rhetoric, including claims that Democrats were endorsing “infanticide.” Right-wing media fearmongering has no basis in reality, but that didn’t stop President Donald Trump from repeating this fictitious talking point in his 2019 State of the Union address and at a recent rally in Texas, where he inaccurately characterized the Virginia measure as allowing providers to “execute the baby” after birth.

    Given the dangers of such extreme rhetoric for abortion providers and clinics, it’s important that media outlets not repeat these lies as if they were facts. But some outlets outside of the right-wing echo chamber did just that, repeating anti-abortion talking points and right-wing misinformation from the president’s State of the Union speech or promoting Trump’s lies in headlines and on social media without providing necessary context or refutation. Here’s how The Health 202 once again served as a conduit for right-wing and anti-abortion media's misinformation:

    The Health 202 newsletter did not push back on the right-wing lie that the New York and Virginia measures allow “infanticide”

    In the February 12 edition of the newsletter, The Health 202 repeated anti-choice allegations that the state measures would “allow the procedure up to the point of birth" and noted that Republicans are "characterizing those measures as permitting infanticide.” The Health 202 also uncritically quoted Trump’s State of the Union claim that the New York law would permit “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth,” an inaccurate talking point Trump previously made during a 2016 presidential debate and repeated to The Daily Caller in an interview before his 2019 address.

    Abortion “moments before birth” or those that could be called “infanticide” are not medical procedures that actually happen. As Forbes’ Tara Haelle explained in 2016, people who have abortions later in pregnancy “are seeking them before a pregnancy reaches full term but often and unfortunately after they have discovered in the second or third trimester some problem with the fetus or danger to the mother.” Personal accounts of third-trimester abortions (which occur after roughly 28 weeks of pregnancy) include stories of ending wanted pregnancies and making painful decisions about quality of life. Other accounts speak of the negative impact that anti-choice restrictions have on the ability to access an abortion, causing unnecessary and dangerous delays in receiving care.

    The Health 202 also inaccurately claimed that there is a lack of support for allowing access to later abortions

    The Health 202 also framed the manufactured right-wing controversy around state abortion measures as a “tricky” issue for Democrats ahead of the 2020 election because “Republicans see a political opening as, they argue, some states have passed laws out of sync with most Americans.” The newsletter also characterized third-trimester abortion as “a procedure that, while exceedingly rare, is nonetheless opposed by an overwhelming majority of Americans,” and further alleged that Democrats’ support for abortion is in opposition to “views held by the public, which generally supports abortion rights in the early but not late part of a woman's pregnancy.”

    In reality, accurate polling on abortion has always been notoriously difficult, and support for both abortion rights and anti-choice restrictions is heavily dependent on how certain questions are asked. As Tresa Undem, founder and partner at the public opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures used to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue, but getting reliable polling on abortion requires asking questions “in a more real and accurate way” that takes into account “how people actually experience abortion.”

    In other words, audiences report greater support for abortion access when polls use real-life examples. Specifically, polls show a drastic drop in support for later abortion 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 on the Zika virus 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, when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus, “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” 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."

    The newsletter repeated right-wing media’s characterization of Democrats as extreme for supporting access to abortions later in pregnancy

    The February 12 edition of The Health 202 is framed around the right-wing media narrative that Democrats are “out of step with voters on [abortion] ahead of the 2020 elections.” To support this claim, The Health 202 relied on anti-choice misinformation and generalized polling on abortion detailed above.

    Right-wing media and even mainstream outlets continue to push the narrative that Democrats’ “extreme” views on abortions will cause them to lose voters. However, these claims not only mischaracterize those pushing for state abortion measures, but they also misrepresent broader public opinion. Suggestions that Democratic leaders should compromise or tone down their support for abortion rights are also unsupported by data. As PerryUndem found, “Just 8 percent of Democrats would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes abortion,” but “31 percent of Republicans would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.” Undem told Vox, “By going after the 8 percent of Democrats who want a candidate who opposes abortion, the party risks losing the 71 percent of Democratic voters who want their candidates to support abortion rights.”

    The Health 202 failed to provide the full context on a story related to the New York law that right-wing media have been circulating to inaccurately fearmonger about state abortion measures

    In addition to repeating right-wing talking points, the February 12 edition of The Health 202 also fearmongered about a New York murder case being used to attack the state’s new abortion law. The newsletter mentioned that “an abortion charge was dropped in Queens against a man accused of fatally stabbing his 14-weeks-pregnant girlfriend,” which “reignited criticism by abortion foes who said the measure would eliminate criminal penalties for pregnancies lost due to violence.” The newsletter linked to a tweet from Dennis Poust, the director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, who said, “Thanks to the” new abortion law, “it’s open season on pregnant women in New York,” echoing comments about the case from national anti-abortion groups.

    This story has received plentiful coverage from right-wing media, but The Health 202 repeated it without providing the full context required to understand the specifics of the case or how it is being weaponized to spread misinformation about abortion. For example, The New York Timescoverage of the case clarified that “physical attacks that end pregnancies can be prosecuted as first-degree assault,” which carries a longer prison sentence than the charge of “unlawful abortion” under the old law. In addition, the Times reported that “Daniel R. Alonso, the former chief assistant prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said in an interview on Sunday that charging” the suspect with committing an unlawful abortion “would not have affected [a] potential sentence for murder, which supersedes an assault charge.” The Times also wrote that “Prosecutors rarely used the charge” before the enactment of the New York law “because it did not add anything to the prosecution of a case,” discrediting right-wing media’s weaponization of the case against New York’s new abortion protections.

    Once again, The Health 202 allowed right-wing media to frame the story through selective inclusion of quotes

    The Health 202 quoted at length from right-wing figures, all of whom perpetuated the right-wing narrative that Democrats are “extreme” on abortion. While the newsletter did feature quotes from three Democratic 2020 presidential candidates, it did not include any from the doctors, medical experts, or pro-choice advocates mentioned in the original reporting the newsletter linked to, who could have provided better context and more accurate framing of this important issue.

    This isn’t the first time The Health 202 has relied on selective quotes to carry water for anti-abortion and right-wing media talking points. The Health 202 has previously featured imbalanced coverage of abortion-related issues, giving anti-abortion groups an uncritical platform to spread misinformation outside of the right-wing media bubble. In some cases, anti-abortion groups have even touted their inclusion and prominent placement in The Health 202 as evidence that anti-abortion viewpoints are garnering wider mainstream media credibility and attention -- using the publication to give otherwise inaccurate commentary about abortion a veneer of credibility.

    As anti-abortion groups and right-wing media ramp up their efforts ahead of the 2020 elections, media outlets should not be serving as conduits for faulty rhetoric and inaccurate right-wing talking points.

  • 8 must-read fact checks debunking Trump’s abortion lies from his State of the Union address

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    President Donald Trump used his 2019 State of the Union address to promote right-wing media lies about state measures protecting abortion access. While media outlets struggled at times to properly contextualize and refute Trump’s misinformation, some outlets held Trump accountable by debunking his false, anti-choice statements and providing their audiences with accurate information about abortion.

  • Fox News almost single-handedly manufactured anti-abortion outrage before Trump’s State of the Union

    Before the State of the Union, Fox News devoted over 6 and a half hours to inaccurately saying state abortion measures allow “infanticide”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & ROB SAVILLO


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News has responded to the recent state measures protecting abortion access in the only way the network knows how: with a barrage of inaccurate, bizarre, and sensationalized coverage. The network's coverage has driven misinformation about the realities of legal and medically necessary abortions later in pregnancy straight into President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, and Fox has continued this harmful narrative about abortion care beyond the speech.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law criminalizing abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy to now allow abortions with the consent of a doctor “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” This law sparked a meltdown at Fox News, with hosts and guests decrying its allegedly “Hitlerian” nature. When a Virginia lawmaker’s comment about a pro-choice bill went viral, the Fox News spin machine went into overdrive, manufacturing a scandal about Democratic lawmakers pushing legislation that supposedly allows “infanticide.”

    Between January 22 and February 5 (before Trump's State of the Union speech):

    • Fox News discussed abortion in the context of the New York and Virginia measures for over six and a half hours.
    • CNN, in comparison, covered these topics for only about eight and a half minutes, while MSNBC’s coverage clocked in around four minutes.

    Between February 5 (after Trump's State of the Union speech) and February 6:

    • Fox News still led coverage on these issues, discussing abortion for around 13 minutes.
    • CNN and MSNBC covered it for approximately five and a half minutes and nine minutes, respectively.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Given Trump’s reliance on Fox News for his talking points and policy proposals, it’s unsurprising that he would soon take cues from the network’s breathless coverage. Indeed, both before and during the State of the Union address, Trump repeated several inaccurate right-wing media talking points.

    The consequences of allowing Fox News to rile up viewers -- including the president -- into adopting inaccurate and extreme rhetoric about abortion cannot be overstated. Trump is already calling for legislation based on right-wing lies about abortion and reportedly planning to center abortion-related fearmongering in his 2020 election messaging. Beyond this, incidents of anti-abortion violence and harassment have been on the rise, driven in part by right-wing hyperbole about abortion providers and patients.

    Media have a responsibility to correct Trump’s -- and by extension, Fox News’ -- inaccurate and sensationalized arguments about abortion. If the current response to this manufactured Fox News misinformation cycle is any indication, other outlets have some work to do.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for any mentions of “abortion” in close proximity of “New York” or “Virginia” on Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC between 4 a.m. and midnight starting January 22 and ending February 6. (We included special post-State of the Union address coverage on February 5 and 6 that fell outside of this time range.)

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances in which either the New York or Virginia legislation or Trump’s comments about either legislation initiated a discussion about abortion. These included instances when abortion was the stated topic of discussion. We also timed as segments “substantive discussion,” which we defined as instances where two speakers discussed abortion with one another. For substantive discussion, we only timed the relevant speech. Segments included host monologues, news reports or packages, interviews, and guest panels. We did not include teasers for upcoming segments or passing mentions of abortion in segments about other topics. We did not include rebroadcasts.

  • On SiriusXM’s Signal BoostMedia Matters' Sharon Kann calls out Trump's State of the Union abortion lies

    Kann: Given the “well-worn pipeline” from Fox News to Trump, “it was unsurprising” to see him repeat right-wing misinformation during the address

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On the February 7 edition of SiriusXM’s Signal Boost with Zerlina Maxwell and Jess McIntosh, Media Matters’ Sharon Kann discussed the anti-abortion lies President Donald Trump pushed during his 2019 State of the Union address. Trump incorrectly claimed that recent measures in Virginia and New York "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth” and enable providers to "execute a baby after birth.” In reality, those measures were designed to protect abortion access at the state level, and right-wing media's claims of “infanticide” have no bearing on the medical reality of abortions that happen later in pregnancy, which are often undertaken due to health complications or nonviable fetuses.

    Kann told co-hosts Zerlina Maxwell and Jess McIntosh that the anti-abortion lies in Trump’s address had been predated by a “massive spike in coverage” of the issue on conservative media, and Fox News in particular, with media figures touting the same misinformation. As Kann noted, Trump's comments underscore the reality that there is a “well-worn pipeline between things that happen on Fox News and things that the president ends up saying”:

    JESS MCINTOSH (CO-HOST): So, the president stood up on Tuesday night and lied a whole bunch. And some of those lies are being clocked by the media and some of them seemed to -- I think there’s a bar, like where you get so crazy, the media gets tired and won’t fact-check you. And saying that doctors are murdering babies outside the womb maybe is just a bridge too far, and the media just lets it go, but they shouldn’t let it go because Republicans are using it and running on it, and it will be a theme in 2020. So, Sharon, talk to me about what we heard from the president and what we can do to combat that.

    SHARON KANN: Yeah. I mean, I think there are a couple of points that you just brought up that are really worth expanding on. The first is that, prior to the State of the Union, with the introduction of the law in New York and the bill in Virginia, we saw just sort of a massive spike in coverage about abortion-related issues from conservative media writ large, but specifically Fox News. And, as we know, there is a well-worn pipeline between things that happen on Fox News and things that the president ends up saying. So, it was unsurprising that some of the things that we’ve been seeing repeated on Fox News for the best couple of weeks showed up in that speech. Specifically, I think something that we’ve been seeing a lot in conservative media is this argument that Democrats are pushing these extreme bills that are allowing doctors to perform infanticide and there are so many different iteratives of sensationalized and inaccurate language about abortions that happen later in pregnancy that are being repeated. And those are things, like you said, that, like, “‘abortions are being performed after birth” or like “when somebody is dilating.” And that President Trump brought those things up at the State of the Union, I think, is predictable.

    Kann further explained that some major outlets like MSNBC are “repeating some of the really pernicious and inaccurate language” about abortion from Trump’s State of the Union address and from right-wing media. She said such further amplification of this misinformation contributes to the stigmatization of abortion and encourages harassment of providers and clinics:

    ZERLINA MAXWELL (CO-HOST): How do we get to a place where -- what do we do to combat rhetoric that is so inflammatory that you have to do a lot of explaining before you can get to the point?

    KANN: Yeah. I mean, I think that your sense is sort of -- I think the microcosm of post-State of the Union fact-checking is a really good example here because we actually did a piece yesterday sort of documenting some examples of social media and fact checks that occurred both during and immediately after the State of the Union, and even outlets that you would want and expect to do a better job were repeating some of the really pernicious and inaccurate language. They were saying things like, for example, “The president spoke about late-term abortion.” And it’s like, it’s not late-term abortion. That’s not a medically, or scientifically, sound term; it’s one that was in fact invented to villainize and shame people for having abortions. And, like you said, the implications of that are vast and very serious, ranging from personal harassment to things like clinic harassment, which we know is a very serious issue. I think in terms of stuff outlets should be doing or can be doing, I think we really shouldn’t -- I would like to underscore and I don’t think we should underplay the amount that this sort of echo chamber that exists around abortion-related issues, not just in conservative media, but on the internet discussions writ large, is something that, although sensationalized and at times may seem, like you said, sort of ridiculous, I think when they’re the only ones talking about it and they are talking about it in inaccurate ways, that has sort of a spillover effect, and it changes the way that even mainstream media engages in conversations. So, I think the first thing is that mainstream media, when they talk about abortion, need to be doing it accurately and need to not be afraid to talk about it because when we let abortion stigma dominate conversations, typically what happens is we see resulting coverage that is sensationalized and inaccurate.

  • On abortion and women in the workforce, Tucker Carlson sounds a lot like white supremacists

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a state legislator in Virginia proposed a bill to remove barriers to abortion access, right-wing media went on the attack. Fox News and other outlets have blatantly lied about the bill (which has since been tabled), calling it legalized “infanticide” and levying other false and misleading accusations, all as part of a campaign to delegitimize attempts to protect or expand abortion access. Fox host Tucker Carlson, himself a booster of anti-choice extremists, argued that “the investor class” pushes abortion on regular people because its members want women to “stop breeding” and join the workforce, adding that “pro-choice means pro-corporate.”

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): In other words, abortion boosts markets. It frees women from the tiresome demands of motherhood and allows them to fulfill their higher duty, which is to corporations. Childless women make more dutiful, obedient workers. They can work longer hours. They take less time off. They are loyal to company first. This is all great for GDP. Chelsea Clinton and the rest of the investor class strongly approve of it. Stop breeding and get to work. That’s how they feel.

    So this is the real reason our elites so enthusiastically support abortion. It doesn’t set you free; it won’t make you happier. But it will make companies more profitable and that’s what matters most to them. Pro-choice means pro-corporate. Whatever else he’s done, [Virginia Gov.] Ralph Northam has made that clear.

    His argument that liberal elites want women to have access to abortion so they can enter the workforce is false, sexist, and paternalistic -- and it overlaps with the rhetoric of racist extremists in the “alt-right” world online. Carlson’s misogynistic view that women should not have control over their own bodies also tracks with his efforts to mainstream white supremacist talking points, as there are clear connections between racism, anti-choice activism, and virulent misogyny. There’s significant overlap between Carlson’s rhetoric and the views expressed by white nationalist online media personalities, who, in turn, love Carlson for his on-air racism.

    After President Donald Trump lied about abortion and made a hollow appeal to women in the workforce in his State of the Union speech, Richard Spencer, a white nationalist credited with coining the phrase “alt-right,” lamented that increased employment meant fewer children will “be born and cared for.”

    Faith Goldy, an “alt-right” online personality who in 2018 ran a failed mayoral campaign in Toronto and earned Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) endorsement, quoted Trump’s comments on working women, then added, “Meantime, US birth rate has hit an all-time low” quipping sarcastically that it’s probably “unrelated.”

    White nationalist YouTube personality and men’s rights activist Stefan Molyneux claimed it’s “very sad” that more are women working -- which Carlson said is the result of abortion access -- because it leaves them “little time for play and connection” with children at home.

    Carlson also said that abortion proponents want women to “stop breeding,” which dovetails with a dog whistle meant to stoke fear of demographic change in America. Molyneux echoed this sentiment on Twitter earlier this month, saying that immigrants and their children are dependant on welfare funded by white people and this is driving down white birthrates.

  • Media outlets uncritically push Trump’s anti-abortion lies while reporting on the State of the Union

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Donald Trump’s presidency has created a requirement for outlets to hold themselves accountable for managing his often false and inflammatory rhetoric, by including context and accurate information about his statements directly in headlines and tweets, as well as supplying details in reports. Trump’s inaccurate claims about abortion during the 2019 State of the Union were a prime opportunity for media to provide important context -- an opportunity that some outlets missed, instead promoting Trump’s lies uncritically though headlines and social media.

    During his address, Trump repeated talking points from a scandal manufactured by right-wing media alleging that Democrats support state bills supposedly legalizing “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In his speech, Trump said that a law in New York "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth," claimed a Virginia bill would allow providers to "execute a baby after birth,"and called on Congress "to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children." In reality, Democratic legislators in New York recently passed legislation to codify Roe v. Wade's abortion protections at the state level, and Virginia Democrats introduced a bill to remove unnecessary barriers to abortion access, which has since been tabled.

    Right-wing media have responded with an avalanche of inaccurate coverage and extreme rhetoric, including saying that abortions later in pregnancy are “murders” and that Democrats were endorsing “infanticide.” To be clear, neither of these claims has any basis in reality. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare and often performed for medical necessity or due to access barriers created by anti-choice politicians. Right-wing media’s characterization of these abortion procedures as happening “at birth” -- or in some cases, allegedly after -- is simply wrong; according to medical professionals, such a scenario “does not occur.” Indeed, as patients who have had abortions later in pregnancy wrote in an open letter: “The stories we hear being told about later abortion in this national discussion are not our stories. They do not reflect our choices or experiences.”

    Here are the some of the outlets that reported Trump’s comments on abortion without providing this necessary context:

    • ABC’s World News Tonight [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • NBC News [Twitter, 2/5/19]
    • The New York Times [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • PBS NewsHour [Twitter, 2/5/19]

  • Following the lead of Fox News and Trump, Morning Joe promoted misinformation about abortion

    Joe Scarborough inaccurately claims Democrats “do not understand how out of step with American they are” on abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    The morning after President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, MSNBC’s Morning Joe not only promoted his misleading comments about abortion procedures, but the hosts also echoed weeks of sensationalized and inaccurate right-wing media coverage about support for state measures to protect abortion access.

    During his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump repeated talking points from a scandal manufactured by right-wing media alleging that Democrats support state bills supposedly legalizing “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In his speech, Trump said that a law in New York "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth" and that a Virginia bill would allow providers to "execute a baby after birth." He called on Congress "to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children." In reality, Democratic legislators in New York recently passed legislation to codify abortion protections from Roe v. Wade at the state level, and Virginia Democrats introduced a bill to remove unnecessary burdens to abortion access, which has since been tabled. In response, right-wing media have spent much of the past few weeks fearmongering about abortion procedures and spreading misinformation that Democrats are extreme for protecting abortion access.

    Although this misinformation has been primarily pushed by right-wing media, the February 6 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe was an example of a program repeating these inaccurate talking points to a broader audience. In discussing Trump's address, co-host Joe Scarborough said, “Democrats have a blind spot. They do not understand how out of step with America they are” for “passing extreme late-term abortion legislation,” and he further claimed that it “will cost them votes in states they will need in 2020 if they don't recognize it as a national party.” Co-host Willie Geist agreed, pointing to a June 2018 Gallup poll he said showed a lack of support for so-called “late-term abortion.”

    By repeating these anti-choice talking points, Morning Joe amplified right-wing misinformation to an audience beyond Fox News. For example, “late-term abortion” is a medically inaccurate term used to suggest that abortions that happen later in pregnancy are too “extreme,” as Scarborough claimed. In reality, abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare and often performed for medical necessity or due to access barriers created by anti-choice politicians. Some media outlets’ characterization of these abortion procedures as happening “at birth” -- or in some cases, allegedly after -- is simply wrong; according to medical professionals, such a scenario “does not occur.” Treating abortions later in pregnancy as an “extreme” procedure is stigmatizing to patients and glosses over the specifics of their experiences. As a number of later abortion patients explained in an open letter, “The stories we hear being told about later abortion in this national discussion are not our stories. They do not reflect our choices or experiences. These hypothetical patients don’t sound like us or the other patients we know.”

    Morning Joe similarly misinformed viewers about polls showing support for abortions that happen later in pregnancy. Although right-wing media often claim that supporting abortion rights is harmful to the Democratic Party's electoral chances, this is an oversimplification. Polling on abortion-related issues is notoriously complicated, requiring clear questions and language that accurately reflects the realities of abortion access and procedures. Support for abortions later in pregnancy increases when people are provided context explaining that abortions at this stage are often undertaken out of medical necessity or in response to complex personal circumstances.

    This isn’t even the first time that Morning Joe has uncritically adopted inaccurate abortion-related talking points from Republicans and right-wing media. During Sen. Doug Jones's (D-AL) special election in Alabama, a Morning Joe panel similarly attempted to make the case that Jones’ “extreme” stance on abortions after 20 weeks would ensure his defeat -- based, in part, on polling about support for abortion restrictions. They were wrong.

    From the February 6 edition of Morning Joe:

    JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): I do want to just say for Democrats, because it hasn't been mentioned much in the mainstream media, and I’m glad you brought up the late-term abortion legislation passed in New York and Virginia. This is such a blind spot for Democrats, just like NRA actions after Sandy Hook, the video games and, again, refusing to pass any reasonable, rational legislation, painted Republicans as extremists. Democrats have a blind spot. They do not understand how out of step with America they are. Not only passing extreme late-term abortion legislation, but then celebrating it. It's a real blind spot for Democrats that will cost them votes in states they will need in 2020 if they don't recognize it as a national party.

    MIKA BRZEZINSKI (CO-HOST): Couple of other blind spots we’re going to get to.

    WILLIE GEIST (CO-HOST): The most recent reliable polling comes from last June from Gallup shows that 13 percent of Americans support late-term abortion -- 13 percent. By the way, that includes only 18 percent of Democrats --

    SCARBOROUGH: Which --

    GEIST: -- to your point.

    SCARBOROUGH: -- by the way, guess what, that's about the same number that are opposed to background checks for terrorists and domestic abusers and all the others.

  • The anti-abortion lies media must correct from Trump's 2019 State of the Union

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News spent the better part of last week lying about abortion, so it was only a matter of time before those talking points found their way into President Donald Trump’s hands. Now, during his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump gave that right-wing misinformation about abortion an even bigger platform -- and media have a responsibility to correct these lies.

    Right-wing media have manufactured a scandal about Democrats supporting bills that supposedly allow “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In reality, state lawmakers in New York and Virginia (and to a lesser extent Rhode Island) raised right-wing and anti-abortion media ire by advocating laws that either remove unnecessary restrictions on abortion access or codify abortion protections in case the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. With the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that threat looks increasingly credible by the day.

    It’s no secret that Trump takes his cues from Fox News for everything from talking points to policy proposals and personnel. The Trump administration has enjoyed a similarly close relationship with anti-abortion groups and leaders. Thus it doesn’t take much work to identify both the source of, and audience for, the anti-abortion misinformation in Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address.

    Trump’s reference to New York’s and Virginia’s abortion measures was steeped in right-wing misinformation and sensationalized rhetoric. In addition, Trump repeated his inaccurate allegation that such measures "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth." Although many outlets will be fact-checking the State of the Union address, fact-checkers are not always equipped to handle anti-abortion misinformation -- whether it comes from anti-choice groups or the president of the United States. Rather than uncritically repeat the misinformation Trump recycled from Fox News, media and fact-checkers should use this information to set the record straight:

    FACT: Pro-choice politicians aren’t advocating for “infanticide” or abortion at “the moment of birth.”

    Prior to the State of the Union, Trump tweeted about so-called “‘super’ late term abortion.” This phrase is intentionally sensationalized and does not reflect any medical reality, much like right-wing media’s claims that pro-choice politicians are promoting “infanticide” or abortion “at the moment of birth.” The truth is pro-choice politicians want to remove medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion care and codify state protections because of the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned.

    FACT: Bans on abortion at 20 weeks, based on right-wing misinformation about fetal pain, are scientifically inaccurate and harmful.

    During his State of the Union address, Trump demanded legislation that would "prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb." Right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have repeatedly pushed for such a ban at 20 weeks. Despite claims by anti-abortion lawmakers and media, abortion restrictions based on the idea that a fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks into a pregnancy are not supported by science. According to testimony from people who have had abortions after 20 weeks, these measures, such as the oft-introduced “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” often do more harm than good. 

    FACT: There’s no such thing as “late-term” abortions (a term used by anti-choice activists). People have abortions later in pregnancy for a variety of complex and urgent reasons.

    “Late-term abortion” is a medically inaccurate and intentionally vague phrase used by anti-choice activists to mislead about a variety of medical procedures, and it is not used by high-risk obstetricians. These bills refer to abortions that happen after 20 weeks, which can occur for many reasons, including serious threats to a person’s health (such as high blood pressure or bleeding), diagnosis of grave fetal conditions, and barriers to abortion access put in place by anti-abortion politicians that unnecessarily delay the procedure. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare; just over 1 percent of abortion procedures are provided after 21 weeks.

    People who have abortions -- including abortions later in pregnancy -- are making a personal health care decision that's between them, a doctor, and their families. The accounts of people who decided to have an abortion later in pregnancy show the complexity and necessity of being able to access the full range of treatment options to get the best care, including abortion. In addition, people seeking later abortions are often ending wanted pregnancies. Instead of uncritically repeating right-wing media misinformation and attacks on these individuals, media should recognize that pregnant people need access to timely, high-quality care -- and obstacles to access can jeopardize their health.

  • Right-wing media’s extreme abortion rhetoric could mean more people get hurt

    Anti-abortion harassment and violence are real and rising threats

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media’s self-created scandal around recent efforts by state Democratic lawmakers to protect abortion access is already producing anti-abortion threats. Given past incidents in which inaccurate and extremist rhetoric about abortion inspired anti-abortion violence and harassment, these right-wing outlets and figures are creating a dangerous environment for pro-choice advocates and fueling further discontent -- with potentially deadly consequences.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law that criminalized abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy to now allow abortions “when the fetus is not viable” or when there is a risk to the health of the pregnant person. Legislators in Virginia also introduced (and have since tabled) a bill in January that would eliminate some restrictions on abortion care, including reducing the number of doctors required to consent for a patient’s third-trimester abortion from three to one -- removing a medically unnecessary barrier to access.

    Right-wing media responded to the measures with an avalanche of inaccurate coverage and extreme rhetoric, including saying that abortions later in pregnancy are “murders” and that Democrats were endorsing “infanticide.” According to a Media Matters analysis, Fox News alone used the word “infanticide” at least 35 times during discussion of these state measures between January 24 and noon on January 31. To be clear, the claim that these measures promote “infanticide” has no basis in reality. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare and often performed for medical necessity or due to access barriers created by anti-choice politicians. Right-wing media’s characterization of these abortion procedures as happening “at birth” -- or in some cases, allegedly after -- is simply wrong; according to medical professionals, such a scenario “does not occur.”

    Right-wing media’s continued use of aggressive and false language to describe these measures has already provoked harassment from abortion opponents. The sponsor of the Virginia bill, Del. Kathy Tran (D), told The Washington Post about threats she has already received for supporting the removal of abortion restrictions:

    Tran said she and her family have received death threats through telephone messages, email and social media, leading to extra police protection for her and her family, and difficult discussions with her elementary-school-aged children.

    “It’s a very tough conversation to have with your little ones about how they need to be safe and watch out for themselves, and that it’s okay to ask for help,” said Tran, who lives in West Springfield. “I love my kids dearly. They are my world, and their safety is my number-one priority.”

    Tran also had to postpone a town hall meeting on February 2 because of “security and safety concerns,” including those posed by a protest organized by the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. In addition, ThinkProgress posted audio of a threat the Democratic Party of Virginia had received because of the bill, as well as audio of a racist tirade against Tran, telling her to “go back to Vietnam.” The party’s communications director told ThinkProgress that “the party has also had to take additional security precautions” as a result of these threats and attacks on its members. From ThinkProgress:

    On Friday, the Democratic Party of Virginia shared with ThinkProgress audio of a death threat it had received.

    In the recording, an unidentified caller incorrectly claims the party is proposing to legalize murder and then quotes a Stephen King novel to threaten the lives of the Virginia Democrats. “Redrum, redrum, soon we will come,” the caller says, a reference to The Shining and the word “murder” spelled backwards.

    Anti-abortion violence and harassment are real and ongoing threats in the United States. Eleven people have died as a result of anti-abortion violence since 1993. Numerous others have been injured, and still more have found themselves and even their families targeted with personalized harassment from abortion opponents. And the trend has intensified in recent years, showing little sign of abating. According to a report by the National Abortion Federation, rates of anti-abortion clinic protests in 2017 were already at the highest levels seen since the organization began tracking such incidents in 1977, and 2017 included “the first attempted bombing in many years.” In 2018, there were numerous incidents of violence or threats against clinics reported in New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

    Beyond right-wing media’s fixation on spreading inaccurate information about abortion, some outlets have also helped fan the flames of resentment against abortion providers, patients, and clinics. In 2009, an anti-abortion extremist murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller while he was attending church with his family. Before Tiller's assassination, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had openly bullied Tiller on his program numerous times. According to Rolling Stone, “O’Reilly had waged an unflagging war against Tiller that did just about everything short of urging his followers to murder him.” O’Reilly repeatedly called the doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and said there was a “special place in hell for this guy.” At one point, O’Reilly said, “And if I could get my hands on Tiller – well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech. But despicable? Oh, my God. Oh, it doesn't get worse. Does it get worse? No." After Tiller’s assassination, O’Reilly claimed he only “reported accurately” on Tiller and wasn’t responsible for the provider’s murder.

    In 2015, an anti-abortion extremist who killed three and injured nine at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood reportedly offered the phrase “no more baby parts” as an explanation for his actions. His comment seemingly referred to an oft-repeated right-wing media talking point based on deceptive undercover videos from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The New Republic reported on the admitted shooter’s penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars, saying it shaped his paranoid and conspiratorial views about abortion and Planned Parenthood and may have influenced his actions.

    Right-wing media have also frequently used extreme language about abortion, attacking pro-choice advocates as “ghoulish, “sick,” and “aspiring baby killer[s]” and calling for violence by abortion opponents if “you believe [abortion] is murder.”

    During President Donald Trump’s administration, right-wing media rhetoric rarely remains in its echo chamber. In fact, Trump recently seized on the deluge of manufactured right-wing outrage around these state measures to bolster his inaccurate claim that Democrats want to “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month" of pregnancy. This sort of inaccurate and extreme rhetoric will reportedly feature in the State of the Union address as well. Anti-abortion extremists have already found ample support and employment in the Trump administration -- a trend that is sure to continue as these groups inexplicably line up to support the administration’s policies. Whether spread on Fox News or in the president’s State of the Union address, inaccurate and sensationalized rhetoric will continue to dominate the conversation about abortion. And abortion providers, patients, clinics, and advocates could continue to suffer the consequences.

  • Donald Trump used a Daily Caller interview to recycle abortion misinformation and stoke right-wing outrage

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a flurry of Fox News-driven outrage over recent state measures protecting or expanding abortion access, President Donald Trump used an interview with The Daily Caller as an opportunity to recycle anti-choice misinformation and further stoke right-wing frenzy about abortion.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law protecting abortion access in the state should the Supreme Court weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade. Right-wing media initially seized on a provision of the law decriminalizing abortions “after 24 weeks when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” Virginia lawmakers also recently introduced a measure that would remove some restrictions to abortion care, though it has since been tabled. After a video of a lawmaker discussing the bill went viral, the right-wing and anti-abortion media outrage machine pointed to both measures as evidence that Democratic lawmakers support abortions being performed “all the way to the day of birth.”

    On January 30, Trump spoke with The Daily Caller about the Virginia measure and related comments from Gov. Ralph Northam. Predictably, Trump used the interview to repeat right-wing media talking points -- including many from Fox News -- about so-called “partial-birth” abortion and alleged support for anti-choice policies. Given Trump’s utter dependence on Fox for both talking points and policy proposals, it’s unsurprising he would take cues from the network’s rampant misinformation and sensationalized rhetoric about these abortion measures.

    This isn’t the first time Trump has repeated right-wing media lies about abortion. During the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Trump invoked the myth of “partial-birth” abortion to falsely allege that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month" of pregnancy. Trump returned to this talking point during his conversation with The Daily Caller, saying: “Do you remember when I said Hillary Clinton was willing to rip the baby out of the womb? That’s what it is, that’s what they’re doing, it’s terrible” -- echoing language that had been a prominent part of Fox News’ coverage of the Virginia bill. Trump also inaccurately alleged the Virginia measure would “lift up” the popularity of the anti-abortion movement, which he claimed was “a very 50-50 issue” -- recycling an inaccurate talking point about a supposed lack of public support for abortion access.

    Trump’s talking point about so-called “partial-birth" abortion or “abortion in the ninth month” is based on a lie:

    • So-called “partial-birth" abortion (often used by right-wing and anti-choice media to describe later abortions) is not a medical term, but one invented by anti-abortion extremists to shame and villainize people having abortions later in pregnancy.
    • The procedure that the term “partial-birth" abortion supposedly references was outlawed in 2003.
    • Later abortions happen because of medical necessity, risks to the life and health of the pregnant person, or because of a nonviable fetus. The decision to have one should be between a patient and their doctor.

    Trump also falsely claimed that there isn’t broad support for abortion rights in the United States:

    • Right-wing media love to mislead about polling on abortion to claim that people don’t support abortion access. This inaccurate framing has also influenced coverage outside of the right-wing media sphere -- a trend that has been repeated during coverage of other political fights.
    • Polling on abortion is notoriously difficult, but polling that uses clear language and real-life scenarios indicates that most people want abortion access to remain legal.
    • Support for later abortions goes up when people are presented with realistic scenarios about the procedure and why someone would need to have one.

    The anti-abortion movement has enjoyed a close relationship with Trump and his administration, with Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, having previously led Trump’s “Pro-Life Coalition.” Given the escalating rhetoric from anti-abortion groups and Trump’s steadfast allies on Fox News, it was only a matter of time before the president seized the opportunity to spread misinformation and stigma about abortion, throwing fuel on the fire of manufactured right-wing media outrage.