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  • On Rising Up with Sonali, Media Matters’ Sharon Kann talks about study on cable news abortion coverage

    Kann: “Fox News is seizing on the opportunity to flood out other” prime-time coverage on abortion

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    During the May 22 edition of Rising Up with Sonali, Media Matters’ Sharon Kann talked to host Sonali Kolhatkar about Media Matters’ annual study examining abortion coverage on prime-time evening cable news.

    Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, and identified segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The resulting 211 segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements made about four 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. Media Matters found that Fox News dominated the conversation about abortion -- airing 114 of the 211 total segments across all cable news networks (54 percent) -- and that its coverage of the four abortion-related topics was inaccurate 77 percent of the time.

    Kann spoke about how “Fox News is seizing on the opportunity to flood out other” prime-time coverage on abortion with rampant misinformation, explaining that such coverage is “stigmatizing”:

    SONALI KOLHATKAR (HOST): Now, Fox News is spending a lot of time on abortion. Conversely, do you find that other news outlets, other cable news outlets, even so-called liberal ones, are just not spending enough time on abortion?

    SHARON KANN: Yeah. I actually think that was one of the most interesting findings from the study this year, which is that, like you said, it's not just that Fox News is talking about abortion the most, it’s that their sort of volume of coverage is being met by a lack of coverage by other organizations. And so, it’s not just a matter of Fox News is talking about abortion the most and also the least accurately, it’s that other organizations aren’t seizing on opportunities to talk about abortion in frank, fair, and factual ways. And that results in a combination of lots of stigmatizing coverage and lots of inaccurate coverage, but then also instances where, when they do talk about it, it’s only spoken about in terms of it is like a political football issue rather than as a necessary form of health care.

    KOLHATKAR: Right, and I’m wondering if that stems from our taking for granted that there is widespread support for access to abortion in the public, and so liberal news outlets feel like they don’t need to talk about it, they don’t need to clarify medical terms or expose how the right talks about it. That it’s just taken for granted that there is this support for abortion, but then with Fox News filling in that gap you see a very vocal minority having an outsized impact on politics and the discourse in general.

    KANN: Definitely. I think, like you said, we have polling, and we understand that Americans are more largely in support of abortion access and, in particular, when people understand the circumstances that someone will access abortion care under, they are more likely to support access to that care. On the flip side, we have Fox News and other right-wing members of this echo chamber who are seeking out these conversations, not to invite the voices of people who have had abortions or might have abortions, but instead to sort of forward coverage that isn’t factual. And so I think something that other outlets can be doing a better job of, in that I think Fox News is seizing on the opportunity to flood out other coverage on, is centering people who’ve actually had abortions and making sure that we’re not just talking about abortion as something to be considered in the context of midterm elections or as a matter of a private decision, but we’re also talking about it as centering the people who’ve actually had abortions.

    KOLHATKAR: So, there were four common abortion-related topics that you alluded to earlier. What are some of the other issues, you said “partial-birth abortion” was one of them. I remember this becoming an issue even during the [2016] presidential debates some. So, one would hope that the more liberal news outlets would take this on and clarify it that, as you said, this isn’t really a medical recognized term. But Fox News talks about it like it’s a real thing -- that we’re aborting essentially fully-formed babies.

    KANN: Right, Fox News does, not just with “partial-birth” abortion, but with lots of allegations of allegedly “extreme” abortion procedures is how we referred to them, and that captures any number of inaccurate representations, but I think it’s also important not to let off the hook other outlets who are maybe not doing enough to debunk these claims. So, I think the example you alluded to with the presidential debate, we saw that during that time even when other networks were discussing the things that had been said in the debate, they weren’t going the extra step to say, “This was said in the debate. Here’s where the term comes from. It was actually invented by anti-abortion activists to shame and vilify people having medically necessary later abortions,” but they instead took it for granted that that was an actually thing. And so, even when people maybe are trying to provide further context to something that was said, making sure to provide necessary debunk and citing the opinions of experts as well.

    KOLHATKAR: Let’s talk about Planned Parenthood, and this real lack of information about the government’s role in taxpayer or tax funds for abortion. I think if you talk to Fox News viewers or people who exclusively watch Fox News, they might be under the impression that their tax dollars go towards funding abortions in states around the country. Is that true, and how does Fox News sort of cover that?

    KANN: That is not true. The Hyde amendment exists, and it is a federal rule that prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars or any federal funds to support abortion services with a couple of exceptions … . Fox News, however, does not recognize this. You’ll hear Fox News, other right-wing outlets, and even anti-abortion organizations frequently saying that we need to create further protections against so-called taxpayer funded abortion. And something that they’ll often say to support this is that, even if money isn't being given to Planned Parenthood to fund abortions, that because Planned Parenthood and other providers may provide abortion services, that money is fungible, which is inaccurate and doesn’t account for the number of safeguards that people have to show where they are actually spending the money.

    Watch the full interview HERE for further information about Media Matters’ study and media coverage of abortion and reproductive rights issues.

  • Local outlets spotlight impact of Trump’s proposed funding cut for clinics that perform or refer for abortions

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    President Donald Trump recently announced a proposed rule change that would deny Title X federal family planning funding to those clinics, including Planned Parenthood, that perform or refer for abortions. In reporting from across the country, a number of local outlets highlighted the deleterious impact the proposed rule would have on their own communities, particularly for low-income individuals seeking family planning services.

  • Fox News added more female hosts but still had the same abortion misinformation problem

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When Media Matters last crunched the numbers on Fox News programming responsible for the most abortion misinformation, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Tucker Carlson were unsurprisingly the worst culprits. However, as allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against O’Reilly (and other network figures including Eric Bolling) and he was eventually fired, Fox News transitioned to an evening lineup with more female hosts -- Shannon Bream, Martha MacCallum, and Laura Ingraham. But this change has not come close to fixing the network’s abortion misinformation problem.

    Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, and identified segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The resulting 211 segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements made about four 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. We found that Fox News dominated the conversation about abortion -- airing 114 of the 211 total segments across all cable news networks (54 percent) -- and that its coverage of the four abortion-related topics was inaccurate 77 percent of the time. And 44 percent of its 114 segments were aired on programs Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham anchored.

    The shows Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham hosted had 107 statements about the four abortion-related topics, out of which the hosts either personally spread -- or gave a platform to those spreading -- anti-abortion misinformation 76 times (71 percent). Here’s a sample of what each host has offered her viewers in the last year:

    Shannon Bream

    Overall, Bream made 30 appearances on Fox News where a substantial discussion of abortion occurred. Although Bream entered the prime-time lineup when she started hosting her own show, Fox News @ Night, on October 30, 2017, she had previously regularly appeared as a guest or a correspondent during The First 100 Days and Special Report. Bream individually made 35 total statements about CMP, abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. Of these 35 statements, 23 contained misinformation (66 percent).

    As Media Matters documented after Fox News @ Night debuted, Bream appears well-attuned to the talking points and interests of the anti-abortion movement; an anti-abortion leader even celebrated her promotion, tweeting that Bream “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.” Since then, Bream has promoted anti-abortion talking points and myths -- suggesting they were simply concerns she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” -- including by asking a misleading question about taxpayers paying for the abortions of undocumented minors who come to the United States.

    As a host, Bream has been consistent in repeating misinformation about anti-abortion group CMP, which engaged in a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood by releasing deceptively edited videos. Just as she had done repeatedly in the past, Bream promoted CMP and said its actions caused Planned Parenthood to become “mired in scandal” and that CMP’s videos showed “Planned Parenthood officials discussing pricing for fetal body parts and tissue left over after abortions.”

    Martha MacCallum

    MacCallum made 14 appearances in Fox News segments that had a substantial discussion of abortion. All these segments were on the two Fox News programs she hosted during the study period -- The First 100 Days and The Story. During those appearances, MacCallum made nine statements in total about CMP and so-called extreme abortion procedures, all of which were inaccurate (100 percent). MacCallum also frequently relied on extreme and stigmatizing rhetoric about abortion.

    When discussing CMP, MacCallum often treated the discredited organization and its deceptive smear videos as credible sources of information. For example, during a March 2017 segment of The First 100 Days, MacCallum not only played a long excerpt from one of the videos, she also said that it was “still hard to watch,” implying that it accurately depicted that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the sale of fetal body parts. In an interview with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), MacCallum focused on Blackburn’s phrasing in one of her campaign ads, which Twitter briefly blocked her campaign from promoting. In the ad, Blackburn referred to her time on the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, saying, “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts.” Instead of questioning Blackburn on her inaccurate phrasing or talking about the smear campaign that Blackburn and the panel had engaged in against Planned Parenthood, Bream accepted her narrative, saying, “You fought hard, as you say, to ban the sale of baby body parts. I mean, it’s such a difficult phrase even to say and I think you’ve fought very hard for it.”

    Similarly, during a July 2017 segment on The Story, MacCallum pushed several myths about the existence and widespread practice of so-called sex-selective, late-term, and full-term abortions. In reality, these are inaccurate descriptions of abortion, created by anti-abortion groups to vilify those accessing legal health care. In one example, MacCallum said that an Oregon bill (now law) that ensured protection of reproductive rights for all -- including undocumented immigrants -- would allow for “sex-selective” and “late-term, even full-term, abortions for an illegal immigrant.” MacCallum continued to push the misinformation, asking her guest, political commentator Danielle McLaughlin, whether she thought it was “OK for someone to decide because they don’t like the sex of their baby to abort it at eight months” and demanding to know, “Why would any state want to pass a law that would allow that?”

    Laura Ingraham

    During the study period, Ingraham made 10 appearances in Fox News segments where there was a substantial discussion of abortion. Like Bream, Ingraham started hosting her own show, The Ingraham Angle, on October 30, 2017, and before that, she had also occasionally appeared as a guest on Special Report and Hannity. Although Ingraham made only three statements total about the four abortion-related topics, two of these statements were inaccurate (67 percent).

    Despite only making 10 appearances during the period of study, Ingraham made a splash with her frequent use of alarmist and stigmatizing rhetoric. In one appearance, Ingraham called Planned Parenthood a “monstrosity of killing.” A December 2017 segment of The Ingraham Angle may be the most bewildering segment of the year about abortion. It started as a fairly regular Fox News segment about abortion, with Ingraham fearmongering that because of a court decision to allow undocumented minors abortion access, the United States would become “an abortion magnet.” Then, Ingraham insisted that a picture of a baby be put up on screen and demanded that her guest, attorney Rachel Self, “look at the screen.” Self calmly explained that she was unable to see the image because she was not in studio. Undeterred, Ingraham escalated the situation and eventually cut Self’s mic off, saying, “I can’t hear her talking over me.”

    Fox News added more female hosts to its prime-time lineup, but having greater gender representation didn't translate to accurate and nuanced coverage of abortion. Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham show that a push for gender parity in the cable news world cannot happen in a vacuum and must go hand-in-hand -- particularly for abortion-related issues -- with a commitment to frank, fair, and accurate coverage.

  • Right-wing media are filling a void of abortion-related coverage with misinformation

    Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.

  • We reviewed Kevin Williamson's past work. The Atlantic hiring him is even worse than you think.

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After The Atlantic hired former National Review writer Kevin Williamson, Media Matters and a number of others called out Williamsons’ history of problematic commentary -- including his belief that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide” and, as Rewire.News characterized it, that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.” 

    It turns out there are plenty of other reasons that The Atlantic should feel bad about the new hire and his self-proclaimed commitment to “raising a brand new kind of hell.”

    Williamson attacked Laverne Cox as “a man masquerading as a woman” and said transgender people were not “super emotionally stable” because they are “living in adolescence”

    After writing an article attacking transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox, Williamson reiterated his anti-trans claims on his podcast, saying that she is “not a woman” and that his belief shouldn’t be “controversial” because she is “a man masquerading as a woman.”

    During the same podcast, Williamson said that “sex reassignment surgery” is “brutal and lamentable” because it is “surgical mutilation basically for cosmetic purposes.”

    Williamson also said that some transgender people do not give “the impression of being super emotionally stable” because they are “self-dramatizing” and “theatrical.” He claimed this characterization is “unfortunately stereotypical” but nevertheless called it “an accurate description.”

    Williamson continued that transgender people are probably “living in adolescence” because “if you’re 40, and you’re still getting massive hormone treatments from a hormone that belongs to a sex that isn’t you, then, I guess, you should maybe be able to expect that this is going to be some sort of continued adolescence.”

    Williamson called Mexican immigrants “peasants” who “aren’t really contributing” and said they’ve made the border look “like Afghanistan”

    During a 2011 appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Williamson not only called Mexican immigrants, “peasants” but also claimed that they “aren’t really contributing a great deal.” When pressed on this statement, Williamson said that the border between Texas and Mexico “looks like Afghanistan.”

    Williamson commented that he “certainly hopes” we have continued “waterboarding people somewhere”

    In a 2011 appearance on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, Williamson called for a continuation of waterboarding, saying: “We’re probably waterboarding people somewhere. I certainly hope so.”

    Williamson was “offended” that former first lady Michelle Obama “gripes about having to pay back her student loans”

    In 2012, Williamson used another appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight to attack former first lady Michelle Obama, saying he was “offended” that Michelle Obama “gripes about having to pay back her student loans” because “when someone loans you money to do something that you want to do, that’s a favor.”

    Williamson told Parkland students that they “didn’t know anything” and claimed that “assault weapons” are not “actually very dangerous guns”

    During a 2010 appearance on CNN, Williamson argued that hunting rifles are more dangerous than “so-called assault weapons,” which are “not actually very dangerous guns.” Williamson also said that it wasn’t “an entirely irrational or paranoid belief” to think that the government would someday seize people’s guns.

    Then, last month on his own National Review podcast, “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” Williamson attacked the high school students who survived a mass shooting at their Parkland, FL, school for advocating for stronger gun laws. Williamson compared the situation to asking people who had been in New York City during the 9/11 attacks for advice on the Middle East, saying, “We’re glad you made it through it OK. But you still don’t know anything.”

    Williamson attacked Maya Angelou, calling her a “cultural mascot” whose purpose is to “teach white liberals the meaning of life”

    Shortly after poet Maya Angelou’s passing in 2014, Williamson discussed her legacy on his podcast -- arguing that she was merely “a kind of cultural mascot” or “literary character that we tend to attach to older, African-American women” whose purpose is to “teach white liberals the meaning of life.”

    Additionally, Williamson has expressed a number of questionable opinions about race and white supremacy

    During a 2011 segment on NPR’s Tell Me More, Williamson attacked Malcolm X as “the sort of figure” who “is destructive in a lot of ways” because he engaged “in some of the most destructive and counterproductive politics the 20th century had to offer.” [NPR, Tell Me More, 4/8/11]

    In 2012, on the same NPR program, Williamson said that the idea that “racial diversity is an inherent fundamental part of higher education’s mission” is “intellectually indefensible.”[NPR, Tell Me More, 2/24/12]

    In 2018, on Fox News Radio’s The One w/ Greg Gutfeld, Williamson claimed that “if white supremacy” could be pointed to as an explanation for both chattel slavery as well as “the fact that there are nice restaurants in Brooklyn now in neighborhoods that didn’t have them,” then it “doesn’t explain anything.”

    Williamson made a similar statement in 2014 on his podcast, describing white supremacy as “an imaginary substance” created out of “intellectual crudity.”

    Williamson has attacked students, government workers, and union members as “illiterate” and “parasites”

    In a 2011 appearance on NPR’s Tell Me More, Williamson said that American students were the “most illiterate, bad reading level kids on the Earth.” [NPR, Tell Me More, 1/7/11]

    In 2013, Williamson said on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight that the government shutdown “put a few thousand parasites out of work in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.” When pressed on his comment by a fellow panelist, Williamson responded: “Well if they’re not parasites let’s put their wages to a market test and see if they are actually worth what they’re paid. But they know they are not worth what they’re paid which is why they resist putting their wages to a market test.”

    In 2012, Williamson appeared on Dobbs’ program and referred to union members as “grotesque parasitic union goons.”

    Williamson has attacked Planned Parenthood as “grisly” and “bloodthirsty”

    After Planned Parenthood announced support for Barack Obama during the 2012 election, Williamson called the organization a “grisly, bloodthirsty enterprise.” 

  • Right-wing CNN contributor accidentally debunks right-wing myth about Planned Parenthood funding

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    CNN contributor and right-wing radio host Ben Ferguson gave up the game on one of right-wing media’s favorite inaccurate talking points about Planned Parenthood, admitting that the organization does not use taxpayer funding to cover abortion services.

    The comment came during a discussion on the March 27 edition of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon about the National Rifle Association (NRA) saying that it accepts foreign donations. Ferguson was attempting to defend the NRA’s assertion that its foreign donations are separate from election contributions. He stated that the NRA is “separating the funds” in “the same way that Planned Parenthood, for example, is not allowed to use funds that come from the American taxpayers for abortions. They separate it.” Later in the segment, Ferguson again said that there are “certain guidelines” about where Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding goes and “that money cannot be used directly for abortion services.”

    After host Don Lemon called out Ferguson’s double standard, saying that “the criticism from those on the right” is that Planned Parenthood doesn’t separate taxpayer funding from its abortion funding, Ferguson claimed conservatives were actually mad that Planned Parenthood receives taxpayer funding at all. However, the myth that Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding supports its abortion services is a frequent right-wing talking point, often framed around the idea that “money is fungible.” In reality, as Ferguson alluded to, the Hyde Amendment prohibits any federal funding from going to abortions. Planned Parenthood merely receives reimbursement for services covered under Medicaid. From the March 27 edition of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon:

    DON LEMON (HOST): Do you think that that practice will invite the misuse of funds, Ben? I mean, if they don't take foreign money, they don't have to worry about the funds being used illegally.

    BEN FERGUSON: I don't. And I think the NRA is pretty smart about this, separating the funds. The same way that Planned Parenthood, for example, is not allowed to use funds that come from the American taxpayers for abortions. They separate it, so that there is a very clear separation line here when you know you're going to be under scrutiny from people that don't like you. It's not illegal for the NRA to take foreign funds. Many nonprofits and many groups that have activism or ideas like this and others on the conservative/liberal side for decades have been taking foreign funds from people that support what they're about and what they're backing. I don't think there is going to be an issue here. I think certainly people want to play politics with this. But I think the NRA knows that they're under a microscope and have been for years. And they've never had problems with this in the past.

    LEMON: So, but the critics on the right say the money always can't be separate when it comes to Planned Parenthood and abortions. That's really the criticism from those on the right. But you're saying now --

    FERGUSON: Well, the criticism --

    LEMON: -- that the NRA can separate.

    FERGUSON: Not really. It’s not -- it's not the criticism.

    ANGELA RYE: Yeah, it is.

    FERGUSON: The criticism is that you're taking my taxpayer's dollars and you're giving them to an organization that is the number one abortion provider in the U.S. They give more abortions than anybody else with my tax dollars.

    LEMON: Ben, you're saying the money can be separated.

    FERGUSON: No one is giving money --

    LEMON: You just said in one breath, though --

    FERGUSON: Right, here’s the point --

    LEMON: -- that the money can be separated when it comes to the NRA, no matter where it comes from, foreign entities or whatever.

    FERGUSON: Again --

    LEMON: So, if people are paying tax money, and they’re saying your tax dollars will not go towards abortions, so --

    FERGUSON: There is a fundamental difference between Planned Parenthood and the NRA. The NRA does not receive taxpayers’ dollars. If they did, many people like Angela would be very upset with that. That is why I'm upset --

    RYE: First of all --

    FERGUSON: -- with Planned Parenthood receiving funds. My point was again this: There are certain guidelines that go in that make it very clear that you cannot have taxpayers’ dollars when it goes -- and hundreds of millions of dollars a year go to Planned Parenthood. That money cannot be used directly for abortion services.

  • Right-wing media botch GAO report to push myth that taxpayers are funding abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On March 6, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an updated report about the use of federal funds by Planned Parenthood and several other health care providers for providing “preventive, reproductive, and diagnostic health care services in the United States or abroad.” Predictably, even though the report didn’t show any wrongdoing by the provider, right-wing media used its release to promote the longstanding myth that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer funding to support its abortion services.

    According to the March 2018 GAO report, investigators sought to answer how much federal funding had been granted to federally qualified health centers, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America between 2013 and 2015, as well as how those organizations or networks had spent the funds. Right-wing media quickly seized on the data to push the myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded” abortion, even though the report showed no such thing.

    Even before the GAO’s most recent report came out, right-wing media have frequently claimed that U.S. taxpayers fund the provision of abortion services. In reality, under the Hyde Amendment, federal funding for abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is at risk. Although Planned Parenthood receives funds to support non-abortion health services, the allocations aren’t a blank check for the organization to spend as it pleases. Indeed, just like any other health care provider -- including the other providers listed in the GAO’s March 2018 report -- Planned Parenthood is reimbursed by the government for the specific non-abortion services it provides to low-income patients via programs like Medicaid. In many other cases, funds that are not reimbursed in this way are specifically allocated to cover a narrow set of health outcomes, such as HIV prevention.

    Nevertheless, right-wing media pushed their misleading reading of the report within their own echo chamber to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. In order to make this point, many outlets ignored the reality that the allocated funding did not support abortion services. For example, in a March 8 article, Breitbart reported that the GAO report had shown that “federal and state taxpayers provided $1.5 billion in funding to abortion providers over a three-year period,” yet it failed to note that none of these funds supported abortion services. This tactic was copied by Newsmax, Washington Free Beacon, Townhall, OneNewsNow, and The Daily Signal, each of which repeated the implication that the money went to abortions. Some outlets went a step further in their allegations, arguing that even if the funding allocated wasn’t for abortion services, it would inevitably be used to support abortions. In one example, LifeSiteNews wrote, “Pro-lifers note that money is fungible, meaning that public funding Planned Parenthood uses for approved purposes frees funds from other sources to be spent on abortions.” The Federalist claimed that such “funds are fungible” because when “an abortion provider gets its hands on government money, it controls how that money is spent.”

    This narrative culminated in a March 12 appearance by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. In the segment, host Tucker Carlson and Black each lambasted anti-choice legislators for failing to strip Planned Parenthood’s funding by making a number of inaccurate allegations about the way the organization used taxpayer funds. In one instance, Black claimed that it was inappropriate for “taxpayer dollars to be going to abortion,” saying that the funding was “set up for family planning” but “abortion is not family planning, it’s family destruction.”

    The GAO's findings rebut the right-wing argument that the federal funding Planned Parenthood received supported the provision of abortion services. For example, in a chart listing the programs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funded at Planned Parenthood, there is no allocation that would include abortion services:

    Although right-wing media may be suggesting that the allocations for “Family planning services” or the “Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program” could include support for abortion, a review of each program in the government’s Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance refutes this claim. Furthermore, the GAO not only reviewed the financial documents of Planned Parenthood and all of its affiliates, but also sought additional documentation and audit information.

    In other words, given the level of scrutiny applied to both the allocation and the expenditure of funds, it is highly improbable money allocated for other uses was spent on abortion care. Once again, the frenzy drummed up by right-wing media appears to be supported with only spin, and no substance.

  • 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.”
  • Wash. Post health care reporter has a history of spreading misinformation about abortion

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On February 14, Washington Post health care reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham garnered significant attention for tweeting that it was “super weird how people are blaming their diminished sense of well-being on the Trump administration” when “personal events determine [her] quality of life; not who’s in the [White House].” Beyond this insensitive tweet, Winfield Cunningham also has a history of spreading right-wing misinformation about abortion and reproductive health in her reporting.

  • David Brooks gets everything wrong about abortion after 20 weeks

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

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

  • 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.”

  • The 5 worst takes from coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.

  • Crisis pregnancy centers hurt people, and it's time the media noticed

    In 2018, the Supreme Court will hear a case about regulating the deceptive practices of crisis pregnancy centers

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In 2018, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to a California law requiring crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- anti-abortion organizations that erroneously represent themselves as comprehensive reproductive care clinics -- to inform patients about their eligibility for low-cost reproductive health services, including abortion. If previous abortion-related cases are any indication, before the Supreme Court even hears oral arguments, media will be inundated with attempts by abortion opponents to downplay CPCs’ deceptive tactics and instead promote CPCs as harmless institutions simply trying to protect their freedom of speech.

    On November 13, the Supreme Court agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case that involves a California statute called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. Under California’s FACT Act, licensed CPCs are required to display a notice at their facility and in their advertising materials that states that California provides “immediate free or low-cost” reproductive services, which includes abortion. Unlicensed CPCs are required to post a notice that they are not a medical facility and do not have a medical professional doing on-site supervision. The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) -- which represents both licensed and unlicensed CPCs in California -- challenged the law as a violation of their CPCs' free speech rights to not promote abortion or contraceptives. The lower courts ruled in favor of upholding the state law, and the case is now before the Supreme Court.

    Although the case will likely not be decided until summer 2018, right-wing media have already started to spin the California law as an attack on CPC’s free speech rights, as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson did during a November 15 segment of his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight. According to Carlson, California is “forcing” CPCs “to provide information on how to get a state-subsidized abortion.” Carlson also incorrectly implied that CPCs should not be regulated because they are “not hurting anybody.”

    CPCs are deceptive organizations that often rely on fearmongering, deceptive advertising, and medical misinformation to scare or persuade individuals into continuing pregnancies. As proceedings around NIFLA v. Becerra ramp up in 2018, here are some of the harmful tactics and impacts of CPCs that media should not ignore.

    The impact and tactics of crisis pregnancy centers

    CPCs have a significantly negative impact on access to comprehensive reproductive health care

    CPCs fail to provide comprehensive reproductive health services

    CPCs don’t address the health care needs of those most requiring low-cost service

    CPCs employ a variety of tactics meant to deceive individuals seeking abortion

    Deceptive advertising

    In-clinic misinformation and tactics

    Media manipulation and outreach

    CPCs have a significantly negative impact on access to comprehensive reproductive health care

    CPCs fail to provide comprehensive reproductive health services

    CPCs often position themselves as providing a full set of comprehensive reproductive health care services. For example, The Weekly Standard wrote that CPCs have such services as “pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and testing for sexually transmitted infections,” “onsite prenatal programs,” and “material assistance” for low-income individuals. Similarly, abortion opponents often advocate that Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics are unnecessary because some CPCs provide identical or even better care for less money.

    In reality, many CPCs fail to provide the same range of services that Planned Parenthood and other clinics do -- and, yes, that list includes abortion. Broadly’s Callie Beusman detailed the services of one CPC in Hartford, CT, called Hartford Women’s Center, which provided “no STI testing, no well women exams, no prenatal care, no birth control,” although these were all services (in addition to abortion) available at the actual reproductive health clinic, Hartford GYN Center, next door. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) stated that CPCs “use deceptive practices to entice women into the center,” which “purposefully lead women to believe that they will receive comprehensive health information.” However, as NWLC’s explained:

    However, many of the over 4,000 CPCs in the United States have no licensed medical personnel and provide no referrals for birth control or abortion care. What is worse, they fail to disclose this to women who are seeking accurate and timely health information. Once women are in the door, CPCs then give misleading and false information about birth control, emergency contraception, and abortion care in order to stop women from using or obtaining these critical health care services. This undermines women’s ability to make informed decisions about their pregnancies.

    CPCs don’t address the health care needs of those most requiring low-cost services

    The inadequate care provided by CPCs exacerbates the lack of access to health services experienced by already vulnerable communities. This problem is compounded by the fact that some CPCs receive federal and state funding through both direct or indirect avenues, depriving programs dedicated to facilitating actual health care access of resources.

    As Reproaction’s Erin Matson and Pamela Merritt explained, “Not only do the individuals seeking information and services from crisis pregnancy centers suffer, communities as a whole pay the price.” As but one example, the authors pointed to Missouri where “funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are diverted to go toward the Alternatives to Abortion Program,” which allocates funding to CPCs. As they described, although Missouri “has the second-highest number of food-insecure residents in the country,” funds for TANF are instead diverted to the deceptive work of CPCs to the tune of $2 million in 2016 and at least $4.3 million in 2017. Missouri is not alone: When Vice President Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, he signed a contract giving part of the funding for TANF to the state’s Real Alternatives CPC program.

    Perhaps the most illustrative example of how CPCs can take millions in state funding without providing any comprehensive reproductive services for low-income people can be seen in the failure of The Heidi Group in Texas. In 2016, Texas awarded a $1.6 million contract to The Heidi Group -- an anti-abortion organization run by serial misinformer Carol Everett -- for the purpose of providing low-cost reproductive health care. As Rewire reported, “The Heidi Group had never before provided health care services,” and had “focused predominantly on supporting anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.” Unsurprisingly, despite promising to improve health care access, The Heidi Group directed the funding to CPCs, which were unable or unwilling to rise to the challenge. In 2017, the Associated Press reported that the efforts of The Heidi Group were “quietly sputtering” and that the organization had “little to show for its work.” As the Dallas Morning News stated, the group had “no fresh initiative of social media outreach, no overhaul of outdated clinic websites, no public service announcements, no 1-800 hotline to help low-income women find affordable services in their communities.” As a result, in August 2017, Texas took back some of the money awarded to The Heidi Group.

    Low-income individuals who rely on a CPC for either health care needs or material support could find that such services stop once they reach a certain point in pregnancy. Elite Daily spoke with one abortion clinic provider in Connecticut who detailed the story of a woman who went to a CPC and was “promised money, baby clothes, and furniture,” but “once she got to her 24th week of pregnancy, the point at which abortion is illegal in Connecticut,” the CPC “discontinued contact with her.” According to the provider, this situation was not “a rare occasion.”

    Beyond CPCs’ inconsistent support for low-income patients, some of these centers go out of their way to target communities of color. In a 2013 report, NWLC identified that some national associations of CPCs emphasize outreach to black communities because “of the high rates of abortion in certain communities” -- a statistic that gets used by abortion opponents to suggest that abortion providers are engaged in so-called “black genocide.” As NWLC explained, high rates of abortion are due to high rates of unintended pregnancy which “reflect widespread disparities in health outcomes and access to health care which are in turn influenced by social factors such as income, education, employment and earnings, and neighborhoods” -- inequalities not addressed by CPCs.

    Access to reproductive services is already complicated by recent attacks on Planned Parenthood funding, as well as wider clinic closures that “leave low-income women with few alternatives for reproductive and preventive health care.” In addition, because the Hyde Amendment restricts Medicaid funding for abortions except under limited circumstances, many low-income people are left without a means to pay for abortions, which can reach staggering out-of-pocket costs. As Jessica Arons, the former president of Reproductive Health Technologies explained, “Women of color are particularly burdened by the Hyde Amendment, as they are disproportionately represented among those living in poverty, enrolled in Medicaid and at the highest risk for unintended pregnancy.”

    CPCs employ a variety of tactics meant to deceive individuals seeking abortion

    Deceptive advertising

    CPCs begin their deception before people ever step into their clinics, using deceptive advertising to imitate abortion clinics.

    On November 8, the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the Massachusetts attorney general about a CPC called Attleboro Women’s Health Center (AWHC), which the watchdog said “masquerades as an abortion clinic.” The complaint alleged that despite the AWHC not offering any abortion care, the website was full of misinformation suggesting otherwise:

    AWHC hosts a website, the home page of which includes tabs for “Abortion Pill” and “Surgical Abortion.” The site even lists costs for these services. Hidden in a different portion of the site is a disclaimer noting AWHC does not “offer, recommend, or refer for abortions or abortifacients.” In addition, the website is riddled with exaggerations and inaccuracies regarding abortion, listing psychological risks associated with abortion and advertising an abortion reversal option, all of which has been debunked by medical experts.

    As Rewire noted before the complaint was filed, AWHC’s website also contained “a near-verbatim repetition of the stated mission of the abortion clinic nearby: ‘to empower women to make informed decisions that support their privacy, dignity and self-respect.’” Later, AWHC deleted this passage and other misleading claims from its website.

    AWHC’s advertising and imitation tactics are, unfortunately, not an anomaly. In another striking example, the anti-abortion organization Human Coalition (which both supports and runs CPCs) centered its mission on using “internet search engine marketing” to target what it calls “abortion-determined” people in order to redirect them from abortion clinics to one of its CPCs. Human Coalition places ads on Google using “keywords” that people seeking abortions might use to locate a clinic, even though Human Coalition does not provide and will not refer anyone for an abortion. Those ads direct people to landing pages that have Human Coalition’s call center number, where Human Coalition employees then try to dissuade them from abortion. Although Human Coalition has become particularly adept at this tactic, Broadly detailed a similar practice used by Heartbeat International (HBI) -- a national association of CPCs. As Broadly found, in its “2014 annual report, HBI boasted that ‘a woman who makes a Google search such as “pregnant and scared” finds a local Heartbeat International affiliate or Option Line in her search,’” even though Heartbeat International’s CPCs do not perform or refer for abortions.

    Efforts to remove deceptive ads placed by CPCs have seen mixed results. A December 2017 investigation by Rewire found that in a Google search “for ‘abortion’ in 40 randomly selected mid-sized and major U.S. cities” there was “at least one anti-choice fake clinic ad nearly 40 percent of the time.” After Rewire reached out to Google with this information, “a Google spokesperson said it had taken down ads that violated its policy, but couldn’t say how many CPC ads it had removed.”

    Even if patients do find their way to an actual abortion clinic, some CPCs are still able to reach them with targeted advertising and misinformation. In 2016, it was reported that advertising firm Copley Advertising was using geofencing to target those on their phones at abortion clinics and send them ads for CPCs. (Geofences are technological "fenced-in" area that advertisers use to ping smartphones with ads when people enter those areas.) As Rewire explained, a national association of CPCs, RealOptions, hired Copley Advertising “to send propaganda directly to a woman’s phone while she is in a clinic waiting room,” a tactic that “presents a serious threat to the privacy and safety of women exercising their right to choose, as well as to abortion providers and their staff.” In April 2017, Massachusetts reached a settlement with Copley Advertising that prohibited the company from geofencing around clinics, although, according to Rewire, Copley operates in other states as well, and it is unclear whether it is still using geo-fencing in those states.

    In-clinic misinformation and tactics

    Once patients seeking or thinking about abortion come to a CPC, staff then try to coerce, scare, or deceive them into carrying their pregnancies to term. Amanda Schwartz, who works at a reproductive justice non-profit in West Virginia, wrote in HuffPost that CPCs “offer ‘counseling,’ which essentially consists of an untrained volunteer asking probing questions and pressuring the person to carry their pregnancy to term.” Schwartz said that CPCs have “also been known to separate people from their clothes or personal belongings to make it more difficult for them to leave, tell people abortion causes breast cancer (it doesn’t), encourage people not to abort because the likelihood of miscarrying is so high (generally speaking, it isn’t), ‘schedule’ someone for an abortion to keep them from seeking real care and so much more.” Caitlin Bancroft, an intern for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, experienced this situation first-hand when she went undercover at a CPC. As Bancroft wrote for HuffPost, the “counseling” given to her at a CPC consisted largely consisted of probing questions designed to determine how to best dissuade her from seeking an abortion:

    As I sat there having my life probed, the purpose of the questions dawned on me. In case the test was positive, my “counselor” wanted to know which tactic to use to persuade me to continue the pregnancy — exactly where my resolve was the weakest. Was there a loving Christian boyfriend who would make a great dad? Did I have kind supportive parents who would be excited by the idea of a grandchild? I knew I wasn’t pregnant — knew exactly what she was doing — knew she wasn’t a doctor. But my body reacted instinctively to her questions with guilt and shame. It felt like a kick in the gut when she asked if I had told my brother about the baby, and I felt a creeping sense of selfishness as I imagined the door slamming on my shared apartment, my twenties, my life. Would my parents want me to have this child? Would it matter?

    Other CPCs may attempt to position themselves as legitimate, licensed medical centers. As journalist Meaghan Winter wrote for Cosmopolitan, when “confronted with criticism that they are running deceptive fake clinics, pregnancy center directors have begun acquiring medical equipment and affiliating with doctors and nurses who share their ideological message,” a trend Winter says pregnancy center counselors describe as “going medical.” This approach “allows centers to market themselves as a trusted source for health advice” about the alleged “health risks of abortion.” These types of CPCs, Winter explained, “often operate under the direction of unlicensed staff … and the license of a physician who doesn’t actually see clients at the center.” The centers also “generally … only offer ‘limited ultrasounds,’ meaning they can only confirm a pregnancy, not diagnose.”

    Beyond “going medical,” CPCs have increasingly attempted to rely on so-called “scientific” research in order to deter individuals from having an abortion. Human Coalition uses its CPCs “as laboratories to test everything from marketing techniques and counseling strategies to what color to paint the walls.” These efforts also included an experiment focused on “increasing a client’s perception of her baby as a unique person” by having pregnant patients listen to a muffled Adele song -- imitating how it might be heard in utero -- to help “establish this maternal-fetal bond.” Another anti-abortion organization the Vitae Foundation uses research to “help Vitae better understand the psychological dynamics that motivate women to feel the way they do about abortion” and “learn how to better communicate with those who may support abortion as a solution to an unwanted pregnancy and move them to a more life-affirming position.” Vitae Foundation shares the resulting data with CPCs “across the nation.”

    Media manipulation and outreach

    Beyond manipulating targeted digital advertisements, CPCs also engage in outreach through both traditional and new media platforms to bolster legitimacy for their claims of being “health care” providers.

    In early 2017, Human Coalition succeeded in placing two op-eds in The New York Times that espoused anti-abortion viewpoints. Media Matters found that Human Coalition had significantly increased its staff’s media appearances during 2016 before the op-eds were even published in the Times. In an August 2017 interview with Urban Family Talk’s Stacy on the Right, Human Coalition’s public relations manager Lauren Enriquez explained about how they’ve “kept up our media presence” after the The New York Times op-eds and “are still working with any paper that’s really willing to post our view.”

    CPCs also attempt to use “new media” for outreach by creating either their own platforms, outlets, or applications. In one example, Heartbeat International created its own media outlet, Pregnancy Help News, when its reliance on traditional publications proved insufficient for spreading the group’s misinformation. In another instance, California-based CPC chain Obria Medical Clinic created an app called “Obria Direct.” Obria’s founder Kathleen Eaton Bravo told Eternal World Television Network’s Pro-Life Weekly, a program created and sponsored by anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, that “abortion today is on the smartphone.” Bravo said she saw Obria as a “brand” that serves as “an alternative to Planned Parenthood.” Since Planned Parenthood already has an app for its California affiliates called “Planned Parenthood Direct,” Obria’s branding suggests its app is meant to emulate or replace legitimate reproductive care resources.

    CPCs will deceive and the media should remember that

    It should be noted that not every CPC engages in every one of these tactics. But regardless of how a CPC brands itself, one thing remains clear: CPCs do not perform or refer for abortions, and they will try a variety of tactics to deter individuals from obtaining one. Abortion is a personal choice, and should be treated as an essential option of comprehensive health care. As the Supreme Court debates and decides NIFLA v. Becerra in 2018, the media should call out CPCs when they use deceptive tactics, and resist promoting the inevitable right-wing spin that free speech of such organizations is being unduly impeded.

  • Right-wing media do the dirty work of anti-abortion groups by hyping attacks on Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It comes as little surprise that Fox News once again carried water for the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), this time returning to an old tactic of using advance copies of documents to validate already debunked claims from CMP’s smear campaign against Planned Parenthood.

    On December 7, Fox News reported that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had “launched a federal investigation into Planned Parenthood’s practices and the sale of fetal tissue.” As evidence, the article cited “a letter first obtained by Fox News” that “formally requested unredacted documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee” that were gathered in 2016 as part of an investigation into Planned Parenthood. The article concluded that the DOJ’s actions would “reopen the years-long debate on whether Planned Parenthood and other providers violated the law with the illegal sale of body parts.” 

    As Jezebel noted, the DOJ’s “letter is essentially a procedural document,” and it “remains unclear whether or not the DOJ plans to launch a full investigation or whether or not this is simply a political attempt to garner headlines like the one published at Fox News” claiming that Planned Parenthood is being investigated even though “there is no formal investigation.”

    Claims about the alleged “sale of body parts” emerged in July 2015, when David Daleiden and his discredited organization, Center for Medical Progress (CMP), released a series of deceptively edited smear videos attacking Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation (NAF). Since then, multiple investigations have disproven Daleiden’s claims and, in fact, cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. In contrast, Daleiden is now subject to several legal actions -- during the most recent of which two of his attorneys were fined and held in contempt for violating a preliminary injunction by releasing materials that targeted individual abortion providers.

    In reality, both the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation and a parallel effort by the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives were considered from their inception to be politically motivated attacks on abortion access and reproductive health more broadly. During its 10 months of operation, the House select panel found no substantiated evidence of wrongdoing, prompting numerous lawmakers to call for its disbandment. As Rewire explained, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s efforts were similarly unfruitful, and the final report merely echoed “allegations disproven by three Republican-led congressional committee investigations, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury.”

    Although right-wing and anti-abortion outlets love to frame Daleiden and his co-conspirators as “citizen journalists” conducting an “undercover investigation,” a federal judge and journalism experts have agreed: Daleiden and his ilk are not journalists. In contrast, as data from NAF demonstrates, since the release of the videos in July 2015, violence and harassment of abortion reporters has skyrocketed. Despite this -- and Daleiden’s litany of legal issues -- right-wing and anti-abortion media have not been deterred from carrying water for CMP’s deceptive claims.

    This is not the first time that Fox News has received exclusive information relating to the congressional investigations of Planned Parenthood. In May 2016, Fox News’ Shannon Bream touted "exclusively obtained" copies of letters that the House select panel sent to various entities at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This “exclusive” ran on May 31 -- a full day before the letters were publicly released or shared with Democratic members of the panel, in direct violation of congressional rules. More recently, right-wing and anti-abortion media circulated footage from CMP that was barred from release by a district judge. Even after CMP was forced to remove the footage from YouTube, anti-abortion media outlets that had promoted the footage reposted and shared it.

    Before its conclusion, the House select panel was notable for its function as a conduit through which anti-abortion groups consistently funneled information in order to give their attacks a veneer of legitimacy. And if, in fact, the DOJ’s inquiry does signal a formal investigation, the release of the December 7 letter to Fox News a full day before ranking Democratic members received it should be a warning sign about the impartiality of this investigation.