In the wake of one-third of the Planned Parenthood clinics closing in the state, Iowa newspapers have rejected right-wing media talking points in favor of fact-based analyses about the limited capacity of so-called alternatives to the shuttered facilities. Iowa’s print media outlets are not only emphasizing the dire consequences of losing Planned Parenthood in many communities, but they are also modeling how other local media should handle politically motivated attacks on essential reproductive health care.
On May 12, then-Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) signed a budget rejecting at least $3 million in federal Medicaid family planning funds in order to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state’s reproductive health program. Days later, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced that as a result of the measure, the organization would close four of its 12 clinics -- upending the primary health care system in the state.
Anti-choice lawmakers, and the coalition of anti-abortion groups behind them, have celebrated these closures by repeating several anti-abortion myths. They’ve particularly highlighted the supposed existence of plentiful alternatives to Planned Parenthood and the defeat of the right-wing-media-fueled fever dream of “taxpayer-funded abortion.”
A Media Matters analysis of three of the state’s largest circulation papers (The Des Moines Register, The Gazette, and Quad-City Times) found that Iowa print media are refusing to buy the myths right-wing media have been selling and thus providing a model for other media outlets in states whose essential reproductive health care will come under attack in the coming months. Already, Planned Parenthood has been forced to announce anticipated clinic closures in California, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
Outside of Iowa, anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media have argued that Planned Parenthood should be defunded in order to prevent taxpayer money from subsidizing abortion services. In reality, because of the Hyde Amendment, federal funds are expressly forbidden from supporting abortion care -- much to the detriment of low-income patients and those from marginalized communities. Although some anti-abortion advocates argue that the “fungibility” of money means any funds given to Planned Parenthood contribute to abortion, this logic is deeply flawed. As Slate’s Amanda Marcotte explained, “Since medical services are billed and funded individually, that's not actually how this works.”
Instead, Planned Parenthood has long received reimbursements via Medicaid for non-abortion services provided to low-income patients. Nevertheless, anti-choice lawmakers have demanded that funds be shifted to “community health centers” (CHC), which they argue can absorb patient demand.
Experts argue this is “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.” In a May 17 report, Kinsey Hasstedt of the Guttmacher Institute explained that although CHCs and other “federally qualified health centers” (FQHC) play “an important part” in providing contraceptives and other essential care, “they cannot be expected to deliver contraceptive care to the large numbers of women who currently rely on Planned Parenthood” and “to suggest otherwise willfully oversimplifies the considerable challenges FQHCs would face in doing so.”
As Planned Parenthood comes under attack across the country, here’s what other media outlets can learn from The Des Moines Register, The Gazette, and the Quad-City Times.
Iowa papers have dismantled claims by anti-choice lawmakers about the availability of care without Planned Parenthood’s clinics and lambasted them for failing to provide a list of even potentially feasible alternatives in a transparent way.
On May 26, the Quad-City Times editorial board mocked the lack of a publicly available list of alternatives, writing that while “Iowa’s GOP-run Legislature achieved its ultimate goal,” it “didn’t even try to fake it by rolling out some half-baked list of alleged alternatives.” The Times continued:
The timing was especially astounding, as the lawmakers spent this year's session hacking and slashing to plug budgetary holes. Defunding Planned Parenthood will cost Iowa $3 million in federal funds this year. Another $3.3 million will be spent creating a state-run program to, feasibly, make up for the self-inflicted shortfall of women's health care providers.
It's that yet-to-be drafted list that's at the heart of the matter. Four clinics across the state are closing. Many states that have tried similar attacks on a woman's access to health care at least attempted to compile other options. Not in Iowa. Lawmakers just did it blind and directed the state Health Department to force reality into their partisan narrative somewhere down the line.
In January, the editorial board of Iowa’s Des Moines Register responded to the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood with a warning that lawmakers should answer specific questions about alternative providers and the particular services they were equipped to deliver before eliminating support for the organization.
This is sound advice, and in fact, exemplifies the kind of reporting local outlets should be doing in response to threats to defund essential health care in their communities. Unsurprisingly, given this earlier push for accountability, the Register followed up with an investigation of so-called replacement clinics. In a May 27 piece, the Register’s editorial board modeled how local news outlets can easily debunk the myth that other clinics can fill in for the loss of Planned Parenthood’s clinics:
Republicans said more than 200 clinics statewide could fill any void left if Planned Parenthood clinics closed. This number was apparently derived from information provided by the Iowa Department of Human Services.
The Register editorial board obtained the list of 219 clinics from the agency on Monday.
One "behavioral health center" in Leon filled 11 spots on the spreadsheet. We took the liberty of assuming that entity would not be offering cervical cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and other medical services provided by Planned Parenthood. So we eliminated that one.
Then we decided to call three of the remaining 208, selecting providers in areas where Planned Parenthood clinics are closing.
First up was Wayne Mercy Medical Clinic, which the list identified as being located in Sioux City. The woman who answered the phone said the clinic changed its name years ago, was not affiliated with Mercy and was not even located in Iowa; it's in Nebraska and about an hour’s drive from Sioux City.
Next we called Mediapolis Clinic in West Burlington. It does not provide long-acting, reversible contraception, including birth control implants and IUDs, which are the method of choice for nearly 12 percent of contraceptive users nationally. Sutherland Mercy Medical Clinic in Sioux City said it did not provide those either.
In fact, none of Mercy Health Network’s 108 family practice clinics across the state, including those on the list provided by DHS, will provide any type of long-acting birth control.
So now that four clinics that served nearly 15,000 patients over the last three years are closing, the Republicans who insisted there would be "more access" to family planning services should compile and distribute a reliable, accurate list of where women can go for those services.
Building on this momentum, other local media did similar reporting, such as the Des Moines CBS affiliate, KCCI 8, which ran a story in which reporter Todd Magel tried to contact many of the so-called “other clinics” pointed to by state lawmakers. Magel found that few of the clinics referenced in the list of FQHCs provided “reproductive medical care and screenings” like Planned Parenthood does and that the lawmaker’s alternatives included a school “nurse’s office,” “a dentist’s office,” and “a homeless shelter.”
Beyond emphasizing the lack of transparency from lawmakers, Iowa papers also relied on ample statistics to highlight exactly who was hurt by the closure of Planned Parenthood’s clinics in the state.
For example, Chelsea Keenan of The Gazette began a May 19 article with the information that “more than 14,600 people” would be impacted once Planned Parenthood closed “one-third of its Iowa clinics.” She also wrote about the specific number and types of services people would lose without the essential health care provider:
The budget discontinues a federal Medicaid waiver that, since its creation in 2006, has helped more than 80,000 Iowa women receive Pap smears, birth control and cancer screenings through the Iowa Family Planning Network, including more than 12,000 last year. The waiver helps extend reproductive health services to men and women who due to income often fall in the gap between private insurance and Medicaid eligibility.
Planned Parenthood — which said loss of funding through the Family Planning Network amounted to about $2 million — administered services to more than 30,000 Iowans last year, with nearly 50 percent of its patients at or below the federal poverty level.
The Quad-City Times also lamented that “per usual, it is impoverished women who will pay more than their share of the bill.” The editorial board continued:
Medicaid, mind you, provides health care for the poorest Iowans. It's already foundering in Iowa since last year's privatization. President Donald Trump has targeted Medicaid for deep cuts in his draft budget.
Yet, it's these patients to whom Planned Parenthood brought otherwise out-of-reach gynecological care. They're a population with an abnormally high risk for sexually transmitted diseases. They're less likely to receive regular gynecological exams. They're at substantially greater risk for unwanted pregnancy.
Women across the socio-economic strata relied on Planned Parenthood. But, suddenly, those in the lower tiers are destined to have fewer options.
To these women, Iowa just said, "Tough."
Finally, several Iowa papers drew on empirical case studies from what happened in other states when anti-choice lawmakers sacrificed their constituents’ health in order to engage in political attacks on Planned Parenthood.
As the Register’s William Petroski noted, Texas’ exclusion of Planned Parenthood from its reproductive health safety net “resulted in a significant increase in births among low-income women who lost access to birth control, according to a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine."
Starting in 2011, Texas took steps to bar abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood from participating in a program aimed at giving low-income women family planning services. It’s a move that, in the years following, research has shown hurt the state’s family planning safety net.
The funding changes forced dozens of Planned Parenthood clinics there to close in 2012, according to researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which studies the effects of family planning funding cuts and restrictions.
Those that have remained open have reduced their hours, patient loads and available services.
Research by the Guttmacher Institute shows that Texas’ family planning program in 2013 served less than one-quarter of the women it helped in 2011. And that care became more expensive when you take knowledgeable providers out of the network — the cost to the state to provide family planning care jumped from $206 per client to $240.
The Gazette’s Lynda Waddington explained the negative effects of a similar decision in Indiana when then-Gov. Mike Pence eliminated funding for the provider:
Former Indiana Gov. and current Vice President Mike Pence declared a 2015 public emergency in his state due to HIV outbreaks. The county at the epicenter of the problem had been without a testing center since 2013, when the local Planned Parenthood clinic closed.
Just like three out of the four Iowa clinics now caught in the GOP’s defunding snare, the Indiana facility did not offer abortion services — none of the five Indiana clinics forced to close offered abortions, but they all provided HIV testing. Instead of being able to rely on ongoing prevention efforts provided by those local clinics, Indiana taxpayers took on the added cost burden of erecting pop-up clinics. Worst of all, Indiana residents needlessly suffered.
As attacks on Planned Parenthood continue, media can look to Iowa’s local media as an example of how to interrogate lawmaker’s claims about so-called alternatives and make clear the consequences when communities lose access to essential health care.
Planned Parenthood recently released its annual report detailing the number of people who use its comprehensive services, as well as how much support it receives from the federal government in the form of reimbursements for non-abortion care. America’s Newsroom host Shannon Bream and guest Mercedes Schlapp, a Fox contributor, used the release of the report to advance debunked myths circulating in right-wing media about Planned Parenthood.
In the May 31 segment on Planned Parenthood’s annual report, Bream mentioned that federal money could be redirected from Planned Parenthood to federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), which “don’t do abortions but handle 20 times the patients that Planned Parenthood does.” Schlapp, a GOP strategist, agreed, stating that taxpayer money should not go to Planned Parenthood when FQHCs “provide more and better comprehensive services for women.” In reality, FQHCs cannot adequately replace the services that Planned Parenthood clinics currently provide.
As the annual report details, millions of people use Planned Parenthood as their essential care provider, including for contraceptive services which are often not provided by all FQHCs. Previously, the Guttmacher Institute had reported that the contraceptive services provided by Planned Parenthood clinics are more accessible than those offered by FQHCs. In addition, Guttmacher also found that FQHCs will not be able to handle the influx of patients seeking contraceptive services if Planned Parenthood is defunded as “it would mean taking on an additional two million contraceptive clients currently served by Planned Parenthood.”
Bream and Schlapp’s argument is based on the idea that taxpayers do not want to fund Planned Parenthood because some clinics in this network provide abortions. But under the Hyde Amendment, taxpayer money does not go to abortion, even though Fox news has frequently pushed this myth in the past. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal Medicaid dollars from paying for abortion, except in extremely limited circumstances (creating substantial burdens on low-income women who are forced to pay for abortions out-of-pocket).
Bream also brought up the discredited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) showing deceptively edited conversations with Planned Parenthood officials and other abortion providers. Since the videos were released, Bream has often given the group’s misinformation a platform. In the May 31 segment, Bream misleadingly referred to the CMP videos as prompting charges of Planned Parenthood affiliates. In reality, Planned Parenthood has been repeatedly cleared of any wrongdoing. Instead, CMP founder David Daleiden has been frequently embroiled in legal disputes for his part in the CMP videos, and he might be charged with contempt for the recent release of videos barred by an injunction.
Since Planned Parenthood released this year’s report, the claims Bream and Schlapp pushed have been circulating on other right-wing media outlets as well. This conservative echo chamber ignores basic truths about the services Planned Parenthood provides, especially for its low-income clients. During the America’s Newsroom segment, guest Leslie Marshall, a Fox contributor and syndicated radio host, attempted to clarify the importance of Planned Parenthood, but seems to have been somewhat deterred by a disfunctioning ear piece.
By treating Planned Parenthood's annual report as if it contained evidence of illicit activities, Fox News furthered a specious narrative that has real consequences for people's access to reproductive health care.
CMP seemingly tried to avoid an injunction by circulating video footage to anti-choice and right-wing media outlets, rather than publishing it
On May 25, the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a new smear video against the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood. This footage was removed that evening because a district judge had “barred it from release.” Given this injunction, it seems notable that CMP didn’t publicly release or promote the video, and instead relied on anti-choice and right-wing media outlets to spread its claim.
In Story About “Defunding” Planned Parenthood, Wash. Post Favors Comments, Talking Points From Anti-Abortion Figures And Legislators
After the House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) -- a bill that would eliminate Medicaid reimbursements for essential services provided by Planned Parenthood -- The Washington Post’s new health care reporter, Paige Winfield Cunningham, framed her story around reactions of, and misinformation from, anti-abortion organizations and politicians.
On May 4, House GOP members voted to strip health care from an estimated 24 million people by 2026, “including 14 million by next year,” CNN reported, as well as eliminate Medicaid reimbursements for Planned Parenthood. In Winfield Cunningham’s first story about the vote and its effect on Planned Parenthood, she framed the conversation around the “victory” the bill represented “for conservatives who have long sought to undercut the country’s largest abortion provider” and pushed anti-choice misinformation behind such claims.
The only Planned Parenthood representation came in a line summarizing an organization statement as saying “Congress is unfairly singling it out.” In comparison, Winfield Cunningham included quotes from three anti-abortion advocates: Vice President Mike Pence, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). In particular, Winfield Cunningham used statements from McCarthy and Dannenfelser to advance a lopsided narrative heavily favoring the anti-choice talking points that the bill stops “taxpayer funding for abortions” and that community health centers (CHCs) can easily replace Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood is not government-funded, but instead receives Medicaid reimbursements for providing care to low-income patients -- funds that are already prohibited by the Hyde Amendment from supporting abortion care. Although Winfield Cunningham acknowledged this reality -- and mentioned that losing the reimbursements “would be a heavy blow to the group” -- she undercut the point by writing that “conservatives say no abortion provider should get Medicaid reimbursements, even for health services such as cancer screenings and birth control,” because “money is all fungible.”
Right-wing media and anti-choice organizations have long relied on the misleading claim that money is fungible to demand Planned Parenthood be defunded. However, as the Guttmacher Institute explained, this logic is deeply flawed: “Fungibility is an inherent possibility when involving the private sector in any government-subsidized activity, and the only way to avoid it would be for government agencies to exclusively provide any and all such services.” Slate’s Amanda Marcotte also previously debunked the fungibility myth in a 2015 article, noting:
Republicans who tout the “money is fungible” line want you to imagine that Planned Parenthood draws on one big pot of government money for all its services. But since medical services are billed and funded individually, that's not actually how this works.
Winfield Cunningham included a comment from Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) that AHCA would “gut Planned Parenthood, … affecting women across the country” but again undercut his argument by immediately adding (with a supporting quote from Dannenfelser) that “Republicans contend that community health centers have the capacity to care for Medicaid patients” and that these centers allegedly “provide a broader range of services than Planned Parenthood.”
Although anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media say that CHCs can and should replace Planned Parenthood clinics, experts have heavily disputed this claim. For example, Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, wrote:
I have worked with community health centers for nearly 40 years, and no one believes more strongly than I do in their ability to transform the primary health care landscape in medically underserved low-income communities. But a claim that community health centers readily can absorb the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics amounts to a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do were Planned Parenthood to lose over 40 percent of its operating revenues overnight as the result of a ban on federal funding.
What’s more, federal law requires that community health centers be located in communities where there are few other providers. As a result, the notion that there are plenty of community health centers available in those communities to compensate for the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics simply is untrue.
Furthermore, while all Planned Parenthood clinics offer preventive and basic care services, other clinics can be classified as “community health clinics” even if they provide more limited care -- making direct comparisons between the overall numbers a misleading measure of actual health care provision capacity.
Winfield Cunningham appears to be the anchor of the Post’s health care coverage, with the two stories published about Planned Parenthood since the May 4 vote listing her as author or co-author. Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans -- 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through programs including Medicaid. If Winfield Cunningham is going to be leading the Post’s coverage on health care, she owes readers more than lopsided “both sides” reporting that vastly overrepresents anti-choice misinformation that can -- and already has -- resulted in decreased access to essential health care.
*Graphic by Dayanita Ramesh and research support provided by Julie Tulbert
What’s an anti-choice extremist to do when the only person willing to give their blatant misinformation a platform is Sean Hannity?
This was the challenge that discredited anti-choice activist and Center for Medical Progress (CMP) founder David Daleiden faced throughout most of 2016 and early 2017. Daleiden is known for his deceptively edited smear videos attacking Planned Parenthood -- and most recently, his 15 felony charges in California.
In a study of 14 months of evening prime-time cable news coverage in 2015 through early 2016, Media Matters identified at least seven appearances by Daleiden on a variety of Fox News programs. Notably, when Media Matters repeated this analysis on 12 months of coverage from March 7, 2016, through March 1, 2017, Daleiden appeared only once as a guest -- on Sean Hannity’s eponymous program, Hannity.
Daleiden was not the only anti-choice activist whose number of appearances on the network dropped from 2015 to 2017. In 2015 and early 2016, Lila Rose (president and founder of the anti-choice group Live Action) appeared on Fox News programs 10 times to talk about abortion, while extremist hate group leader Tony Perkins appeared six times. In 2017, with the exception of Daleiden, none of these anti-choice extremists appeared on Fox News.
Although anti-abortion spokespeople did make a few one-off appearances during the 12-month period studied by Media Matters, the sustained focus of their media engagement appears to be shifting. They may not frequently appear on Fox News, but here are some of the leading purveyors of anti-choice misinformation:
Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of anti-abortion political organization the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List). Although Dannenfelser helms a sizeable political operation dedicated to promoting anti-choice legislators and legislation, her influence further increased after President Donald Trump appointed her to lead his “Pro-Life Coalition.”
Dannenfelser has spearheaded the administration's anti-choice agenda, supporting the nomination of anti-choice Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the elimination of a rule preventing states from denying Title X family planning funds to abortion providers for non-abortion services, as well as the reinstatement and unprecedented expansion of the Global Gag Rule.
Dannenfelser has increasingly tried to position SBA List as not just a political organization, but also as a self-sustaining media platform for anti-choice misinformation.
In early 2017, Dannenfelser announced a partnership between SBA List and the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) to produce a weekly anti-choice news program, Pro-Life Weekly. Dannenfelser and other representatives from SBA List frequently appear on the program. Most notably, after being charged with 15 felonies, Daleiden gave exclusive comments to EWTN’s Lauren Ashburn before appearing on that week’s episode of Pro-Life Weekly. During the interview, Daleiden told host Catherine Szeltner that the allegations against him were “political prosecutions” and repeated discredited allegations about Planned Parenthood committing “infanticide.”
Dannenfelser also rejects exceptions to abortion bans for reasons of rape, incest, or medical necessity. In 2015, after the U.S. House passed a 20-week abortion ban, Dannenfelser called the bill’s narrow exemptions for rape and incest survivors “regrettable,” “abominable,” and “completely intellectually dishonest.” Dannenfelser also rejected exemptions for the health of the mother. For example, in 2012, she noted that SBA List would not endorse then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney because he supported health exemptions to abortion bans.
Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America (SFLA), an anti-abortion group targeted at audiences from high school through medical and law school.
SFLA and its representatives commonly make the argument that millennials are the “pro-life generation,” an allegation they support with questionable polling. Polling on abortion and related topics is notoriously difficult to conduct and prone to both intentional and unintentional survey bias. Although the full polling methodologies for SFLA’s data are not available, SFLA has most recently relied on organizations with an anti-choice focus to supply its numbers, including The Knights of Columbus, the Susan B. Anthony List, and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway’s polling firm.
Beyond running a year-round field program that develops and assists anti-choice campus groups, SFLA also bills itself as a “one-stop shop” for anti-abortion activism by providing specific programs, materials, and trainings to students free of charge. As part of this service, SFLA regularly partners with a number of anti-abortion organizations including Heartbeat International, March for Life, Americans United for Life, Susan B. Anthony List, The Radiance Foundation, and Family Research Council.
Hawkins has also propagated a number of inaccurate and harmful claims about abortion, abortion providers, and reproductive health. Beyond openly calling for abortion to be stigmatized, Hawkins has also compared her work with that of “slavery abolitionists,” claiming that “there is no difference between fighting against … chattel slavery and fighting ‘to save the pre-born.’” This particular piece of misinformation is frequently promoted by SFLA, which has dedicated a webpage to the myth that Planned Parenthood disproportionately targets black communities with its abortion services.
In a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) training session with then-Rep. Mike Pence (R-IA), Hawkins pushed the medically inaccurate claim that “when you get [an] abortion, you are increasing your risk for breast cancer almost by 50 percent.”
Hawkins has also frequently spread misinformation about the health risks of various contraceptive methods -- calling them “carcinogenic” and “abortion-inducing.” In 2011, she published a blog on the conservative outlet American Thinker’s website titled “Government gone wild” in which she criticized the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for including contraceptive coverage. Hawkins wrote, “Labeling harmful birth control chemicals as ‘health care’ is ridiculous.” In 2013, she complained that advertisements for the ACA were designed to appeal to a love of “sex, beer, and more sex” by suggesting that women can “supposedly have all the free sex they want because birth control pills are complimentary.” During a January 2017 appearance on MSNBC’s AM Joy, Hawkins told host Joy Reid that she would advocate for all contraceptives to be illegal.
Hawkins’ extreme beliefs are not limited to abortion and reproductive health. In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center obtained a leaked membership roster for the Council for National Policy (CNP) -- “a shadowy and intensely secretive group [that] has operated behind the scenes, providing a venue three times a year for powerful American politicians and others on the right to meet privately to build the conservative movement.” Hawkins’ entry in the CNP roster also listed “Marriage Issues,” “Radical Islam,” “Abstinence / Sex Education,” and “Religious Freedom” as areas of interest.
Ryan Bomberger is the co-founder of The Radiance Foundation (TRF) alongside his wife, Bethany. According to Bomberger, The Radiance Foundation is a “faith-based, life-affirming organization to help people understand and embrace their God-given Purpose” through a variety of “creative ad campaigns, powerful multi-media presentations, fearless journalism, and compassionate community outreaches.”
In reality, Bomberger and TRF frequently promote a variety of harmful myths about abortion -- including the allegation that abortion providers are agents of “black genocide.” Anti-choice groups and right-wing media have long attempted to argue (inaccurately) that higher abortion rates among black women reflect an attempt by Planned Parenthood to explicitly target black communities.
Bomberger initially garnered media attention in 2010 after TRF purchased billboards across the country “that label black children as endangered species and declare black women’s wombs ‘the most dangerous place’ for their children.” The billboards directed viewers to the (still operational) website TooManyAborted.com, which is run by TRF in order to “[raise] the public’s awareness of the eugenic racism of Planned Parenthood and the hugely disproportionate impact on black communities.” According to TRF, “Abortion is the number one killer of black lives in the United States,” and organizations like the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Congressional Black Caucus “have done nothing to address this epidemic.”
In addition to operating TooManyAborted.com, TRF promotes materials that cast skepticism on the severity of police “brutality” in comparison to “abortion brutality” and deny the existence of a pay gap between men and women in the workplace.
TRF has also alleged that abortion disenfranchises men and leads to them abandoning pregnant women -- creating a “crisis of fatherlessness.” TRF claims that “abortion has taken the place of fathers” because “men have been empowered by Roe v. Wade to abandon their primary responsibility–protecting.”
Most recently, Bomberger participated in a debate on NPR affiliate WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show against Democratic Maryland Del. Kathleen Dumais. According to Bomberger’s blog post about the exchange, Dumais “had her piles of papers and prepared talking points,” but he “had facts.”
*Graphics by Sarah Wasko
Editorial Board: The Ad Is “Effective,” But “It Is Easy To Make A Point If You Cherry-Pick Information.”
On March 26, The Washington Post’s editorial board highlighted the misleading tactics of the latest Planned Parenthood attack ad from the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List).
SBA List released an ad in February titled “What is Planned Parenthood really about?” to encourage congressional support for defunding Planned Parenthood -- despite the organization’s essential role as a safety net health care provider. The ad contained several points of misinformation about Planned Parenthood’s services and the feasibility of other providers filling the resulting gap if Congress succeeds in defunding its clinics.
As the Post’s editorial board noted, however, while SBA List’s ad may seem “effective in delivering its message ... it is easy to make a point if you cherry-pick information and don’t worry about staying true to the facts.” For example, the ad repeated the frequently debunked argument that defunding Planned Parenthood would create more resources for "real health-care centers for women." As the editorial board explained, the “truth is that a cutoff would tear a huge hole in the safety net for the 2.5 million patients - the majority of them low-income."
From the March 26 editorial:
Not “even a scintilla of evidence.” That was the judgment of a federal judge last month in Texas about allegations of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. He was not alone in finding that the health-care organization did not illegally profit from fetal-tissue donation: Three Republican-led congressional investigations, 13 states and a Texas grand jury all could find no substance to claims about the alleged sale of “baby body parts,” which gained currency through videos released by anti-abortion activists.
It is important to point out these facts in light of an advertising campaign that uses misleading data and half-truths in a bid to whip up support in Congress for a cutoff of federal support to Planned Parenthood. While the would-be cutters suffered a setback with last week’s collapse of the Republicans’ attempted overhaul of health care, which also targeted Planned Parenthood, it is clear the threat remains and that misinformation will continue to be a key weapon.
The ad is effective in delivering its message — but then, it is easy to make a point if you cherry-pick information and don’t worry about staying true to the facts.
The ad’s most pernicious distortion centers on the argument that Congress should redirect the federal dollars that go to Planned Parenthood to “real health-care centers for women.” Studies and real-life practice have established that there simply are not enough community health centers to fill the gap that would be created if Planned Parenthood lost Medicaid funds. The truth is that a cutoff would tear a huge hole in the safety net for the 2.5 million patients — the majority of them low-income — who each year go to Planned Parenthood centers for basic medical needs. Congress should reject it.
During CNN’s Health Care Town Hall, Only Price’s Misleading Claim About The Fungibility Of Planned Parenthood’s Funds Goes Unchecked
During CNN's March 15 town hall with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, CNN's Dana Bash soundly debunked Price's inaccurate arguments about Planned Parenthood in all instances but one: Price's claim that money given to Planned Parenthood was "fungible."
Price -- who has a long history of pushing disastrous health care policies -- used the town hall as an opportunity to mislead viewers about the accessibility of essential care without Planned Parenthood, arguing that community health centers (CHCs) can handle the demands of providing essential care services. He also claimed that defunding Planned Parenthood is necessary because some Americans are concerned that “their federal tax dollars [are] used for abortion services.” Bash rebuked several of Price’s assertions, noting that the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding for abortion and that CHCs could not possibly fill the gap left behind by defunding Planned Parenthood. Bash explained that “105 counties across the country have Planned Parenthood and that is the only clinic offering a full range of contraceptive methods to women.”
Unfortunately, Bash and co-moderator Wolf Blitzer did allow Price to get away with one inaccuracy by letting him claim -- uncorrected -- that eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood is necessary because “that money is fungible," implying that federal funds that go to Planned Parenthood support abortion, even if indirectly. Despite providing robust pushback and asking important follow-up questions during the rest of the forum, Bash and Blitzer moved on from this comment without addressing Price’s dangerous claim.
Voices on the right have long used the argument that money is fungible to discredit Planned Parenthood and call for the defunding of its clinics across the country, suggesting that federal support for the organization’s services indirectly enables or contributes to its ability to provide abortions. But as the Guttmacher Institute points out, this logic is flawed: “Fungibility is an inherent possibility when involving the private sector in any government-subsidized activity, and the only way to avoid it would be for government agencies to exclusively provide any and all such services.” The organization also notes that it is “hypocritical” to claim the “fungibility” problem only in relation to abortion providers, but not with regard to other federally subsidized organizations including religious groups and charities.
Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans nationally, 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through programs including Medicaid. When this many people risk losing access to care, it is imperative for media to use extreme care in addressing the topic, including correcting those like Price when they spread misinformation about the consequences of Republicans’ efforts to upend the American health care system.
Hosts Of The Five Get Everything Wrong About Planned Parenthood In Order To Prop Up Republicans' Disastrous Health Care Bill
After the release of Republicans’ long-awaited plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Fox News’ The Five put on a masterclass in how to get everything wrong about Planned Parenthood’s services and the implications of the attempt to defund the essential health care provider.
Earlier this week, Republicans unveiled their alternative to the ACA, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The proposed bill includes two provisions targeting abortion providers: one that would prohibit federal funds for nonabortion care from going to any organization that privately funds or facilitates abortions, and one that would disincentivize private insurers from offering abortion coverage in their plans. The Daily Beast noted that these provisions “could easily be a one-two punch for low-income women seeking reproductive health care, effectively choking out funding for their local Planned Parenthood clinic while dictating that … they’ll have to pay out-of-pocket or have the foresight to purchase a special abortion insurance rider.”
During Fox News’ The Five, hosts Eric Bolling, Dana Perino, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Greg Gutfeld modeled exactly what media outlets should not do when reporting how the proposed bill would impact access to vital reproductive health care. Although no federal funds can or do support abortion services under current law, the hosts wrongly alleged that Planned Parenthood uses federal money to cover abortions in addition to spreading the debunked myth that community health centers (CHCs) can compensate for the loss of the organization’s essential services:
MYTH: Planned Parenthood gets federal funding to pay for abortion services.
FACT: The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal abortion funding -- with negative consequences for abortion access.
Right-wing media and administration officials like Kellyanne Conway have long insisted that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer money to fund abortion services -- despite a longstanding prohibition on the use of federal funds for this purpose.
Since 1977, the Hyde Amendment has barred the use of federal Medicaid funds to cover abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life. In January, the House of Representatives voted to codify and dangerously expand the Hyde Amendment -- making The Five co-host Eric Bolling’s March 7 allegation that federal funds being used for abortion was a “gray area of Planned Parenthood” even more baseless than when he made the same claim in December 2015.
Although the Hyde Amendment prohibits even the allocation of federal funds for abortion, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle argued that “some of the federal funding from the United States government is allotted for abortion services” and that “federal funds should not be marked [for abortion].”
To his credit, Fox’s Bob Beckel -- guest co-hosting during the March 7 segment -- attempted to refute his colleagues’ claims by explaining the Hyde Amendment and its implications for abortion funding. Unfortunately, Bolling interrupted Beckel, and admonished him that the hosts were "all familiar with the Hyde Amendment.”
Missing from the conversation was the devastating impact that provisions like the Hyde Amendment have on abortion access for the most vulnerable. A 2016 report from the Guttmacher Institute detailed the act’s effects on low-income and marginalized communities, finding that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services.
MYTH: Community health centers can easily and seamlessly replace Planned Parenthood clinics.
FACT: Planned Parenthood is an essential and irreplaceable primary and reproductive health care provider.
Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans nationally, 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through programs including Medicaid. Nevertheless, right-wing media and anti-choice lawmakers frequently -- and erroneously -- argue that the organization’s funds should be shifted to “community health clinics” (CHCs).
During the March 7 edition of The Five, co-host Dana Perino echoed these claims about the alleged capacity of CHCs to replace Planned Parenthood. Perino stated that funding would transition from Planned Parenthood to CHCs, and that there wasn’t “going to be enough acceptance of that” among objectors to the AHCA.
Ignoring the fact that many CHCs don’t facilitate or support access to contraceptives, Perino also puzzlingly argued that Republicans would compromise on defunding Planned Parenthood by making contraceptives more accessible over the counter and at other clinics. In response to a question from Bolling, Perino further clarified that she thought Republicans would “try to get [Planned Parenthood’s] funding pulled but be able to provide access” to contraceptives through CHCs that would “handle this better than Planned Parenthood.”
Although anti-choice lawmakers believe CHCs could absorb patient demand should access to Planned Parenthood be eliminated, experts call this claim “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.”
While Planned Parenthood clinics all offer preventive and basic care services, clinics can qualify to be classified as “community health clinics” while providing more limited care -- making direct comparisons between the overall numbers a misleading measure of actual health care provision capacity.
Beyond questions of CHC’s capacity, Perino also missed the memo that transitioning contraceptives from a prescription-based product to an over-the-counter one would make this essential form of care prohibitively expensive and put it out of reach for many. As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci reported in 2016, “taking birth control out of the realm of insurances” only sounds “like a win to people who don’t want the government” providing contraception.
MYTH: Abortion is wrong, “vile,” “sick,” or socially unacceptable.
FACT: Abortion is a common and overwhelmingly safe medical procedure.
Abortion stigma is the “shared understanding” that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable. This belief is reinforced through media coverage, popular culture, and by a lack of accurate information among many about the procedure itself.
Despite the fact that abortion is both common and overwhelmingly safe, right-wing media and anti-choice groups have consistently attempted to “exploit the stigma of abortion” to restrict access to the procedure and shame providers and patients alike.
During the March 7 edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld claimed that funding Planned Parenthood forces people to “pay for someone else’s abortion,” which he called “a moral intrusion.” Ignoring the reality that taxpayer money doesn’t support abortion services, Gutfeld continued that pro-choice advocates’ goal is to “dehumanize the unborn child to a mass of cells” -- a common right-wing media allegation that perpetuates abortion stigma by casting those who have abortions as “selfish” or “sickening.”
Abortion is a vital and essential part of comprehensive reproductive health care. As Steph Herold wrote for Rewire, separating “abortion from the rest of reproductive health care ignores the reality that millions of people across the country need access to abortion services, and that abortion services are a crucial part of family planning services.”
A transcript of the March 7 edition of The Five is below:
ERIC BOLLING: President Trump is offering the abortion provider a deal. The funding will stay if abortion goes away. Planned Parenthood has rejected that offer, saying they will always stand for women's ability to make decisions about their health and lives without interference from politicians. OK, bring it around, K.G. I think the offer -- look, as it stands, federal funding can't be used for abortions, but that’s that gray area of Planned Parenthood.
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: Right, certainly. So what he's doing is he's trying to make compromise -- he has acknowledged in the past that in fact Planned Parenthood does provide valuable medical services and screening for women. It does. The problem they have is that it is morally objectionable to millions of Americans that some of the federal funding from the United States government is allotted for abortion services. So the president is saying, you also take in a tremendous amount of money from private resources and donations. Perhaps you should earmark those funds that are private, do with it what you will, that's their business for their organization. But federal funds should not be marked for that.
BOLLING: Well let me get Dana in.
BOB BECKEL: Of course. Get the women in first.
BOLLING: Your thoughts on both the Trump administration and the Planned Parenthood response.
DANA PERINO: I think this was a chance for President Trump to fulfill a campaign promise, and social conservatives really want this, Republicans want this. And remember when they were going to shut down the government last year when Republicans were all mad and they said the one thing that they really were mad about was that the Republicans weren't able to pull funding for Planned Parenthood. Even though Planned Parenthood itself actually has a pretty good approval rating, so it was harder back home. There were some senators, like Susan Collins of Maine , I think, who said that this shouldn't be in the Obamacare bill at all. Or I guess what we are calling it the American Health Care Act.
The money, instead they are saying, will go to community health care centers. I don't know if there's going to be enough acceptance of that. Cecile Richard of Planned Parenthood, they’re going to fight tooth and nail. And I think what will actually end up happening is Republicans will put on the table that they believe that access to contraception should be available easily over the counter. And that that would be a way to maybe try to get this funding pulled but be able to provide access to the kind of products that they provide there.
BOLLING: So, get it straight, Greg, I think, are you saying provide funds but earmark it for contraception --
PERINO: Well, the money would go to community health centers, and arguably the community health centers would say, ‘Oh, well we can handle this better than Planned Parenthood.’
GREG GUTFELD: Well, I mean. It comes to down to, if you believe that abortion is the taking of a life, then forcing you to pay for somebody else's abortion is a moral intrusion. That's the argument. I am amazed how the media salutes conscientious objectors over war but not abortion. And so instead what -- the goal here is to dehumanize the unborn child to a mass of cells. So it's like medical procedure, like getting a mole review -- a mole removed. So therefore somebody else could pay for it. So someone has to speak up for those who cannot speak up for those who cannot speak themselves which is why this dialogue, wherever it goes, is important. Because you are actually talking about this question.
BOLLING: Why can't Planned Parenthood just decide to have one service for abortion and separated with a Chinese wall and all the other services?
BOB BECKEL: They do. I hate to correct my learned colleagues. They actually have degrees. But there are not a single dime of federal dollars going to abortion. Something called the Hyde amendment. Henry Hyde made it --
BOLLING: We're all familiar with the Hyde Amendment --
BECKEL: Well --
BOLLING: But if 80 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion --
BECKEL: No, it's not even close to that!
BOLLING: And we're giving them $300 million a year, then --
BECKEL: You're not asking the taxpayers a single thing for an abortion. Planned Parenthood does among other things, a lot of screening, a lot of mammograms, they save a lot of lives. And the idea that he would take on all of this -- first of all he was pro-choice when he was thinking about running for mayor 15 years ago. And the other thing, he has no idea. He doesn't know what Planned Parenthood does.
Register’s Editorial Board Showed Local Papers What Questions To Ask When Anti-Choice Lawmakers Threaten Access To Essential Care
As conservatives on Capitol Hill threaten to defund Planned Parenthood under dubious pretenses, Iowa’s Des Moines Register is modeling how state papers should handle efforts by local anti-choice lawmakers to do the same.
The Register’s editorial board called on Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) to “sit down and write the names of the entities that can provide comprehensive family planning services in Iowa” before following through on his budget plan to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood. The paper quoted Branstad saying that his plan “redirects family planning money to organizations that focus on providing health care for women and eliminates taxpayer funding for organizations that perform abortions.”
Branstad’s plan comes from a familiar anti-choice playbook. To justify defunding Planned Parenthood, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians in a number of states have wrongly claimed that the organization uses taxpayer money to subsidize abortion services. Although in reality, the government reimburses Planned Parenthood only for non-abortion services, and that money is provided via Medicaid, lawmakers use this incorrect allegation to demand that funds be shifted to so-called “community health clinics” (CHC). Lawmakers believe these CHCs could absorb patient demand should access to Planned Parenthood be eliminated -- a claim experts call “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.”
By demanding specifics from conservatives who claim that there are numerous “alternatives” to Planned Parenthood, the Register modeled the kind of reporting local outlets should be doing about threats to defund essential health care in their communities.
Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans nationally, 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through Medicaid. In Iowa, this process is facilitated through the Iowa Family Planning Network (IFPN) waiver program, which gives patients the option to receive “a form of limited insurance coverage” through Medicaid that covers “basic family planning services.”
As the Register noted, Branstad “must know that many of the more than 30,000 Iowans obtaining services made possible by the waiver receive them from Planned Parenthood,” which means that if he “rejects this particular organization, he should specify exactly who has the statewide ability to take its place.”
There’s ample reason to believe that this task will prove impossible for the long-serving anti-choice governor. As the Register reported, providers have already warned state officials that there “are not enough providers in Iowa to absorb the patients Planned Parenthood of the Heartland currently serves.”
Rather than taking Branstad or other anti-choice lawmakers at their word about the viability of so-called alternatives, the Register performed a critical journalistic function and demanded to know what these facilities were, and whether they have the capacity to meet the medical needs of low-income patients across the state.
Beyond asking Branstad to name specific alternatives to Planned Parenthood, the Register also asked that the list exclude clinics that are “no longer in business” and include only facilities that “actually provide family planning services.”
This may seem like an odd stipulation, but the Register’s specific question about alternative providers’ actual services is exactly the kind of scrutiny local outlets should apply when lawmakers threaten to radically alter the infrastructure of essential health care systems.
Across the country, anti-choice lawmakers have conflated the total number of CHCs with the much smaller number of those facilities that are actually equipped to provide primary care and family planning services. As the Register explained:
Florida lawmakers learned that lesson the hard way. After passing an anti-Planned Parenthood bill last year, they sought to demonstrate there were numerous, alternative providers. Their list became a national joke because it included the names of elementary and middle schools, dental practices and at least one eye clinic.
While Planned Parenthood clinics all offer preventive and basic care services, CHCs can qualify for that classification while providing more limited care -- making direct comparisons between the overall numbers a misleading measure of actual health care provision capacity.
By demanding specific answers about threats to defund Planned Parenthood, The Des Moines Register’s editorial board provided a model for local outlets to critically interrogate claims by lawmakers about so-called alternatives -- questions that are essential when access to health care is on the line.
Joy Reid Models Four Must-Do’s When Reporting On Reproductive Rights Topics During The Trump Administration
During the January 8 edition of MSNBC’s AM Joy, host Joy Reid put on a master class in how to cover anti-choice lawmakers’ latest attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.
The Sunday after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Republicans would prioritize defunding the essential health care provider, Reid demonstrated four best practices for reporting on reproductive rights topics: hosting diverse guests, discussing the material consequences of policy decisions, including personal testimony in reports, and emphasizing the disparate impact of anti-choice laws on marginalized communities.
Planned Parenthood is an essential health care provider for millions of Americans -- many of them low-income patients reliant on Medicaid to access primary care. To justify defunding Planned Parenthood, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have falsely claimed that the organization’s primary goal is to coerce women into having abortions using taxpayer money.
In reality, this could not be further from the truth. Due to the Hyde Amendment, the federal government is already barred from funding abortion services. Instead, the government reimburses Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services provided to low-income patients via Medicaid -- just like any other health care provider. Although right-wing media argue that so-called “community health clinics” (CHCs) could absorb this patient demand should Planned Parenthood clinics close, experts agree that CHCs lack the capacity, experience, and resources to replace Planned Parenthood.
In its coverage of the defunding effort, AM Joy set the standard for reporting the consequences of congressional Republicans’ politically motivated attack on health care access -- and other outlets should take note.
During the January 8 segment, Reid hosted two women to discuss the impacts of defunding Planned Parenthood: the organization's president, Cecile Richards, and the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), Jessica González-Rojas.
In a previous study of prime-time cable news coverage of reproductive rights topics, Media Matters found that networks relied heavily on male panelists to discuss the consequences of policy decisions about abortion and reproductive rights issues. This problem of representation is also more generally borne out across the Sunday political talk shows, which have overwhelmingly relied on guests who are white, conservative, and male.
Hosting diverse guests is essential to providing in-depth, quality coverage of many topics. Non-white and non-male perspectives in newsrooms are often rare, a trend that should incite concern not only about equality but also about coverage accuracy.
AM Joy also focused on the material impacts of defunding Planned Parenthood -- not just the political spectacle of the legislative fight.
At the start of the segment, Reid immediately debunked the pervasive conservative arguments about the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood:
JOY REID: Let’s be clear about this so-called defunding legislation -- what it would really do. It would prohibit Medicaid recipients from obtaining any kind of services from Planned Parenthood. We're not talking about abortion services because federal law already prohibits those being paid for with federal dollars. We're talking no cancer screenings, no contraception, no STD testing, no medical services as all. The defunding will be packaged with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which is currently providing health insurance to 22 million people and counting.
Richards and González-Rojas each provided examples of the consequences that defunding Planned Parenthood would have for a number of patients across the country. As Richards explained, “Any senator who votes [to defund] is hurting women in their own home state” because they are “essentially saying to low-income women, 'You can't go to Planned Parenthood for your cancer screenings and birth control.’”
González-Rojas agreed, adding that when Indiana denied Planned Parenthood state Medicaid reimbursements, “we saw an STI outbreak,” and when Texas blocked the reimbursements, “we saw the rates of unintended pregnancy and birth increasing. We heard stories of women splitting birth control pills to make it last longer.”
Throughout the January 8 segment, Reid emphasized personal testimony from herself, Richards, and González-Rojas about relying on Planned Parenthood for essential health care.
Reid noted that Planned Parenthood was “the place where, when I graduated from college and had no money and was broke and had a low-paying job, [I] got all my health care.” Richards echoed the sentiment, explaining that “one in five women in this country go to Planned Parenthood for health care in their lifetime, including me, including you.”
AM Joy also provided a platform to discuss the disparate impact of anti-choice laws, which have a greater impact on marginalized communities than on other groups.
As González-Rojas explained:
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: I think a good example comes from Texas when we saw the defunding of a lot of the family planning services in Texas. We saw a health crisis happen. We saw health disparities happen. Things like cervical cancer, which is largely preventable, Latinas had huge rates of cervical cancer and that's something that they shouldn't have happen in their life. If they have access to regular screenings, paps, mammograms -- all the services that Planned Parenthood provides -- those types of things would be prevented. So this is a disproportionate impact on communities of color, on immigrant communities, on low-income women and families, young people, so a fight against Planned Parenthood is a fight against our communities.
Because the economics of accessing necessary health care are already so precarious for many communities, networks and outlets should emphasize the disproportionate impact anti-choice laws have on these groups whenever possible.
Texas media are omitting crucial information in reports on the state’s move to cut off Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood, including that Texas’ decision was largely based on debunked videos by an anti-abortion activist group, the Center for Medical Progress, and that the move will negatively impact women’s health. In contrast, reporting by online outlets geared toward women put Texas media to shame, explaining that the evidence behind the policy decision is misleading and that the defunding will have dire consequences for women’s health in Texas.
How A Discredited Anti-Choice Group Became A Primary Source Of Misinformation For A Congressional Witch Hunt Against Abortion Patients, Providers, And Clinics
Since its inception in October 2015, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives has used numerous documents taken from the discredited organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and other anti-choice groups to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Scores of media outlets have confirmed that the footage shows no illegal behavior by, or on behalf of, Planned Parenthood, while 14 investigations to date have cleared the organization of all wrongdoing.
Colorado Abortion Provider To Anti-Choice Lawmakers: “The Blood Of Any Of Us Who Are Assassinated Is On Your Hands.”
November 27 marked the one-year anniversary of a deadly shooting attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood center that killed three and wounded nine more.
In July 2015, the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a series of deceptively edited videos falsely alleging wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood employees. Multiple investigations have not only cleared Planned Parenthood, but also consistently debunked the fraudulent claims the organization has advanced. Nevertheless, right-wing media and anti-choice lawmakers have continued to attack providers and spread misinformation about the essential services they provide. This campaign of misinformation makes reproductive health care less accessible, but also incites violence against clinics, patients, and providers.
From the inception of CMP’s smear campaign, right-wing media were among the most enthusiastic champions of the anti-choice group’s misinformation. For example, following the release of CMP’s second video on July 21, 2015, Fox News dedicated 10 segments across seven separate programs to hyping the deceptively edited footage in a single day. In addition, Media Matters found that during a 14-month period (from January 1, 2015, through March 6, 2016), Fox News’ evening news programs frequently relied on extreme anti-choice figures and misinformation to promote CMP’s fraudulent claims about Planned Parenthood and abortion.
The Washington Post reported the day after the attack that the Colorado Springs shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, explained his actions using the phrase “no more baby parts” -- mirroring the language used by CMP to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing. Media Matters found that Fox News and Fox Business were responsible for 83 of 119 mentions of the phrase “baby parts” or “parts of babies” on major cable news networks’ reports about the release of CMP’s videos before the subsequent Colorado Springs attack. In comparison, Fox spent just 30 seconds covering reports that Dear stated, “I’m guilty. There’s no trial. … I’m a warrior for the babies,” during his first court appearance on December 9, 2015.
In fact, right-wing media have continually dismissed anti-choice violence and resisted classifying such attacks as acts of terrorism. Rather than account for the severity of anti-choice violence, right-wing media have instead denied its systemic nature, downplayed incidents, and dismissed individuals like the Colorado Springs gunman as anomalous “kooks.”
For example, on the June 21 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly downplayed the dangers of clinic violence, claiming he was unable to remember a time when “a Christian blew up an abortion clinic.” Previously, in December 2015, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson wrote that he was surprised “more Planned Parenthood facilities and abortionists are not being targeted” and suggested that such violence was only “getting rarer.”
Prior to the Colorado Springs attack, the FBI released an intelligence assessment that warned of an increase in violence against abortion providers and clinics. This assessment was later supported by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which found that in 2015 there was a “dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder” of abortion providers that coincided with CMP’s incendiary allegations and rhetoric. NAF president and CEO Vicki Saporta noted that the ninefold increase in harassment and threats of abortion providers in the month after the release of the first CMP videos was “unprecedented.”
The FBI’s warning was prescient. After Dear allegedly carried out his deadly attack, a clinic in St. Louis was vandalized while a Washington man was arrested for making death threats against employees of StemExpress, the biomedical company targeted in several of the discredited CMP videos. As reported by The News Tribune, Scott Anthony Orton posted more than 18 different threatening messages online before he was arrested. In April 2016, Orton pleaded guilty to threatening StemExpress employees.
In May, The New York Times reported that MedStar Washington Hospital Center in D.C. barred abortion provider Dr. Diane J. Horvath-Cosper from publicly speaking about the need for greater abortion access. The hospital’s medical director issued the gag order after the Colorado Springs attack “out of concerns for security,” saying he didn’t want to draw attention to MedStar’s abortion and reproductive health care services in the nation’s capital.
A Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton, WI, was forced to close its doors due to security concerns in August 2016. This move left “any patient who does not live in Madison or Milwaukee” without a nearby provider, according to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin director of government relations Nicole Safar.
More recently, an Alaskan man, Robert Joseph Klima, was indicted in November for making threatening phone calls to a Planned Parenthood call center, claiming he would bomb an Anchorage clinic. Alaska Dispatch News reported that Kilma made multiple calls and insisted that “he knew how to carry out the destruction of the building.”
Despite the clear threat posed when the names and details about abortion providers are made public, a congressional panel created to investigate Planned Parenthood has worked to expose even more such information. And the panel -- the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- has consistently relied on CMP and other anti-choice groups to fuel its politically motivated attacks on abortion access.
Established in October 2015, the select panel has been criticized by mainstream media outlets for its “Benghazi treatment” of Planned Parenthood -- prompting numerous lawmakers to call for its disbandment. Although the panel has found no substantial evidence of wrongdoing during its tenure, Rewire reported that congressional leadership approved a request for additional funding that would “more than doubl[e] the total cost of the investigation," bringing it to $1.59 million. Equally concerning, extreme anti-choice groups like Operation Rescue have asked House Speaker Paul Ryan to extend the sham investigation beyond its originally authorized end date in December 2016.
The select panel Republicans have already been criticized for showing little concern for the safety of the targets of their investigation. In June, select panel chairman Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and her colleagues failed to redact identifying information about abortion providers and patients from subpoenaed documents. Similarly, the select panel Republicans have also publicly released identifying information about abortion providers whom they believe (but have not proved) were involved in malfeasance.
Just this month, Warren Hern -- a late-term abortion provider who lives just hours from Colorado Springs in Boulder, CO -- received a letter from Blackburn implying that he has been involved in wrongdoing and demanding information about Hern and his practice.
In response, Hern lambasted Blackburn, writing that her “clear and unabashed purpose is to obstruct women seeking abortions, to control their lives, and to crush physicians who help them.” He dismissed Blackburn’s allegations as “outrageous,” “patently false,” and based on an “unfounded fantasy” while warning of the danger the panel’s attacks posed to women’s health and scientific advancement. Hern also warned Blackburn that her attempts to demonize abortion providers and ally with anti-choice groups threatened the safety of providers, their patients, and clinic staff:
I am determined to give my patients the safest possible medical care in a humane and dignified environment that supports their emotional and social needs to the fullest extent possible. I have a superior staff of nurses, counselors, and other health professionals who are dedicated to help these women and their families. Your sordid exploitation of this activity for political purposes places all of us -- patients, physicians, and all members of my staff -- at risk of violent retaliation by anti-abortion fanatics. You know this. This is not some paranoid fantasy. A number of physicians specializing in abortion services have been assassinated, on at least one occasion in the physician’s church, and numerous other people, including an off-duty police office and one physician’s bodyguard, have been murdered in cold blood by anti-abortion fanatics, each assassin a so-called “peaceful” anti-abortion protester up until the moment of the murder.
When is the last time you ever spoke out and condemned these senseless and spineless murders?
You and your Republican Party are vigorously allied with a violent terrorist movement that threatens the lives of women, their families, and health care workers. As part of this shame “investigation,” your letter to me and letters to other physicians constitute a program of target identification for anti-abortion assassins. You can deny this, but it is a fact.
Your “investigation” is legislative harassment that endangers our lives. The blood of any of us who are assassinated is on your hands.
While anti-choice groups and lawmakers continue targeting abortion providers like Hern, the people of Colorado Springs are still healing from a violent attack on their community fueled by extreme anti-abortion sentiments.
In October 2016, several survivors of the Planned Parenthood attack spoke to Cosmopolitan about their experience and continuing fears of becoming targets of anti-choice violence. But as the clinic manager explained, “We have come through this and are stronger.” She concluded: “We are going to be there for this community because they need us.”
“Partial-Birth” Abortion Is A Right-Wing Media Myth Used To Completely Eliminate Abortion Access After 20 Weeks
During the final presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump invoked the right-wing media 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’s “scare rhetoric” about so-called “partial-birth” abortion is both misinformed and problematic, but the issue goes beyond his repetition of this particular stigmatizing, anti-choice talking point. Media take note: Trump isn’t just echoing right-wing media myths about abortions occurring moments before live full-term birth; he’s using them to advocate for an unconstitutional ban on all abortions after 20 weeks.
If elected, Trump has promised a panacea to right-wing media’s favorite anti-choice complaints: He’s promised a “national ban on [all] abortions after 20 weeks,” committed to “defunding Planned Parenthood,” and even pledged to appoint “pro-life justices” who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade.
Trump’s anti-choice agenda, much like the right-wing media myths at its foundation, fails to account for the realities of abortion, or those who have them.
The term “partial-birth” -- and by extension Trump’s misleading description -- is a fiction conjured up by anti-choice groups to vilify and shame individuals who have an abortion later in pregnancy. Although approximately 99 percent of abortions in the United States take place before the 20th week of pregnancy, the Supreme Court has explicitly protected the right to an abortion beyond this point when the life or health of the mother is endangered. As a result, some courts have rejected late-term abortion bans that either exclude these exemptions or attempt to restrict abortion prior to the point of fetal viability.
For Trump and right-wing media to suggest women impudently or frivolously terminate pregnancies at the 20th week or beyond is not just insulting, but also a blatant misrepresentation of the circumstances many women face. As Vox’s Emily Crockett explained, women can obtain an abortion at this stage only when "there is something seriously wrong with either the fetus or her own health." She continued that "pretending otherwise" not only "misrepresents reality," but also “inspire[s] legislation that does real harm to women who have to make heartbreaking medical decisions very late in pregnancy” by eliminating their access to a necessary medical procedure.
Unfortunately, these lived realities appear unimportant to Trump, who pushes what Talking Points Memo called “a grossly inaccurate view of abortion in the United States.” Rolling Stone concluded that “nowhere in [the third debate] was his ignorance on brighter, flashier display than on the subject of late-term abortion.”
Following the debate, Breitbart News published its approximation of a fact-check: an inaccurate article claiming that Trump’s description of “partial-birth” abortions as “ripping babies apart” was “correct.” To reach this conclusion, the article conflated the “dilation and extraction” (D&X) procedure -- which it described as “puncturing the skull [of the fetus] with scissors” -- with the legal, and most common, late-term abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation (D&E).
In Gonzales v. Carhart, the Supreme Court decided that although D&X procedures could be prohibited under the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, banning the vastly different -- and in fact, medically necessary -- D&E procedure constituted an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to an abortion. As Justice Kennedy explained, “The Act does not proscribe D&E,” which was found by a district court “to have extremely low rates of medical complications.” Clearly, the procedure being described by the Supreme Court as both legal and safe is a far cry from Breitbart News’ “partial-birth” abortion fever dream.
In a similar show of ignorance, during the October 20 edition of The O’Reilly Factor, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly denounced women’s health exemptions for late-term abortion because “the health of the mother could be anything.” O’Reilly previously had the audacity to suggest that women abuse health exemptions by fabricating conditions like sprained hands or headaches because they have glibly decided to terminate pregnancies, even if the “kid is going to be born next week.”
After a campaign steeped in misogyny, it’s not surprising that these are the right-wing media talking points Trump has adopted about abortion. And they are every bit as insulting, ignorant, and inaccurate as when anti-choice groups first invented them in order to stigmatize both abortion and those who exercise their constitutionally protected right to have one.