Reproductive Rights | Media Matters for America

Reproductive Rights

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  • Abortion opponents celebrate Kavanaugh’s confirmation as their chance to end Roe v. Wade

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, anti-abortion advocates stopped downplaying the newest justice’s stance on abortion rights. Instead, once Kavanaugh had secured the necessary votes in the Senate, abortion opponents celebrated his confirmation as an opportunity to end Roe v. Wade once and for all.

    On October 6, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court despite multiple credible reports that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault when he was in high school and college. In order to generate support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, some right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates argued that Kavanaugh would not pose a threat to Roe or abortion rights in general. This was belied by Kavanaugh’s record on abortion access and comments about Roe and contraception before and during his confirmation hearing.

    After his confirmation, abortion opponents dropped this pretense and celebrated Kavanaugh for what he always was: the culmination of years of work by conservative and anti-abortion activists to reverse Roe. Here are some examples:

    Anti-abortion advocates celebrated the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List and frequent White House guest, tweeted in celebration that “Beautiful change is afoot. The wheels are turning.” During the confirmation process, Dannenfelser tweeted in support of Kavanaugh following reports that he had previously committed sexual assault, saying that the anti-abortion movement was not going to “help destroy a man” as part of a “PR image” to appear “pro woman.”
    • Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said in a press release, “For the first time in decades, this nomination -- his nomination -- brought with it the reality of returning to a truly constitutionalist court. Many on the Left couldn’t stand such a thought. And for that, he and his family have paid a tremendous price. … Today was a major step in the journey to restore the Constitution to its rightful and intended role in our Republic.” The idea of “returning to a truly constitutional court” or being a “strict constitutionalist” is often used by anti-abortion advocates to indicate coded support for overturning Roe because they do not believe the Constitution supports the Supreme Court’s decision.
    • Students for Life of America tweeted, “What do you call someone attacked viciously by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and every other anti-life group in the country? Justice.”
    • National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis tweeted, “Just got a fundraising email from Planned Parenthood with the subject line ‘we’re heartbroken.’ I’m not usually a huge fan of spiking the football but...that feels pretty good.”
    • The Federalist’s Bre Payton tweeted, “the tears... they taste... delicious” in response to an actor expressing distress over Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
    • In response to a tweet from NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Ilyse Hogue that “it’s okay to feel anything right now” about Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Media Research Center’s Katie Yoder replied, “Even happiness?”

    Some abortion opponents celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a sign that Roe v. Wade could be weakened or even imminently overturned

    • After Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted a picture of a baby and said, “Soon, babies like this little angel will be protected in the womb by law.” King recently met with President Donald Trump to discuss his proposed federal heartbeat bill that would effectively ban abortion in the U.S.
    • White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said that by nominating Kavanaugh, Trump was fulfilling his promise to appoint justices who would overturn Roe, and that now “people are going to look at state law and circuit law” to determine the legality of abortion. Since former Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement in June, this talking point has been used frequently by abortion opponents to suggest that overturning Roe wouldn’t outlaw abortion, but would instead return power to regulate reproductive rights to the states. However, this argument ignores both the difficulties of accessing abortion -- particularly for low-income people -- in states that could ban or restrict abortion, as well as abortion rights’ precarious reliance on a handful of pro-choice governors and state legislatures.
    • Priests for Life’s Bryan Kemper celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation and outlined what he thought the process would now be for banning abortion nationwide:

    • Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman said in a press release about Kavanaugh’s confirmation that Roe was a "wrongly decided ruling that has cost over 60 million innocent lives. I understand that overturning that horrendous decision will take time, but I believe we are now at last on the final road to accomplishing our goal of ending abortion in America.”
    • Similarly, March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said, “The Supreme Court plays a critical role in pro-life policy and has for decades. We look forward to Justice Kavanaugh’s tenure on the bench and the impact his dedicated public service will have towards creating a country where every human life is valued and protected equally under the law.”
    • The state anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life tweeted, “Texas Right to Life is optimistic that Judge Kavanaugh will prove to be a principled justice who will consistently recognize the Right to Life of all human beings.”
    • On Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress said that he had “never seen Christians as stirred up about anything” as the Kavanaugh confirmation because “they knew that what really was at issue was the fear by the left that if Justice Kavanaugh got on the court, he might diminish in some way the number of babies being murdered every year through abortion -- that he would chip away at Roe v. Wade.”
    • Students for Life of America (SFLA) President Kristan Hawkins tweeted, “It’s done! Onward to reverse Roe and #abolishabortion!! This is the #prolifegen!”
    • On the day of the Senate confirmation vote, SFLA also posted a video titled “We Can Overturn Roe v. Wade.” The video argued that “the end of Roe v. Wade is in our sights now that Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States” and also outlined how Kavanaugh could be the fifth vote to overturn Roe. In the video, Hawkins also emphasized that allowing states to regulate abortion would be advantageous to the anti-abortion movement because SFLA has chapters in every state that would work to outlaw abortion entirely. Here are some screenshots from the video:

    Other abortion opponents used Kavanaugh’s confirmation to mock or attack those opposed to Kavanaugh

    • Eric Barber, a councilman in West Virginia, posted and then deleted a comment in a private Facebook group saying, “Better get you’re (sic) coathangers ready liberals” in response to the news that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was voting for Kavanaugh.
    • American Life League tweeted:

    • One America News’ Liz Wheeler, who has promoted conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood, tweeted:

    • CRTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey -- best known for her fake interview with politician Alexandria Ocasio Cortez -- celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation and lambasted Democrats for their “debased, depraved tactics” and accused protesters of being “unhinged.”
    • Human Coalition’s Lauren Enriquez tweeted that she was “grateful to those men” in the Senate who voted to confirm Kavanaugh “for not letting tantrums interrupt the democratic process.”
    • In response to a video of an anti-Kavanaugh protester, Human Defense Initiative’s Devin Sena tweeted, “Purely demonic. Satan isn't happy that one day soon God's children will be allowed to be born.” As the Senate appeared likely to confirm Kavanaugh, Sena tweeted in celebration, “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton are without question the most egregiously unconstitutional decisions of all time. It's past time they are overturned! #ConfirmKavanaugh.”
    • Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger -- who was sentenced to prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in 1987, and has recently promoted Qanon conspiracy theories -- tweeted in response to a video of anti-Kavanaugh protesters:

  • The March for Black Women: They stand up, they fight, and they vote, and it's time media took notice

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO & MILES LE

    During the 2018 March for Black Women, Black womxn and allies marched in Washington, D.C., to protest the systemic injustices they face and to disavow systemic over-policing, gender-based violence, sexual assault, wealth inequity, and lack of political response to securing Black womxn’s basic rights. Protesters also spoke about the media’s failure to adequately cover their causes.

    Black womxn have long been the leading forces in social justice movements. They stand up, they fight, and they vote. It’s about time media start highlighting their invaluable leadership and elevate their voices as they fight for social change.

  • Here are the extreme reactions of abortion opponents to reports of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez reported that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them, and Julie Swetnick attested that he was present during her own assault, numerous abortion opponents vitriolically attacked the three women and those supporting them.

    On September 16, professor Ford told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school. This report was followed by an article in The New Yorker in which Ramirez said she was sexual assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were both at Yale. On September 26, Swetnick detailed her own experiences of attending parties with Kavanaugh at which she both witnessed and experienced sexual assault.

    Prior to these reports, leaders in the anti-abortion movement tried conflicting tactics to gin up support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, as he will likely be a fifth vote on the court to overturn or curtail the protections for abortion access in Roe v. Wade. Before his confirmation hearing, abortion opponents and right-wing media downplayed Kavanaugh’s views on abortion by saying he wouldn’t overturn Roe, and, if he did, it would be inconsequential for abortion access (which is wrong). After the hearing, anti-abortion movement leaders celebrated Kavanaugh’s comments on abortion rights and attacked pro-choice Democrats and activists who opposed Kavanaugh based on his likely view on Roe.

    As reports about Kavanaugh emerged, anti-abortion advocates attempted to discredit the women and attack Democrats who supported them. Some also continued to blame opposition to Kavanaugh on Democrats’ view that he would threaten abortion rights. Here are some examples:

    Abortion opponents had some extreme reactions to reports from several women that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them

    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue tweeted a link to a bizarre website that claimed Ford’s account was politically motivated because of the potential impact Kavanaugh’s confirmation would have on the production of a so-called abortion pill. This is a false claim attempting to conflate her research for a pharmaceutical company that develops mifepristone “to control hyperglycemia associated with Cushing's syndrome” with pills used in medication abortions:

    • Anti-abortion blogger The Activist Mommy attacked high school students who participated in the #BelieveSurvivors walkout (as well as Ford and Ramirez), saying, “People lie, ya know? Especially the rabid vagina-hat-type of chicks! You little boys are such an embarrassment to America. Get back in class & actually read your government textbook for a few seconds.” On September 26, she posted a video in which she repeated the smear that Ford works for the company that manufactures a so-called abortion pill and said that Democratic opposition to Kavanaugh is “about abortion, not assault.”
    • Bud and Tara Shaver, who run the anti-abortion group Abortion Free New Mexico (formerly known as Protest ABQ), tweeted that “any more delay” in the Senate’s vote on Kavanaugh “is anarchy/mob-rule.”
    • On September 19, The New York Times’ Ross Douthat argued that supporting Kavanaugh could hurt the anti-abortion movement. Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser disputed this characterization, defending anti-abortion groups’ support for Kavanaugh, and tweeted in response:

    • The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland tweeted that “the Democrats MUST not be rewarded for their outrageous behavior or there will be no end to this...but there may be an end to our country.” Following reports from Swetnick about Kavanaugh’s possible presence when she was sexually assaulted (as well as her account of witnessing instances of Kavanaugh engaged in wider sexual misconduct), Cleveland tweeted, “This is the Left’s #PizzaGate." This is a reference to a conspiracy theory that prominent political figures used a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant to engage in human trafficking:

    • CRTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey tweeted that “they want to embarrass Kavanaugh, drag him, shame him in front of his wife and kids, his daughter’s basketball team, his colleagues and friends. They want him to be ostracized personally and professionally.”
    • Ryan Bomberger of the anti-abortion group Radiance Foundation attacked Ford by co-opting a graphic from the A Day Without a Woman strike, asking people to “imagine a day without a liberal activist falsely crying #metoo.”
    • Bomberger’s Radiance Foundation account similarly tweeted:

    • Micaiah Bilger, who writes for anti-abortion outlet LifeNews, tweeted at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, “If allegations are enough to disqualify someone from something, shouldn't all the allegations against you, Planned Parenthood, disqualify you from getting half a billion of our tax dollars every year? #DefundPP.”
    • Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America (a conservative group that organized a “Women for Kavanaugh” bus tour) tweeted:

    • Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger (who has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic) tweeted, “Even tho she says she saw women gang raped by others, she still kept going to rape parties. Please. Totally not believable!” She then tweeted:

    Some abortion opponents continued to fearmonger about abortion to distract from reports that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault

    Media Matters previously noted that right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates have attempted to distract from Ford’s report by claiming that Democrats are only supporting Ford because they fear Kavanaugh would overturn Roe. This trend has continued:

    • On Fox & Friends, Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera said the motivation behind Ford’s report was “all about abortion” and that “Kavanaugh is a pro-life guy and this is what it's all about.”
    • Right-wing site RedState argued, “The whole reason Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in the crosshairs of a sexual assault allegation, and a media circus is ensuing, is because the left is 100 percent focused on making sure their ability to abort children and profit from it goes uninterrupted.”
    • LifeNews claimed that Planned Parenthood was being hypocritical for supporting Ford because there is a “growing pile of evidence that Planned Parenthood itself covers up sexual abuse,” referring to allegations from an old anti-abortion conspiracy theory that keeps being shared among anti-abortion advocates.
    • Religious news site The Stream wrote that “the anti-Kavanaughs — i.e. the Left, the Democrats — could not care less whether he’s innocent or guilty.” Rather, “this is about abortion. It’s about the larger sexual ideology as well, but abortion first and foremost,” because for these groups, “abortion is both sacrament and god.”
    • From Washington Examiner:

    • On The Howie Carr Show, Ann Coulter told Carr, “I'm kind of surprised that the pussy hat-wearing brigade didn't just get together, conspire to create some lie about Kavanaugh. They’re so obsessed with abortion. It really is going to be a great thing when Roe v. Wade is finally overturned -- just to show these idiots it's really not going to make that much of a difference.”
  • Far-right sites falsely link Christine Blasey Ford to a so-called "abortion pill"

    Ford has done work for a drug intended to combat Cushing's syndrome

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right websites The Gateway Pundit and Natural News attempted to discredit Christine Blasey Ford by claiming her report that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her was politically motivated because of Ford’s previous work for a pharmaceutical company that manufactures a so-called “abortion pill.” In reality, the pill that the company makes is not approved for that use and cannot be prescribed for people who are pregnant.

    On September 20, Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft published a blog post attacking Ford, claiming that Ford was “affiliated with Corcept Therapeutics (2006 – 2011)” and citing “her new Wikipedia page” as evidence. Corcept Therapeutics, Hoft said, “has only one product: Korlym (mifepristone),” which he characterized as “the ‘abortion pill.'” In addition to working for a company that produced this pill, Hoft argued that Ford had also “participated in 8 published studies, which researched uses for the ‘abortion pill’ or mifepristone. In five of these studies, Professor Ford is listed as affiliated with Corcept Therapeutics.” Based on this, Hoft implied that Ford’s decision to share her story was politically motivated, writing, “Liberals and feminists are very worried that Judge Brett Kavanaugh may participate in reversing Roe v. Wade. Christine Blasey wants to stop Kavanaugh from reaching the country’s highest court.”

    This false claim was then picked up by another fake news purveyor, Natural News, run by Mike Adams, a far-right blogger who also created a site to smear Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg as a so-called crisis actor and member of the “Hitler Youth.” Adams made an even less compelling case for Ford’s supposed motivations, writing, “Christine Blasey clearly fabricated the false allegations against Kavanaugh in order to protect her own income and profits coming from an abortion pill drug company whose future may be impacted by Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court.”

    A September 17 San Francisco Chronicle article about Ford noted, “According to her faculty biography in a course catalog, she worked as director of biostatistics for Corcept Therapeutics in Menlo Park.” Corcept Therapeutics does manufacture Korlym, also known as mifepristone, but the company’s website notes that the drug is intended “to control hyperglycemia associated with Cushing's syndrome, a rare, debilitating endocrine disorder.” Hoft and Adams both acknowledged that this is the medication’s intended use.

    However, Hoft argued without evidence that Korlym “is widely available online as an ‘abortion pill’ or ‘Emergency Contraceptive and Abortifacient.’” Adams wrote, also without proof, that “it is well known throughout the medical industry that doctors routinely prescribe this drug to terminate unwanted pregnancies. It is a covert ‘abortion drug,’ in other words.”

    Corcept’s website includes an explicit warning not to prescribe the medication if someone is pregnant:

    Pregnancy must therefore be excluded before the initiation of treatment with Korlym and prevented during treatment and for one month after stopping treatment by the use of a non-hormonal medically acceptable method of contraception unless the patient has had a surgical sterilization, in which case no additional contraception is needed. Pregnancy must also be excluded if treatment is interrupted for more than 14 days in females of reproductive potential.

    Adams said this disclaimer only serves as “a wink, wink message to doctors that this is actually an abortion pill,” enabling them to secretly prescribe Korlym to patients seeking an abortion. How exactly this would work -- given the litany of restrictions on abortion access and even some limits on what doctors are allowed to tell patients about various procedure -- is unclear.

    In April 2018, The Washington Post described how a pill used in medication abortions, Mifeprex, is priced and prescribed differently than Korlym, the pill made for Cushing’s syndrome:

    The difference in price between Korlym and Mifeprex is striking, even though the ingredients are the same: One 200-milligram pill to prompt an abortion costs about $80. In contrast, a 300-milligram pill prescribed for Cushing’s runs about $550 before discounts. (Patients wanting an abortion take only one pill. People with Cushing’s often take up to three pills a day for months or years.)

    Even if people were secretly purchasing Korlym to perform abortions, Ford’s role as “director of biostatistics” would still be irrelevant. Studies that she co-wrote for Corcept have no apparent connection to abortion, with titles such as “Mifepristone treatment of olanzapine-induced weight gain in healthy men” and “Selective glucocorticoid receptor (type II) antagonists prevent weight gain caused by olanzapine in rats.”

    Despite the total lack of evidence supporting Adams’ characterization of Ford's report, the right-wing outlet One America News Network repeated his smear during a September 21 segment, including footage of Adams himself explaining his allegations. Prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones also cited Adams’ post to attack Ford, saying that Ford was not only a “huge lobbyist” for the pill in question, but that she “pushes for it, she’s written a whole bunch of papers trying to get it approved, she’s on the payroll of it.” He wildly concluded that Ford’s account was actually an attempt to push “population reduction” through abortion. This was far from Jones’ only attack on Ford: Previously, Jones falsely claimed that her high school yearbooks undermined her account, saying that her attire in some of the photos made her a “hussy” and “captain of the sluts.”

    Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue -- which has not been shy to attack Ford or voice support for Kavanaugh -- also shared a link to a truly bizarre blog post calling her an "Abortion Pimp” because of her work with Corcept.

    Right-wing and far-right media have relentlessly attacked and harassed Ford since she went public with her account. This latest smear about Ford’s promotion of a so-called “abortion pill” looks like more of the same.

  • Right-wing media focus on abortion to distract from report that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On September 16, The Washington Post published an exclusive interview with Christine Blasey Ford, sharing her previously anonymous account of being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. Even before Ford’s name was public, right-wing media were questioning her motives and accusing her of opportunism -- attacks that only escalated once Ford came forward. And on September 17, two right-wing media figures stooped to a new low: alleging that Democrats are calling for consideration of Ford’s account only because Kavanaugh’s far-right judicial philosophy would threaten abortion access.

    The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson claimed that Ford’s report -- and calls for examining it before the Senate votes on Kavanaugh -- are about “the right to kill kids,” and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said the issue “doesn’t have anything to do with justice,” because “anyone who lives in Washington can tell you it’s about abortion.”

    That right-wing media would pivot to attacking abortion access to distract from Ford’s account is as unsurprising as it is repugnant. Right-wing media figures have spent years demonizing abortion providers and patients, as well as fearmongering about the safety of abortion procedures. In many ways, abortion stigma -- the idea that abortion is inherently wrong or socially unacceptable -- functions similarly to the shaming of sexual assault survivors, another common tactic of right-wing media. By making the consequences of sharing one’s experience so vast and uncomfortable, right-wing media and others deter individuals from speaking up in the first place. After all, as Ford summarized in her comments to The Post, “Why suffer through the annihilation” of speaking up “if it’s not going to matter?” -- particularly when it’s so obvious what the right-wing reaction will be.

    On September 17, Erickson (who, despite allegedly being done with Twitter, has been an endless fount of bad takes about Kavanaugh) wrote a post claiming that “this entire thing is about the right to kill kids, not about the veracity of the accusation.” He continued, “The left is perfectly willing to destroy a man's reputation in order to keep destroying children,” adding that Democrats would use an “uncorroborated, single sourced, 35 year old claim … to protect the right to kill girls in utero.” The next day, Erickson doubled-down on this position in a second post, bombastically declaring:

    The accusation against Brett Kavanaugh is because of abortion. The liberal college professor is being promoted by partisan groups with an expressed desire to advance the abortion agenda. Democrat PR firms are coordinating messaging on this on behalf of the abortion industry. They are convinced Brett Kavanaugh would overturn Roe v. Wade so he must be destroyed.

    This is all about cracking open the skulls of children, vacuuming out their brains, and tearing them limb from limb before selling them for scrap. This has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. This has nothing to do with due process. This has nothing to do with justice or equality. This has everything to do with killing kids.

    Not to be left out of the bad-take arms race, during the September 17 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Carlson made a similar argument, claiming that Ford’s report came out only because Kavanaugh would likely be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade?” he asked. “Of course it wouldn't have. … Whatever the story is, it's not about protecting women. Don't buy that spin.”

    Many conservatives have explicitly set aside their numerous ethical concerns about President Donald Trump because of his promise to appoint anti-choice judges -- a promise some declared that Trump had kept with the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch and with Kavanaugh’s nomination. Yet in calling for due consideration of Ford’s account before confirming someone for a lifetime term to the Supreme Court, “the left” is somehow engaging in political calculations involving abortion access?

    In many ways, right-wing media’s reliance on abortion stigma and reflexive disbelief of sexual assault survivors are borne of the same strategic imperative. By isolating and shaming people into pre-emptive silence, right-wing media can control the narrative around abortion and sexual assault -- and continue spreading harmful and inaccurate information about both.

  • Fact-checkers are failing at dealing with anti-abortion misinformation

    And right-wing media are taking advantage to spread misinformation about Brett Kavanaugh's record on reproductive rights. 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s rocky confirmation hearings, fact-checkers from PolitiFact and The Washington Post each chose to rebut comments from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) concerning Kavanaugh’s troubling record on contraceptive access. But rather than focus on the substance of Kavanaugh’s rulings, fact-checkers argued about Harris’ semantics, enabling right-wing media to change the conversation and distract from the serious threat that Kavanaugh poses to reproductive rights.

    During Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, there were many notable exchanges revealing that the Federalist Society darling has not only made some deeply concerning decisions as a judge, but also potentially lied under oath several times. Fact-checkers seized on an exchange in which Kavanaugh used the term “abortion-inducing drugs” while describing his dissent in a case called Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. This is a well-known (but inaccurate) anti-abortion term, meant to suggest that contraceptives induce abortion, that abortion opponents use to limit access or even ban their use.

    Recognizing this, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) tweeted a video of Kavanaugh’s answer about the Priests for Life case, warning that “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control.” In response, right-wing media attacked Harris, claiming that she took Kavanaugh’s comments out of context, and argued that he used the term only to summarize the views of the anti-abortion plaintiffs in the case, Priests for Life.

    On September 10, PolitiFact rated Harris’ statement “false,” writing that the tweet “failed to include a crucial qualifier: ‘They said.’ In fact, he was citing the definition of the religious group Priests for Life.” The piece noted that Kavanaugh “has not expressed his personal view” on the matter -- despite a plethora of evidence that Kavanaugh would be hostile to abortion rights. The Washington Post Fact Checker similarly awarded Harris “Four Pinocchios” because there was “no acknowledgment by Harris that the original tweet was misleading” and suggested that she and other Democrats “drop this talking point.” Kavanaugh himself later affirmed that he had not been “expressing an opinion” and he used the term “only when recount[ing] the plaintiffs’ own assertions.”  However, as Imani Gandy wrote for Rewire.News, the fixation on fact-checking Harris’ semantics missed the larger issue: Kavanaugh’s decision in that case -- the actual substance of Harris’ argument -- was “utterly bonkers.” The majority decided that requiring Priests for Life to sign a form opting out of providing contraceptive coverage did “not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise.” However, as Gandy argued, Kavanaugh’s dissent strongly implies that he would “allow evangelicals, by claiming a sincerely held religious belief, to be exempted from laws intended to provide people with contraceptive access through their employers, even when following those laws would require said employers to do nothing more than sign a piece of paper.”

    Anti-abortion organizations and media consistently leverage misinformation and intentional manipulation of the facts to attack abortion access and advance their own agendas. And the anti-abortion movement has never been better funded, better organized, or more savvy in its political machinations. In a February 12 article, PolitiFact’s Angie Drobnic Holan wrote that the organization aimed to “present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.” But how should fact-checkers respond when the subject of a fact check is explicitly operating in bad faith to promote an agenda? That’s the issue fact-checkers must contend with as anti-abortion extremists and their right-wing media allies continue trying to control the narrative about reproductive rights.

    Fact-checking is based on juxtaposition: comparing fact with non-fact, with the assumption that the objective truth will become clear as a result. In comparison, anti-abortion misinformation is built on equal parts obfuscation and subtlety. For example, take the language used by Kavanaugh and other anti-choice figures to discuss their stances on abortion rights. As Irin Carmon explained, rather than explicitly state their views, nominees and politicians will often use “obfuscating code words around abortion,” such as calling Roe v. Wade “settled law” to signal their opposition to reproductive rights while saying “as little as possible about abortion” in order “not to awaken a public that to this day is overwhelmingly supportive of Roe v. Wade.”

    Just as the anti-abortion movement has relied on code words to obscure its true purpose, right-wing media have spent years haranguing fact-checkers and mainstream media alike for their supposed bias against conservative views. This is exemplified by current right-wing attacks on platforms like Facebook and Google, which conservatives inaccurately argue have “censored” them -- a claim used widely in anti-abortion circles, as well. To avoid perceptions of bias, platforms have bent over backward to accommodate conservatives -- changing algorithms, installing partisan fact-checkers, and even conducting a so-called “conservative bias review.”

    We see the same troubling dynamic at play in how fact-checkers handle abortion-related claims. Anti-abortion media have accused fact-checkers of exhibiting “pro-abortion bias” for years, but they celebrated the fact checks of Harris’ statement -- even praising PolitiFact’s decision to issue a correction for repeating “uncritically a Democratic talking point, that Kavanaugh mentioned birth control by using the term abortion-inducing drugs.”

    In a 2013 article, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler noted that the paper “always ventures into questions about abortion rhetoric with trepidation” because “virtually no one is ever happy with our rulings, no matter how much we try to just stick with the facts.” However, this begs the question: What do you do if one side’s “facts” are borne of an intentionally deceptive agenda? As Esquire concluded, although Harris “probably should have used the whole quote” (and she did later link to the whole exchange on Twitter), PolitiFact’s ruling suggests that “it's best for us all to be naive and stupid rather than jumping to obvious conclusions” by pretending “we aren't sure about what Brett Kavanaugh believes about ‘abortion-inducing’ drugs.’”

    Kavanaugh has clearly signaled that if confirmed, he’d be a threat to abortion rights -- gaslighting claims by right-wing media to the contrary. By choosing to debate Harris’ semantics rather than engage in the substance of Kavanaugh’s decision, fact-checkers avoided hard questions and aided anti-choice media in the process.

  • Maine media undercut the narrative that opposition to Susan Collins' Kavanaugh vote is all harassment

    National media portray Sen. Susan Collins as besieged by harassment regarding her vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The truth is more complicated. 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has been under pressure to vote against President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh -- but if you were to listen only to national media, you’d be missing the big picture. Major media outlets are reporting that Collins has been harassed, but they’re sharing little about what local Maine media and Collins’ own constituents are saying.

    Kavanaugh is the least popular Supreme Court nominee in decades. Even before his largely uninspiring performance in last week’s confirmation hearings (which Collins herself remarked could be “a major problem”), Maine outlets were frequently highlighting the stakes involved in Collins’ confirmation vote, as well as the serious concerns of her constituents about Kavanaugh. Indeed, several polls reported that Collins’ refusal to reject Kavanaugh could cost her re-election.

    There have been numerous stories from Maine outlets focusing on the opposition from Collins’ constituents to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. As Maine Public Radio reported, over “230 Maine lawyers are urging Senator Susan Collins to vote against Brett Kavanaugh's appointment” because of their concerns about his “record on reproductive rights, the affordable care act, and his partisan record.” Multiple women have written letters to local papers to share their abortion stories and implore Collins to vote no. As Mollie Barnathan wrote for the Bangor Daily News: “Maine’s women and families need leaders who understand it isn’t their place to play judge and jury for women. Ensuring every woman has access to family planning services requires every U.S. senator, and especially Susan Collins, to stand up and vote no on Kavanaugh’s nomination.”

    However, rather than talking about any of this, national media have tuned out the voices of Collins’ own constituents in favor of an overgeneralized narrative about harassment. On September 11, NBC News reported that Collins’ office has received a number of threatening and angry messages. The New York Times noted that even Collins’ staff has been on the receiving end of this harassment.

    I want to be very clear: Nobody should be threatening Susan Collins or her staff. This behavior is unacceptable and nobody should endorse it. However, for media to suggest that these comments alone are somehow representative of what the vast majority of activists and constituents are doing to persuade Collins before this essential vote is irresponsible. As NARAL Pro-Choice America noted in a statement, there are many Mainers “peacefully participating in the democratic process and urging Senator Susan Collins to vote against Brett Kavanaugh.”

    National media have struggled to cover the fight over Kavanaugh’s potential confirmation from the beginning. As activists across the country consistently worked to oppose Kavanaugh, many outlets reported that his confirmation was inevitable, or that few, if any, activists were involved in the fight against him. This narrative was false. Additionally, nightly broadcast news programs devoted only 10 minutes each to conversations about Kavanaugh in the days after his nomination was announced. And many outlets downplayed the hearings despite their many newsworthy moments.

    And now, as right-wing media begin to seize on Collins’ legitimate worries about harassment, the very real energy and voices of her constituents will be further obfuscated.

    This seemingly savvy messaging tactic -- running to national media to share stories of harassment -- may work. But her constituents know the difference. And they, along with Maine media, don’t appear ready to let Susan Collins off the hook if she votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.

  • Abortion opponents were reassured by Kavanaugh's comments on Roe v. Wade

    Anti-abortion outlets and groups attacked Democrats, pro-choice protesters for highlighting the risk Kavanaugh poses to abortion access

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing demonstrated that he will be a threat to abortion rights and would likely vote to overturn or curtail protections stemming from Roe v. Wade -- despite previous claims by right-wing media to the contrary. Abortion opponents reacted to the hearing by praising Kavanaugh’s position on abortion and reproductive rights, and by attacking pro-choice protesters and Democratic senators.

    This week, Kavanaugh participated in a confirmation hearing for his nomination to the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed that he will be a threat to abortion rights. Rewire.News’ Jessica Mason Pieklo wrote that Kavanaugh’s references to “Roe as Supreme Court precedent and even ‘super-precedent’” served as a consistent talking point for the judge who was seemingly shielding his views on abortion rights. As Mason Pieklo explained, Kavanaugh’s invocation of precedent meant little because “precedent can be ‘unsettled’ by the Supreme Court.” In particular, “Kavanaugh reminded us of that time and time again by invoking Brown v. Board of Education,” a case that anti-abortion activists use “as an analogy” to describe a “pathway to overturn Roe.” Kavanaugh “also called birth control an abortifacient, … echoing another anti-choice talking point that dangerously conflates contraception with abortion.” Mason Pieklo also pointed to an email released during the hearing “where Kavanaugh says that many legal scholars do not see Roe v. Wade as settled law.”

    Kavanaugh’s record also suggests he would vote in favor of overturning Roe, or otherwise support further curtailing abortion rights. For example, in 2017, Kavanaugh opposed allowing an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen [called Jane Doe] who was in federal custody to have an abortion -- using language like “abortion on demand,” an inaccurate phrase frequently used by abortion opponents, to explain his decision. Kavanaugh also praised the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe during a speech in 2017 -- which Mason Pieklo noted made sense, given that Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe and Kavanaugh’s dissent in the Jane Doe case both “fundamentally [deny] reproductive autonomy all while purporting to be respecting the bounds of the law.” New York magazine’s Irin Carmon pointed to Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s (D-CT) question about whether Kavanaugh’s language in the Jane Doe case “was a signal” to conservative organizations “that you were prepared, and you are, to overturn Roe v. Wade.” Carmon also indicated that Kavanaugh’s 2017 speech was another “signal” of the same sort.

    As the hearing progressed, abortion opponents reacted with glee at Kavanaugh’s answers on abortion rights, and attacked pro-choice Democrats and activists who opposed his likely views on Roe. Here are a few examples:

    During the hearing, anti-abortion outlet LifeNews celebrated Kavanaugh’s answers

    • Anti-abortion organization Americans United for Life tweeted one of the celebratory LifeNews articles, writing, “In yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearings, Judge Kavanaugh confirmed that there is no right to abortion in the Constitution.” Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Kavanaugh’s answers about precedent were "simply recognizing the fact that discussion of the principles of stare decisis has become recognized as a leading decision in that area,” meaning that judges tend to talk about the decision in Roe as a matter of “settled law.” She also added that she believed “there is no reason to follow the precedent of Roe.”

    Abortion opponents reacted to Kavanaugh's demurring about Roe's precedent with reassurances that it could be overturned

    • Ryan Bomberger, founder of the anti-abortion organization Radiance Foundation tweeted about Kavanaugh calling Roe “settled law”:

    • Anti-abortion organization Students for Life of America reassured followers about Kavanaugh’s position on Roe, tweeting, “Any Court ruling can be overturned.”
    • Right to Life of Michigan downplayed the impact of overturning Roe, tweeting, “When Roe v. Wade falls, it simply puts the voters and elected officials back in the drivers (sic) seat. What happens will be up to you, the voter, not five unelected, unaccountable politicians acting as judges.” In reality, overturning Roe will have devastating consequences for abortion rights at the state level.

    Anti-abortion activists and outlets also attacked pro-choice activists and protesters

    • LifeNews tweeted, “More abortion activists arrested after pro-abortion outbursts because they don't care about civility.”
    • Radiance Foundation tweeted:

    • During one protest, Ryan Bomberger tweeted, “No irony here at all. While talking about mental illness court case, unhinged pro-abortion protesters resume their crazy outbursts.”
    • Father Frank Pavone of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life tweeted:

    • Anti-abortion organization Pro-Life Action League tweeted an anti-abortion myth about abortion safety, claiming that while pro-choice activists are “making a whole lot of noise about the supposed need to ‘keep abortion #safeandlegal.’ The problem for them, though, is that legal abortion isn't actually very safe.”
    • Commenting on a protest, LifeNews tweeted, “The latest shouter: ‘Save Democracy Save Roe.’ How does killing a baby in an abortion without due process serve a democracy?”
    • LifeNews responded to pro-choice activists’ concern over Kavanaugh’s use of the phrase “abortion inducing drugs,” with an inaccurately-titled article: “No, Brett Kavanaugh Didn’t Call True Birth Control ‘Abortion Drugs.’ Plan B Can Cause Abortions.”

    Anti-abortion activists and outlets used the hearings as an opportunity to attack Democratic senators on the committee

    • In response to a question from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) about whether there are any laws that explicitly regulate men’s bodies, LifeNews ran an article titled:

    • David Daleiden, founder of discredited anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress, tweeted about Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) while also promoting an upcoming anti-abortion movie:

    • Fox News’ Todd Starnes tweeted, “It is deeply chilling to watch people like @SenFeinstein defend the killing of unborn babies. #evil.”
    • National Right to Life tweeted that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was “severely misguided about” Roe, because “it's not about ‘privacy rights,’ Senator. It's about depriving an entire class of human beings the fundamental right to life.”

    Correction: This post originally include an inaccurate link. In the sentence "David Daleiden, founder of discredited anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress, tweeted about Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) while also promoting an upcoming anti-abortion movie," it linked to a piece about the in-production Roe v. Wade movie, which is distinct from the soon-to-be-released film Gosnell.

  • Brett Kavanaugh's emails show his opposition to Roe. Anti-choice commentators like Rick Santorum wouldn't support him otherwise.

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    On CNN’s New Day, CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum claimed that an email in which Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh suggested that Roe v. Wade may not be “settled law” does not show the judge’s actual opinion on the case. Santorum’s assertion that the email reveals nothing about Kavanaugh’s stance is undermined by his own extremely anti-choice past -- a history that suggests he would not support a Supreme Court nominee unless he was confident that the judge would work to overturn Roe.   

    In a 2003 email that was leaked to The New York Times, Kavanaugh recommended editing a document to remove language that referred to Roe as “the settled law of the land,” writing, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent.” This stance contradicts his recent assertions that he views Roe as settled law, and further suggests that the keystone reproductive rights case would be overturned should he join the court.

    During Santorum’s appearance on New Day, the former Pennsylvania senator argued that Kavanaugh was merely explaining “the facts” that “there are people who have a different point of view” on Roe. When co-host John Berman pushed back and noted that the email showed “what [Kavanaugh] thinks about the facts,” Santorum disagreed, claiming, “That’s not what’s in that email.” From the September 7 edition of CNN’s New Day:

    Santorum’s assertion that we can’t be sure of Kavanaugh’s thoughts about the case is suspicious at best, given his own deeply held anti-choice views. The former senator’s opinions on abortion are extreme, callous, and immensely cruel. He is opposed to abortion at any point, for any reason -- even in cases of rape or incest. When he was asked about sexual assault survivors who desire abortions during a 2012 interview, Santorum argued that survivors should view pregnancies that result from rape as “a gift in a very broken way” and ought to “make the best out of a bad situation.” He’s also stated that doctors who provide abortions in these cases should face criminal charges.

    Santorum has bragged about the depth of his anti-choice stance, and unsurprisingly has argued that Roe ought to be overturned. Given his extreme antipathy toward abortion rights, it’s obvious that Santorum would not support a nominee for Supreme Court unless he was sure that the candidate would rule to overturn Roe.

    And, contrary to Santorum's claims, it's pretty clear that opponents of reproductive rights know full well what Kavanaugh's email meant.