From the November 20 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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On November 16, Washington state's Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a report on an investigation his office had undertaken at the request of GOP state legislators to investigate whether Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue or performing illegal abortions. Although The Seattle Times reported the launch of the inquiry, it has as of yet failed to inform its readers of the investigation's report that cleared Planned Parenthood.
The Spokane, Washington newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, covered the attorney general's report on November 16 and ran a follow-up editorial three days later, which wrote "These findings should be repeated as often as the baseless allegations that the clinics in this state and around the country were breaking the law." The editorial further noted that "the allegations themselves... have done considerable damage," citing the apparent arson fire at Planned Parenthood clinics in Pullman, Washington and Southern California.
While the Spokane newspaper covered the report, Washington state's largest circulation newspaper, The Seattle Times, did not. The omission is notable because the publication covered the GOP lawmakers' initial calls for the state attorney general to investigate Planned Parenthood on July 27, in addition to publishing articles about other sources for donated fetal tissue in Washington state, and about Sen. Patty Murray's (D-WA) support for Planned Parenthood following a congressional vote against the organization.
The state attorney general has now concluded that there was no evidence to support any of the allegations that Planned Parenthood violated federal law or state laws involving fetal tissue donation or abortion procedures. In a letter to state lawmakers Ferguson wrote, "We found no indication that procedures performed by Planned Parenthood are anything other than performance of a legally authorized medical procedure."
Washington state GOP lawmakers had called for an investigation of Planned Parenthood stemming from the release of deceptively-edited videos produced by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress.
image via creative commons
A recent Texas Policy Evaluation Project study highlights how Texas' medically unnecessary abortion restrictions that were passed into law under the false right-wing media guise of protecting women's health actually place them at risk. The study predicts that women are more likely to self-induce abortion "as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access" -- a particularly poignant consequence of restrictive abortion laws in a state where such restrictions have already shuttered at least half of Texas' clinics.
On November 13, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Whole Women's Health v. Cole, a challenge to HB2, a Texas law passed in 2013 requiring all abortion providers to employ doctors that have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and to meet the standards for "ambulatory surgical centers." If not stricken down, the law could eventually shut down 75 percent of the state's clinics.
A November 17 study conducted by the University of Texas' Texas Policy Evaluation Project predicted that if the Supreme Court fails to overturn the law and clinic access is further restricted, "abortion self-induction will increase," "[g]iven that the populations ... found to be most familiar with abortion self-induction are among those that have been most directly affected by the closure." The study also found that at least 100,000 and as many as 240,000 women between the ages of 18 and 49 in Texas have attempted to self-induce an abortion. Histories of self-induced abortions are most prevalent among women who reported facing significant obstacles to reproductive healthcare in the past, and among Latina women living in a rural area of Texas that has seen several clinic closures.
The very law that numerous media outlets believe could force some Texas women to self-induce abortion by severely restricting their access, was passed based on right-wing media myths. Texas lawmakers pushing for the 2013 legislation insisted that women's health clinics were unsafe and required increased regulation, capitalizing on a that myth originated by anti-choice activists. At the time, media helped give this claim oxygen: multiple Fox News figures claimed the law's restrictions were medically necessary and would make women safer, and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote that the law would simply make clinics "meet certain medical standards." Today, Fox News is still peddling the GOP claim that these anti-choice restrictions are in the best interest of women's health, despite the fact that medical experts agree that the measure is based on medically inaccurate information and that these regulations harm women.
The New York Times points out that while Texas abortions are down 13 percent since the passage of HB2, the study's authors do not attribute the decline to the measure -- they point to international evidence that abortion restrictions have done nothing to reduce the incidence of abortion -- only to encourage unsafe abortions.
The authors suggest it's actually more likely that "Texas women either traveled out of state, continued the pregnancy, or induced an abortion using the drug Misoprostol (known by the brand name Cytotec) or through 'herbs or homeopathic remedies, getting hit or punched in the abdomen, using alcohol or illicit drugs, or taking hormonal pills.'" While misoprostol has been endorsed by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals as a harm reduction strategy to mitigate the dangers of self-induced abortion, "unfortunately, women often have inaccurate information on misoprostol use, [and] [d]rug quality is also a major concern, with a variety of misoprostol products on the market that do not meet international standards, are poorly stored or have simply expired."
For these reasons, the Texas case before the Court has striking implications for the women of the 10 additional states that have enacted similar requirements for hospital-admitting privileges, as well as the six other states that have passed laws "requiring hospital-grade facilities that mirror the Texas law."
As Dr. Daniel Grossman, co-author of the study and professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences, told reporters, "This is the latest body of evidence demonstrating the negative implications of laws like HB2 that pretend to protect women but in reality place them, and particularly women of color and economically disadvantaged women, at significant risk."
Fox News' coverage of the announcement that the Supreme Court will review a Texas law that requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges and clinics to meet the same legal requirements as ambulatory surgical centers lacked comments from medical experts, instead only offering the perspective of Republican lawmakers. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which supports a repeal of the law, has stated that abortion is already a safe medical procedure and such requirements are not medically necessary for patient safety.
In The New York Times, freelance journalist Meaghan Winter called attention to the dangerous implications of conservative attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, which have been bolstered by right-wing media citing the repeatedly debunked deceptively-edited videos smearing the reproductive health care provider. As Winter explained, the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood could hit low-income women the hardest.
Repeated Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood have been championed and propelled by right-wing media citing the series of deceptively edited videos released by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP has been falsely smearing Planned Parenthood by baselessly claiming the health care provider profits from the illegal sale of fetal tissue. While this "campaign of deception" has been debunked repeatedly by media, experts, and several federal and state investigations, conservative media have continued to promote the falsehoods to attack Planned Parenthood. Right-wing media have also provided ammunition for lawmakers seeking to defund the women's health care provider by unrealistically claiming that community clinics could fill the gap if Planned Parenthood lost funding - an assertion that health experts have explained is impossible.
In a November 12 opinion piece for The New York Times, Winter highlighted the dire consequences of conservative attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. Noting that the most dangerous threats to the vital health care services provided by Planned Parenthood -- cancer screenings, ultrasounds, contraception and other services -- are occurring on the state level, Winter explained that "legislators in at least 11 states have proposed bills designed to restrict Planned Parenthood" just since July, when the videos smearing Planned Parenthood were first released. When Republicans fight to defund Planned Parenthood and these types of providers are shut down, Winter explained, "they leave low-income women with few alternatives for reproductive and preventive health care," and effectively force "thousands of women seeking low-cost health care [to end] up at crisis pregnancy centers." Winter noted that the effects of these crisis pregnancy centers, which are being funded by some of the very states trying to defund Planned Parenthood, often mean women are "coerced to continue" unwanted pregnancies "through misinformation or a lack of access," and consequently "lose control" of their bodies, education, finances, and futures:
The Republicans who voted in September to block Planned Parenthood's funding weren't protesting covering abortion with federal dollars -- that's been restricted since 1977. Instead, they want to prevent Planned Parenthood from providing cancer screenings, ultrasounds, contraception and other services.
The question is not whether the federal government will defund Planned Parenthood -- it won't -- but how many states will. Since July, legislators in at least 11 states have proposed bills designed to restrict Planned Parenthood from providing health care to low-income women.
When providers like Planned Parenthood are shut down, they leave low-income women with few alternatives for reproductive and preventive health care. While lawmakers say they'll transfer funds to community health centers, there are too few to meet the need.
Today, thousands of women seeking low-cost health care are ending up at crisis pregnancy centers. Nationwide, there are more than 3,000 anti-choice centers advertising free services, like options counseling, pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. They now outnumber abortion clinics by at least three to one.
These organizations and their friendly volunteers may seem innocuous, but the centers are often staffed by evangelical women who lack professional licenses and belong to religious organizations that actively discourage them from recommending contraception, let alone abortion. Two such organizations, Heartbeat International and Care Net, coach staff members to seem credible to "abortion-minded" women by scrubbing their websites, signage and waiting rooms of all evidence of their underlying evangelical goals. Staff members themselves say their centers are most appealing to young women without anywhere else to turn.
When a woman is coerced to continue an unwanted pregnancy through misinformation or lack of access, she loses control of her body, education, finances -- her future. The struggle for reproductive rights is inextricable from other movements for racial and economic justice. We will not achieve equal opportunity until a poor woman has the same sovereignty over her body and her future as a wealthy man. We must roll back the anti-choice legislation in our states that holds back equality.
From the November 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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A recent series of local TV news stories demonstrate how abortion stigma can be interwoven into news narratives through the use of misleading images and words to link the medical procedure to shame and regret.
Abortion stigma is broadly defined as "a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable." It is a process by which a cultural condemnation for abortion is displayed and communicated, be it through state laws with an expressed purpose of deterring women from obtaining abortions or misleading media stories about abortion laden with emotionally-manipulative language and images.
A Charlotte, NC-based Fox affiliate recently pushed this stigma by devoting a segment to promoting the work of an anti-choice group pushing an unproven and potentially dangerous method for so-called "abortion reversals" in situations where women were attempting to abort a pregnancy via medical abortion.
A San Diego-based anti-choice nonprofit, Culture of Family Life Services, has been promoting the unproven method of "reversing" a medical abortion by publicizing a hotline which would connect women with providers who would give them a series of progesterone shots - which the organization claims would stop a medical abortion from progressing. This course of treatment is not approved by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) who have said that for women who have taken the first course of drugs and don't wish to terminate, they should simply not take the second course and do not need large doses of progesterone to prevent the abortion.
It was within this backdrop that a North Carolina Fox station, WJZY, broadcast a misleading segment on a local general practitioner promoting this so-called abortion reversal treatment. The North Carolina news segment, along with the five additional local TV news affiliates that repackaged the report and aired similar segments, all used misleading images of seemingly very pregnant women to illustrate a story about first trimester abortion. In fact, medical abortion is only available to women within the first nine weeks of pregnancy, at which stage the fetus is less than an inch long. Yet the North Carolina station used several images of visibly pregnant women who appeared to be much further along in a pregnancy to illustrate the story of "babies... given a second chance" :
When the original story promoting abortion reversals was repackaged on other local TV news stations, even more images of visibly pregnant women appeared in those broadcasts such as images shown during Fox 8's segment in Cleveland, Ohio.
The WJZY story in North Carolina also used an image of an ultrasound of a fetus that is much further along in development than 9 weeks, according to an OB-GYN who has published a review of "abortion reversal" and told Yahoo Parenting the image used in the segment appeared to be a fetus at "about 26 weeks":
In addition to the misleading pregnancy images the WJZY reporter used, the rhetoric also referred to a first-term fetus as a baby throughout, such as when he described medical abortion as a procedure that "starves the baby of nutrients." Reporter Bill Melugin intoned in his segment, "A Charlotte-area doctor has found a way to save lives before they ever come into this world." And that "as a result" of this doctor's work, "babies...have been given a second chance along with their moms who once felt like they made a mistake."
The imagery of many women coming to regret their abortions is rhetoric that is promoted by anti-choice organizations but is not supported by existing evidence on women who have had abortions. In fact a study from the University of California, San Diego found that 90 percent of women who had an abortion expressed relief, not regret, after the medical procedure.
Two OB-GYN's reinforced this to Yahoo Parenting, saying that the WJZY story, "could make it seem that there are lots of women who regret the choice to have an abortion halfway through the process -- when, in reality, that situation is 'exceedingly rare.'"
When local news promotes anti-abortion messages and untested medical practices as a "major medical breakthrough" the public is misled and those who have had or have considered an abortion are vilified. Pushing a message that abortion is something that is bad for women is not just bad science, it's the type of abortion stigma that should have no place in unbiased journalism.
Several television stations ran segments promoting a controversial method for supposedly "reversing" a medical abortion that is promoted by anti-choice groups while failing to disclose that medical experts, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have said such treatments are unproven and are potentially harmful for patients.
Right-wing media outlets are stoking fears that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is on the verge of collapse; arguing that health insurance co-op failures threaten to shutter President Obama's signature health care legislation. But experts argue that ACA continues to control health care costs and expand insurance, and explain that the co-op failures are due to underfunding by Congress.
From the November 4 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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A recent Washington Post Opinion blog noted that while American television has a "long way" to go until abortion is "treated like a routine medical procedure," recent programming indicates that a shift in that direction may be underway, which could be a significant step toward reducing the unwarranted stigma and misinformation that surrounds this common reproductive choice.
Television can influence viewers by reflecting what culture thinks falls within the bounds of normal behavior, an effect that is called "normalizing" behavior. When an action is portrayed in fictional stories it creates a frame for an audience to think about such actions when they happen in the real world - which can be particularly important when the viewer has personal experience with the subject matter.
Because abortion has been mostly cloaked with a narrative of tragedy in television it's all the more interesting how some recent television shows are gradually altering depictions of abortion, as was recently highlighted by The Washington Post's television and pop culture Opinion writer Alyssa Rosenberg. In a blog titled "TV tentatively starts talking about abortion," Rosenberg described characters discussing abortion as a legitimate option on some recent TV shows and highlighted an episode of "You're The Worst" as unique for "[w]ithout containing an actual abortion, [being] the closest television's gotten to a neutral, or even positive, abortion story" in years. Rosenberg praised certain shows that "have demonstrated a glimmer of refreshing honesty in their willingness to at least mention a subject about which pop culture has been oddly, depressingly coy: abortion."
Despite the fact that abortion is a safe medical procedure that has been available to U.S. women for the past 42 years, and recent data as of 2008 indicates that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by age 45, it is still frequently depicted as a negative option in our television shows. According to one study of film and television stories from 1916-2013 by Gretchen Sisson and Katrina Kimport, abortion in fictional stories is often linked to death for female characters -- whether they obtain the procedure or not -- perpetuating the false myth that abortion frequently causes death. In reality, pregnancy actually causes more female deaths than induced abortions.
The cloaking of TV abortion stories with the subtext of tragedy is a prime example of "abortion stigma" which is broadly defined as "a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable." Abortion stigma is displayed across society from state laws enacted with the express purpose of preventing women from having abortions to outright lies and misinformation about abortion safety. Abortion stigma filtered through society's legal and policy apparatuses also creates a psychological effect, which is entirely intentional. As a research article in Women's Health Issues pointed out, abortion stigma is a key part of the anti-choice movement's playbook as "[t]he anti-abortion movement increasingly seeks both to erect overt barriers to abortion and to change cultural values, beliefs, and norms about abortion so that women will seek abortion less frequently regardless of its legal status. From photographing women entering clinics to distributing flyers to the neighbors of providers, the anti-abortion movement foments abortion stigma as a deliberate tactic, not just as a byproduct of its legislative initiatives. Eroding public support for the idea of abortion is seen as an underpinning of future institutional limits."
In an interview with Tara Culp-Ressler of ThinkProgress, Sisson and Kimport emphasized that these "political framings" of the anti-choice movement are influenced by the "cultural framings" of television they studied:
Culture and politics are often inextricably intertwined. So how much do our cultural perceptions of abortion contribute to that? Is our political atmosphere driving the violent abortion portrayals in the media, or is pop culture creating an atmosphere where it's easy for Americans to agree that abortion is dangerous?
We don't know the answers for sure. But it's probably a bit of both.
"The dramatic components around abortion are very useful for some story lines, but may also be contributing to our social and cultural myths about abortion as something that's dramatic and violent -- when in fact, that doesn't fit with most of the evidence on women's actual experiences with abortion," Kimport told ThinkProgress. "There's an interactive relationship between politics and culture. It may be that political framings are influencing cultural framings. But at the same time, cultural framings are going to influence political framings."
Both Sisson and Kimport are realistic about the limitations of pop culture, and aren't suggesting that it should painstakingly reflect the reality of every issue. But they do maintain that fictional depictions of abortion can have very real implications for the women who have decided to end a pregnancy. If those people have never felt safe enough to talk to someone else about their decision, or connect with other women who have made the same choice, seeing abortion reflected on the screen is somewhat revolutionary.
"In our culture, there are so few spaces for people to talk openly and honestly about what abortion looks like, so the media becomes very important," Sisson told ThinkProgress. "Our conversation around abortion is so polarized and politicized that there are very few opportunities to share their stories, say what their abortions looked like, or even share that they had an abortion. These stories of fictional characters become very resonant. They become a way of telling these stories that real women don't have a space to tell."
Intentionally or not, American television has been reinforcing a dangerous right-wing campaign to shame American women. Fictional TV has the freedom of the medium to invoke situations that viewers might find both familiar and exotic to their personal experience. It would be a welcome development if the reinforcement of abortion stigma was no longer a part of this programming - and the recent examples may be a reason to stay tuned and watch what happens.
[Infographic via ANSIRH]
Disclosure: The Washington Post Opinion writer referenced above is married to an employee of Media Matters. That employee had no part in the production of this blog.
An October 15 Kaiser Family Foundation study highlighted the increased health care cost burden for states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet, in the three non-expansion states with the highest number of individuals who would benefit from expansion, the highest-circulating state newspapers failed to mention the increased state cost associated with the lack of expansion.
While appearing as a guest on CNN, Rachel Campos-Duffy, a spokeswoman for The Libre Initiative -- the Koch brothers-funded organization that reaches out to Latinos with conservative talking points -- pushed false claims about Planned Parenthood that have been widely debunked, while ignoring that defunding the organization would have a negative impact on Latinas.
An OB-GYN who also provides abortions wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post titled, "Being a doctor who performs abortions means you always fear your life is in danger" in which she explained how threats of violence and intimidation tactics directed at reproductive health service providers affect them and their patients.
Conservative media often compare abortion providers -- like people who work at Planned Parenthood -- to Nazis and Josef Mengele, but the potential for inciting violence is very real when radio, television, online, and print outlets use their public platforms to spout extremist rhetoric and fan the flames of public anger. Reproductive health care facilities have suffered arson attacks and other forms of vandalism in the wake of this summer's release of deceptively-edited videos by an anti-choice group that were heavily promoted by Fox News and other conservative media organizations.
From Dr. Diane J. Horvath-Cosper's October 29 Washington Post op-ed:
Every few months, I do an Internet search for my name, as recommended by a media-savvy colleague. In the past I've found myself in all the predictable places -- among a list of doctors who graduated from my residency program, on my employer's Web site, in various social-media posts. But in the stillness of a warm evening this past August, after putting my daughter to bed, I found myself in a new and terrifying place: an anti-choice Web site that claims I am part of an "abortion cartel." In addition to my office address and links to find my medical license numbers, it features several photos of me. In one of the photos, taken from social media, I'm holding my then-15-month-old daughter.
Though the site claims to be "informational" in nature, the real purpose is clear. There is no better way to intimidate and incite fear than to target a family member, especially a child. The message is unambiguous: I'm being watched, and so is my daughter.
I am an obstetrician-gynecologist. Among the many medical services I provide my patients, I also perform abortions for women who need them. That's made me a target for harassment online and in person over the course of my career.
Numerous colleagues have similar stories. On social media, I've witnessed friends and mentors called murderers, Nazis, racists and whores. The threats can be vague ("I hope someone does to you what you do to babies") or terrifyingly specific ("I know where you live, and someday I might show up at your doorstep").
Too often, these threats are not all talk: In the past two decades, 13 physicians or staff members at abortion-providing facilities have been killed or seriously injured.
As hard as it is for physicians and staff who work at these clinics, the impact isn't just on providers. When patients are confronted by threats and intimidation, some of them are too frightened to enter the clinic to get the care they need. These women deserve empathetic, respectful care -- which is what my colleagues and I have studied and practiced for years to give them -- not judgement, and not violence. Targeting clinics also prevents women from getting other essential medical services, from cancer screenings to ultrasounds to sexually transmitted-infection testing and treatment.
The editorial board of the Austin American Statesman has called the decision by Texas "lawmakers and state officials" to investigate Planned Parenthood for Medicaid fraud part of a "witch hunt" that won't stop until the health care provider "is completely dismantled in Texas."
An October 28 editorial by the Austin American Statesman discussed the state's plan to stop reimbursing Planned Parenthood with state Medicaid funds for treating low-income patients and its issuing of subpoenas to three clinics for detailed patient records as part of an investigation into alleged Medicaid fraud. The editorial board correctly pointed out that the state "has not yet produced any evidence to support its allegation that laws or policies were broken aside from the heavily edited videos taped in secret and released by an anti-abortion group" -- videos which have been thoroughly debunked by independent experts but are still being characterized as factual by right-wing media. The editorial added that "the timing of the investigation" suggests that the state is attempting to "validate its decision with a retroactive investigation." And it warned that "the apparent willingness of Texas leaders to put politics before public health bodes ill for them and for the state.
Texas is gearing up for a full-fledged witch hunt.
The target is women's health provider Planned Parenthood, and it is clear that lawmakers and state officials will not stop until the 94-year-old nonprofit is completely dismantled in Texas.
Last week ended with Planned Parenthood being put on notice that the state intended to strip the nonprofit of its ability to receive Medicaid reimbursement for health services, alleging that Planned Parenthood had "committed and condoned numerous acts of misconduct captured on video."
Interestingly, the state has not yet produced any evidence to support its allegation that laws or policies were broken aside from the heavily edited videos taped in secret and released by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress. The controversial fetal tissue program that has dominated the national headlines doesn't even exist in Texas.
The timing of the investigation certainly gives the impression that the state is trying to validate its decision with a retroactive investigation.
Ultimately those who will suffer are the low-income Texas families who rely on Planned Parenthood for contraception and medical care. They deserve the same access to care and the same ability to choose their own medical providers that the rest of us have come to expect.
When it comes to women's health care, Republican leaders seem determined to score political points at the expense of the state's public health and individual freedom of choice that extends far beyond the ability to decide whether to have an abortion.
We fully understand the politics of abortion. However, the apparent willingness of Texas leaders to put politics before public health bodes ill for them and for the state.