Justice & Civil Liberties

Issues ››› Justice & Civil Liberties
  • The Supreme Court Just Exposed Right-Wing Lies In A Landmark Abortion Access Case

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2 placed an “undue burden on abortion access.” Supporters of the unconstitutional law argued that HB 2’s restrictions were necessary to protect women’s health and prevent another “Kermit Gosnell scandal” -- talking points pushed by right-wing media. Writing the majority opinion of the court, Justice Stephen Breyer rebuked these anti-choice myths, saying there was unequivocal  evidence that HB 2 lacked medical benefits and posed extreme harm to Texas women.

  • A Year After Marriage Equality, It's Time For Media To Stop Giving Anti-LGBT Liars A Pass

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    In the year since the Supreme Court struck down state-level same-sex marriage bans, anti-gay extremists have continued to peddle misinformation about LGBT equality in the media. After more than 12 years of pushing lies and wildly inaccurate predictions about the consequences of marriage equality, it’s time for the media to stop letting anti-gay activists comment on LGBT rights without disclosing their proven track record of dishonest extremism.

    It’s been a year since the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges decision which found state-level same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. In the decade leading up to the decision, anti-LGBT extremists and hate group leaders peddled specious talking points about the consequences of “redefining traditional marriage.” In media appearances, these figures predicted that allowing same-sex couples to marry would cause a “slippery slope” to legalized bestiality, incest, and pedophilia; pushed the myth that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia than straight men; and hyped claims that pastors and churches were in danger of being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

    Several of these groups were so deceptive that in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), designated them anti-LGBT “hate groups” for “propagating known falsehoods” and pushing “demonizing propaganda.” One of these groups was the Family Research Council (FRC), whose officials have accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children into homosexuality and endorsed a Uganda law that would have imposed the death penalty for engaging in gay sex.

    For years, major cable news networks have hosted FRC representatives to comment on LGBT equality without identifying FRC as a hate group. Despite the efforts of progressive Christians to stop outlets from letting FRC representatives conflate their extremism with mainstream Christianity, the group continues to have a significant media presence. Since last June’s Obergefell decision, mainstream media outlets have continued to call on FRC to discuss LGBT rights, including:

    • The New York Times, NPR, and USA Today all cited FRC’s commentary on the Obergefell marriage equality decision without noting the group’s history of hate.
    • ABC's This Week invited FRC's Ken Blackwell -- who previously blamed same-sex marriage for a mass murder -- to discuss the court's decision.  
    • NPR featured FRC’s Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg -- who spent 10 years as a "professional actor" before joining FRC -- to debate same-sex parenting.
    • FRC’s President Tony Perkins appeared on MSNBC to discuss meeting with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump assemble an “Evangelical executive advisory board,” featuring anti-LGBT extremists.

    In the past year, the media have given other anti-LGBT hate groups similar passes. In September, mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters failed to identify Liberty Counsel, the anti-LGBT hate group representing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, instead calling it merely a “Christian” or “conservative” organization. In April, major news outlets largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender-inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT hate group.

    The few instances when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer did properly identify hate group leaders, anti-gay conservatives were predictably outraged. Right-wing anger at journalists who expose anti-LGBT extremism illustrates why it’s so vital to disclose when sources or commentators represent hate groups. The public has a right to know that the same groups with a track record of fearmongering about children’s safety to oppose marriage equality are now those peddling the anti-LGBT movement’s new favorite myth that LGBT nondiscrimination protections endanger the safety of women and children in bathrooms.

    A year after Obergefell, it’s time for the media to stop letting the same extremists use media appearances to float new lies and recycle mythical talking points to oppose LGBT equality. Outlets seeking to provide balanced coverage of LGBT rights ought to find commentators who don’t have a decade-long track record of spreading hateful lies about LGBT people. 

  • Florida Editorial Boards Lambaste Rubio’s Senate Record In Light Of Senate Run

    ››› ››› MARLEE PITTMAN

    After Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced his intention to seek reelection to the Senate -- despite previously pledging he would not run -- state editorial boards criticized the senator’s “thin record” and “absenteeism” from the Senate during his first term. Several outlets also criticized Rubio’s recent votes against stronger gun laws after claiming the Orlando terror attack on a gay nightclub motivated his reentry into the Senate race.

  • James O’Keefe Is Still Not a Journalist

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Since 2009, self-described “guerilla journalist” James O’Keefe has repeatedly embarrassed himself while attempting to launch undercover stings targeting government agencies, media outlets, and  liberal organizations and institutions.

  • NRA Radio Show Compares Participants In Rep. John Lewis’ Gun Violence Sit-In To “Criminals And Terrorists”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association’s radio show compared participants in a sit-in in the U.S. House of Representatives being led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) to “criminals and terrorists” reasoning that like terrorists, the sit-in participants were not following the rules.

    While the House was in session on June 22, Lewis and other Democratic members of Congress sat on the floor of the House, refusing to return to regular order until Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreed to call a vote on legislation to prevent gun violence.

    CNN.com described the move as “a dramatic protest inside the House of Representatives” that was “rich with historic symbolism.” Lewis, who as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized numerous sit-ins to protest racial discrimination during the 1960s, has been described as “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced.”

    During the June 22 broadcast of the NRA’s radio show Cam & Company, as the sit-in proceeded, host Cam Edwards claimed, “So in order to push legislation that the sponsors say would not have prevented the attacks in Orlando, Florida, they’re also going to flout the House rules. Kind of like, you know, criminals and terrorists flout the rules that we have in place right now and will continue to do so?”:

     

     

  • Ten Must-Read Stories On The Impact Of Texas' HB 2

    Patients and Providers Explain What’s At Stake In Supreme Court’s Landmark Abortion Rights Case

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & NINA MAST

    When the Supreme Court releases its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the landscape of abortion access will be altered in Texas and beyond. Before reporting on the potential consequences of the court’s decision, reporters should read these 10 stories about the challenges some people face in obtaining an abortion, told in patients’ and providers’ own words.

  • Houston Public Media Report Demonstrates Dangers Of “Abortion Training Taboo” Created By Texas’ Anti-Choice Law

    HB 2 Is Keeping Abortion Training Out Of Medical Curricula, Which Could Have Dire Consequences For Reproductive Health Care

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    This June the Supreme Court will release its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- a landmark abortion rights case challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ extreme anti-choice law HB 2.

    HB 2 requires that abortion providers have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and that clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). Although supporters claim that these restrictions are medically necessary and that they protect patient’s health, the vast majority of experts agree that HB 2’s mandates are based on medically inaccurate information. The Supreme Court's decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt could set the precedent for all future abortion restrictions.

    Even if the court rejects HB 2, Texas clinics still face an uncertain future. As Molly Hennessy-Fiske wrote for the Los Angeles Times, the process of reopening or reauthorizing clinics that closed when the law was implemented to perform abortions would be arduous. The piece quoted Whole Woman’s Health president Amy Hagstrom Miller, who said, “We can’t reopen clinics overnight.” Hennessy-Fiske explained that the process of reopening clinics is difficult because, as Miller noted, “providers have had to sell buildings, give up leases, lay off staff and allow doctors to take other jobs.”

    A two-part report from Houston Public Media confirmed these warnings: Thanks to political attacks on abortion access, Texas may be facing a shortage of medical professionals capable of performing abortions. In the piece, Carrie Feibel reported that “the battle over reproductive rights has penetrated academic medicine in Texas” and deterred medical programs from providing abortion education and training. Feibel explained that this “abortion training taboo” in Texas was a result of the logistical challenges of and stigma surrounding abortion care after HB 2.

    In part one, Feibel detailed the logistical hurdles created by HB 2 that have made providing abortion training “increasingly difficult,” if not impossible, for many medical programs. According to Feibel, only “three out of the 18 programs in Texas have made arrangements for residents to spend time learning at an outpatient family-planning clinic” -- the type of facility “where most abortions in Texas take place.” In many cases, program directors argue that providing such training is difficult when “the nearest abortion clinic is now closed.”

    Dr. Robert Casanova, a recent residency director at Texas Tech University, told Feibel, “The limited choices for our patients pretty much parallels the limited choices for our residents to get training, to where they feel comfortable doing something along those lines.” Texas Tech is located in Lubbock, TX, where the last abortion clinic in the area closed after HB 2 went into effect. As Manny Fernandez reported for The New York Times, because there are no remaining clinics in or near Lubbock, many patients now must make “a five-hour trip to Dallas or to Albuquerque, some 320 miles away” in order to receive abortion care.

    Lubbock is not unique in this sense. According to research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), since HB 2 went into effect nearly half of Texas’ abortion clinics have closed. In an article about the study, Rewire’s Andrea Grimes described the results in terms of their political ramifications. Grimes wrote that since May 2013 -- shortly before Texas lawmakers passed HB 2 -- “Forty-six percent of Texas’ legal abortion providers have closed.” In addition to the loss of clinics, the overall number of physicians who perform abortions in Texas has also decreased since HB 2 went into effect. In a February 2016 research brief, TxPEP researchers also reported that HB 2 had decreased the number of “physicians providing services in the state” drastically:

    In the fall of 2013, before HB2 went into effect, there were 48 physicians providing abortion across the state. Currently there are 28 physicians with admitting privileges providing abortions in Texas. This represents a decline of 42% in the number of physicians providing abortion in Texas since HB2 went into effect. An additional three physicians are currently providing services in El Paso and McAllen due to a partial stay of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling issued by the US Supreme Court. These physicians would not be allowed to continue to provide abortion services if the Supreme Court ruled to allow the Fifth Circuit decision to go into effect.

    Of the 28 physicians with admitting privileges currently providing abortion services in Texas:

    • 15 (54%) were providing in Texas prior to HB2 and had admitting privileges prior to October 2013.

    • 6 (21%) were providing in Texas prior to HB2 and were able to get admitting privileges after the law went into effect.

    • 7 (25%) are new abortion providers with admitting privileges.

    The lack of available resources for training medical students in abortion care is not entirely a product of accessibility challenges. As Feibel explained, for many programs, HB 2 has had a chilling effect on institutional willingness to support abortion training. “Academic medical centers in Texas receive tens of millions of dollars a year in state funding,” reported Feibel. Because of this funding relationship, “Doctors working in these institutions are walking a very delicate line,” Carol Joffe, a medical sociologist who studies abortion providers, told Houston Public Media. Joffe explained that even when doctors want to provide abortion training, “they are fearful of the other sectors of the university coming down on them and saying ‘You’re threatening our funding.’”

    Although abortion is both common and overwhelmingly safe, Feibel explained that institutional concerns coupled with a fear of “backlash from anti-abortion groups and politicians” means that when medical students receive abortion training, it “happens quietly, almost in secret.”

    Abortion stigma is defined as 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 in the general public about the procedure itself. Right-wing media and anti-choice groups have worked relentlessly to “exploit the stigma of abortion” -- describing the procedure as sickening, “grisly,” and “selfish” while calling abortion providers “villains” and comparing them to Nazis.

    According to Feibel, one of the best ways to combat stigma is for residents to work with patients and understand their motivations for seeking an abortion. She wrote:

    There’s another intangible, but critical, experience residents get from abortion training, though it has nothing to do with technique. Jane, the resident, summed it up this way: “Every woman has a different story and a different reason why she chooses to end her pregnancy.”

    Hearing those stories from patients is crucial to an ob-gyn’s professional development, said Dr. Jody Steinauer, an ob-gyn professor and researcher at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco.

    Counseling patients teaches doctors valuable bedside skills like compassion, empathy, and political awareness.

    “When they spend time in a setting that provides abortion care, they have real epiphanies,” Steinauer said. “They become more aware of their biases. They’re surprised that more than half of women having abortion are already mothers, for example.”

    Challenging abortion stigma by encouraging greater dialogue is a familiar strategy for many reproductive health advocates. Organizations including Sea Change, #ShoutYourAbortion, and the 1 in 3 Campaign all encourage people to speak out about their abortion experiences through a variety of media.

    Aside from the social benefits of addressing abortion stigma, exposing medical residents to abortion procedures is beneficial for their development overall. As one doctor told Feibel, “The technical procedure is the same, whether you are doing it for a miscarriage, or whether you’re doing it to terminate an ongoing pregnancy.” Another resident explained that a number of the skills practiced during her time at an outpatient abortion clinic would improve her proficiency in other aspects of the field:

    Jane spent about a month at this family planning clinic during the third year of her residency. Abortion is just one of the skills she learned. She counseled patients about abortion, contraception and sexually-transmitted diseases. She also learned techniques for pain management and dilation of the cervix.

    Many of those skills will be useful in other practice areas, Jane said. For instance, ob-gyns use ultrasounds for many different reasons.

    “Before in residency, we were doing ultrasounds maybe once during a clinic afternoon, or a few ultrasounds in the o-b triage area,” Jane said. “But here we do 30 ultrasounds in a morning, so it’s a lot of good learning about how to do ultrasounds.”

    Despite these tangible benefits from providing abortion training to medical students, many training programs won’t embrace the practice; contacted by Feibel, program representatives refused to answer questions about whether they train students to perform abortions. One hung up on her, another cancelled the interview, and six more “simply refused to answer the questions about how the training takes place.”

    If the Supreme Court upholds HB 2, the need to “train the next generation” of abortion providers will only grow. To underscore this point, Feibel included comments from Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld, a 74-year-old abortion provider who “hasn’t been able to line up a successor” to lead his medical practice. According to Rosenfeld, although he’s reached out to other doctors, “none of them are interested in the political consequences of providing abortions.”

  • Morning Shows Give GOP A Pass For Blocking Gun Safety Measures In Senate

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Morning news shows broadcast on ABC, NBC, and CBS inaccurately reported that the Senate rejected four “gun control measures” during procedural votes the evening of June 20.

    In fact, only two of the votes involved  “gun control” measures. Those measures were blocked along nearly party-line votes by Senate Republicans. The other two votes were on amendments offered by Republican senators. One of those amendments would have weakened the current background check system for gun purchases while the other offered an “unworkable” standard for blocking gun sales to suspected terrorists.

    Senate votes on two gun safety measures proposed by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) represent the most significant votes on gun safety legislation in the Senate since the April 2013 GOP blockade of background check legislation proposed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. Murphy’s and Feinstein’s proposals each failed to get the 60 votes necessary to break through Republican obstructionism.

    In brief news reports on June 21, however, Good Morning America, Today, and CBS This Morning all glossed over the important distinctions between the four gun amendments the Senate voted on, and in some cases reporters for the morning shows credulously repeated the GOP Senate’s false characterization of its two proposals.

    • Good Morning America reported “The Senate has rejected all four gun control measures proposed after the Orlando nightclub shooting. The measures to expand background checks and block gun sales to people on the terror watch list were voted down, mostly along party lines.”

    • Today reported, “Four votes last night on what to do about guns in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre. In the Senate on Monday, these gun control measures came up for votes, but not one got the needed 60 votes necessary to move forward. … Republicans had also offered proposals that would prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns, but the Republicans were also demanding some due process provisions that Democrats could not accept.”

    • CBS This Morning reported, “New gun control measures appear unlikely after the Senate failed last night to pass four separate bills. Each fell short of the 60 votes needed. Democratic Party bills called for expanded background checks and banning anyone on a terrorist watch list from buying a gun. The Republican versions required people on watch lists to wait 72 hours, they also supported more resources for background checks.”

    In addition to not clearly identifying Senate Republicans as the driving factor behind obstructionism of gun safety legislation, the morning show reports on the Senate votes failed to accurately explain what was in the two GOP counterproposals.

    The GOP amendment described by CBS This Morning as supporting “more resources for background checks” would have actually weakened the background check system. The amendment, authored and introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), has been in existence for years, having first been introduced as a GOP alternative during Senate votes in 2013 on background check legislation. While purporting to better fund the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the legislation would actually invalidate large numbers of records in the system that prohibit people from passing a background check due to an adjudication of severe mental illness. Grassley’s amendment has been used by GOP senators who wish to claim to support improving the background check system while not actually voting for NRA-opposed legislation that would make improvements. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has notably used this tactic for years.

    The GOP amendment that Today reported “would prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns” would not actually prevent any sales to suspected terrorists. While GOP backers of the amendment, which was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), made arguments about due process provisions  (even though the Democratic alternative also included due process protections), the language of the GOP amendment creates “an unworkable standard” for blocking dangerous sales, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. Specifically, the amendment, which Cornyn has previously put forward as an alternative to Feinstein’s “terror gap” proposal, would only give Department of Justice officials 72 hours to prove in court “not only that someone is suspected of being involved in terrorism, but that he or she will actually commit an act of terror.”

  • In Reporting On Trump’s Call For Armed Clubgoers, Some Media Miss NRA’s Extremism On Guns In Bars

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    After presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump said clubgoers at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, where a gunman killed 49 people June 12, should have been carrying guns, many media outlets noted that Trump had staked out a position on guns in bars that was even more extreme than the National Rifle Association’s.

    Several media outlets, however, also incorrectly reported that the NRA opposes guns in bars generally.

    In fact, for years the NRA has made state-level efforts to allow concealed guns to be carried in bars so long as the person with the gun does not consume alcohol. The alcohol prohibition would largely operate on an honor system, as most concealed carry laws require that the gun remain concealed at all times unless being used for lawful self-defense or some other legal purpose.

    In recent years, the NRA has backed legislative efforts to allow guns in bars in states including Tennessee, Ohio, and Georgia.

    On June 17, Trump said while discussing the Orlando mass shooting, “If some of those wonderful people had guns strapped right here -- right to their waist or right to their ankle -- and … one of the people in that room happened to have it and goes 'boom, boom,' you know what? That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight." (Trump later dishonestly claimed he was referring only to the arming of employees or security guards.)

    Two NRA officials were asked about Trump’s remark during Sunday show appearances on June 19. NRA Institute for Legislative Action executive director Chris Cox said people drinking in clubs should not carry guns while NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said, “I don’t think you should have firearms where people are drinking.” The NRA later clarified that LaPierre was expressing opposition only to people drinking while carrying guns in bars.

    So while Trump’s position is further out there compared to the NRA’s position, the NRA’s position itself is out of the mainstream.

    Several outlets misreported the NRA’s extreme position in guns in bars, amid confusion over both Trump and LaPierre attempting to “clarify” remarks made about guns in bars:

    • USA Today: “But NRA officials said Sunday that having armed patrons in bars with alcohol was not such a good idea.”

    • NBC’s Peter Alexander on the June 20 broadcast of Today: “Trump’s argued that if more people at that Orlando nightclub were armed with guns strapped to their waist, and that they fired back at the shooter, the carnage would have been much less. But even the NRA pushed back against that, insisting it does not believe people should carry guns in drinking establishments.”

    • Associated Press: “Donald Trump is backtracking from his contention that victims of the Orlando massacre should have been allowed to carry arms into the nightclub where they were attacked -- a stance even the NRA says is untenable.”

  • MSNBC And CNN Give Platform To Gun Extremist Weeks After He Suggested Dissatisfied Voters Shoot Politicians

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    CNN and MSNBC hosted Gun Owners of America (GOA) executive director Larry Pratt to discuss the ongoing debate over possible new gun laws following the Pulse nightclub massacre even though just weeks ago Pratt suggested that gun owners unsatisfied with election outcomes could “resort to the bullet box.”

    The recent claim about the “bullet box” is just the latest inflammatory claim from Pratt, who routinely suggests that politicians who favor passing stronger gun laws should fear being shot by a GOA supporter.

    In comments flagged by Right Wing Watch, Pratt recently responded  to Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with by saying on his radio show that “we may have to reassert that proper constitutional balance, and it may not be pretty” before suggesting that gun owners may “have to resort to the bullet box” rather than resolve political disputes through voting.

    During June 20 appearances on CNN Newsroom and MSNBC Live, Pratt caused both anchors to become incredulous with his outrageous claims about the Orlando, FL, shooting.

    On MSNBC, Pratt repeatedly insisted that the shooting took place in a “gun-free zone,” even though the club employed an armed guard -- an off-duty police officer -- and in the initial stages of the attack, he engaged in a gunfight with the suspect, with two on-duty police officers joining him. 

    When MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts said, “But this wasn’t a gun-free zone. … Well there was an armed guard. … It’s an off-duty police officer that was there, reportedly exchanged fire with the shooter,” Pratt bizarrely responded, “That doesn’t make him armed.”

    On CNN, Pratt caused anchor Carol Costello to burst into laughter by suggesting that people should be able to carry guns in bars, with a rule that the proprietor “control the amount of booze” sold to those people.

    Pratt routinely makes inflammatory claims and takes extreme positions, including saying that the Second Amendment was "designed" for people like President Obama, supporting putting guns in kindergarten classrooms, and warning the federal government that "we'll point our guns at you if you try to act tyrannically."

    Pratt has also flirted with conspiracy theories including that the government staged the 2012 Aurora, CO, movie theater massacre and 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School to build support for more gun regulation, and he has given credence to the claim that Obama will start a race war. In October 2015, Pratt claimed that Jews in Europe lacked "determination" to stop the Holocaust.

    Pratt was forced to leave the presidential campaign of Republican Pat Buchanan in 1996 after The New York Times reported that the campaign co-chairman "had spoken at rallies held by leaders of the white supremacist and militia movements" during the rise of the militia movement in the 1990s. Pratt has been a "contributing editor" to an anti-Semitic publication, and his articles on gun ownership have appeared in a white supremacist "tabloid" published by the racist Christian Identity movement. The GOA donated "tens of thousands of dollars" to a white supremacist group during the 1990s, under Pratt's direction.