AP uncritically repeated Beauprez's false claim that Ritter said he would include "Down syndrome" as exception to abortion ban

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

The original version of an Associated Press article uncritically quoted Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez's false claim that Democratic candidate Bill Ritter "declared himself pro-life, then said he'd make exceptions for anomalies. I asked if that included Down syndrome and he said yes."

The original version of a September 26 Associated Press article by reporter Steven K. Paulson about the "problems dogging" the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez uncritically quoted Beauprez's false claim that Democratic candidate Bill Ritter "declared himself pro-life, then said he'd make exceptions for anomalies. I asked if that included Down syndrome and he said yes."

Beauprez apparently was referring to an exchange from an August 11 debate that he previously has misrepresented. In fact, at no point during the debate did Ritter mention Down syndrome. Instead, it was Beauprez who claimed during the debate that Ritter would support an exception allowing abortion if a fetus had Down syndrome -- a fact that a previous article by Paulson also failed to note.

A subsequent version of Paulson's September 26 article noted that "Ritter's campaign spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said Tuesday that Ritter does not support abortions in cases involving a fetus with Down syndrome." However, the new version of the article did not report that Beauprez's claim about what Ritter said in the debate was false.

The full video of the August 11 debate is available on KCNC CBS4's website.

From the original version of the September 26 Associated Press article by Steven K. Paulson, "Colo governor's race seen as a tossup":

Then Beauprez offered his own apology for saying during a radio interview that 70 percent of pregnancies among blacks end in abortion. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, which compiles abortion data, said a 2002 report suggests 43 percent of conceptions among black women ended in abortion, compared with 18 percent for whites.

"I think there are little bumps in the road people go through, but Ritter had some, too," Beauprez told The Associated Press. "He declared himself pro-life, then said he'd make exceptions for anomalies. I asked if that included Down syndrome and he said yes."

Ritter's stance on abortion has worried fellow Democrats. He said he personally opposes abortion but insists he will support abortion rights as long as Roe vs. Wade is the law.

As Colorado Media Matters noted, an August 11 AP article by Paulson about the first televised debate between Ritter and Beauprez misleadingly reported that during a discussion about a hypothetical bill to outlaw abortions, "Beauprez said Ritter went too far when he said he would allow exceptions for 'fetal anomalies,' which could include children with Down syndrome, a common birth defect."

But contrary to Paulson's August 11 article and Beauprez's claim in Paulson's September 26 article, Ritter did not mention Down syndrome when discussing abortion during the August 11 debate. Rather, in discussing whether as governor he would sign a hypothetical bill to outlaw abortion, Ritter said, "[I]t depends on how it looks when it comes to my desk -- but I think it's important to understand the existence of exceptions: rape, incest, even fetal anomalies." Ritter did not say which fetal anomalies should be excepted, nor did he say all fetal anomalies should be excepted.

Later in the debate, Beauprez said he interpreted Ritter's statement to mean that aborting a fetus because it has Down syndrome is "OK." Referring to Ritter, Beauprez stated: "I don't know where his line is, because he's openly said he's very pro-life. But I think I just heard him say that fetal abnormalities -- which I guess means if you find out you've got a child with Down syndrome -- that's OK. That's a big problem to me."

But in responding to Beauprez's characterization of his position on abortion, Ritter did not say that he would include Down syndrome as an exception to a hypothetical abortion ban. Rather, Ritter cited an entirely different condition as an example of a fetal anomaly that could be exempted from any abortion ban: a fetus that develops without a brain stem.

Beauprez made a similar false claim regarding Ritter's position on abortion two weeks later on the August 25 broadcast KVOR-AM's The Joseph Michelli Show with guest host Jeff Crank. As Colorado Media Matters noted, Beauprez falsely claimed that during the debate Ritter said he would support exceptions for "Down syndrome and other abnormalities."

In an August 31 Denver Post article about Beauprez's false statement that "70 percent" of African American pregnancies end in abortion, the Post noted, "Beauprez's comments marked the second time in less than a week that the Republican has misstated information about abortion. In a radio interview on KVOR-AM in Colorado Springs, Beauprez said Ritter supports abortion in cases where the fetus could be born with Down syndrome." However, according to the same article:

Ritter, who opposes abortion, said he would support a ban that makes exceptions in cases of rape, incest and "fetal anomalies."

On Wednesday, Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said Ritter does not consider Down syndrome a fetal abnormality that should be excepted from an abortion ban.

Similarly, the Rocky Mountain News reported on August 12 that during the debate, Ritter "said he would veto any bill to outlaw abortion that didn't allow exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. He also said he might consider abortion in the case of severe fetal anomalies, such as a lack of a brain stem."

From the August 11 debate on Denver's KBDI Channel 12, Colorado Public Television:

RITTER: So it depends on how it looks when it comes to my desk -- but I think it's important to understand the existence of exceptions: rape, incest, even fetal anomalies. And the second part of it is, does it or does it not contain criminal penalties?

JIM BENEMANN (moderator): Congressman?

BEAUPREZ: Fetal anomalies, too?

RITTER: Well, I think that --

BEAUPREZ: But we're still pro-life, huh, Bill?

RITTER: Yeah, I would absolutely say that, Bob.

BEAUPREZ: If Roe v. Wade were overturned at the federal level, and a bill were put on my desk that still protected the life of the mother, I'd sign it.

[...]

BENEMANN: Congressman, for you this is a fairly black-and-white issue, apparently.

BEAUPREZ: It is.

BENEMANN: Do you see too much gray in Mr. Ritter's position?

BEAUPREZ: Oh my goodness. I don't know where his line is, because he's openly said he's very pro-life. But I think I just heard him say that fetal abnormalities -- which I guess means if you find out you've got a child with Down syndrome -- that's OK. That's a big problem to me. The so-called morning-after pill. I believe that that is clearly a fertilized embryo; we believe that life begins there. That's why I have a problem with that. Taxpayers have spoken repeatedly and said that we don't want taxpayer, at least, funding of abortions, and he says he's going to restore funding to Planned Parenthood. I have a problem with that. I am fairly black-and-white, and I think people need to know that.

[...]

BENEMANN: Bill, do you feel as if you've backtracked on this issue as you've become a governor -- candidate for governor?

RITTER: No, I have talked about this since 1993 when I was first appointed. And it really is important to understand that fetal anomalies, for instance -- and that's why it's difficult. Because you ask a question that's a hypothetical -- what'll happen is the legislature will have a discussion -- and we're still talking about a hypothetical that Roe v. Wade's overturned -- they'll have a discussion. And to say "fetal anomalies," some might involve hydrocephal -- or children born without brain stems or being in utero without brain stems. And there will be this vetting that will happen in the legislature, and it will come to the governor, and for the governor to say, "I'll sign this or sign that" right now without saying, "I'll look at it and I'll make a decision about what the exceptions are, how broad they are," and if rape and incest are not two of them, then I'm not going to sign it. And it depends on what the fetal anomalies are or aren't. But those are all part of leadership and part of looking at the public-policy discussion.

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