Meet the Anti-Choice Figures Who Appear Most Often To Spread Misinformation About Abortion
Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN
In 2015 and early 2016, evening cable news programming featured three anti-choice activists a total of 23 times, despite these guests’ consistent efforts to spread misinformation and outright falsehoods about Planned Parenthood, reproductive health care, and abortion access. According to a new Media Matters study, all 23 of these appearances occurred on Fox, which during this same timespan hosted only a single advocate representing a pro-choice organization.
Media Matters analyzed 14 months of evening cable programming, examining details including the frequency with which people who self-identified as anti-choice were involved in discussions about abortion and reproductive rights.
From January 1, 2015, to March 6, 2016, the three anti-choice activists who appeared the most on evening cable news programs were Lila Rose and David Daleiden -- both notorious for their discredited attempts to smear Planned Parenthood using deceptively edited videos -- along with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, an extremist hate group. Collectively, these three anti-choice activists appeared a total of 23 times on Fox News’ evening programs to talk about abortion-related topics.
Dishonorable mentions also go to Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, and Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, another infamous extremist with ties to anti-choice violence. Each of these speakers appeared at least once to attack Planned Parenthood and spread misinformation about reproductive health.
The Anti-Choice Speakers Who Appeared The Most Often On Evening Cable Programs To Talk About Abortion
1. Lila Rose, Live Action
Lila Rose, the president and founder of the anti-choice group Live Action, was the most frequent anti-choice guest to appear during evening cable programming, with 10 appearances over 14 months. Rose is best known for her connections to right-wing activists and her long, disreputable history of perpetrating hoaxes and concocting false allegations against abortion providers.
According to a 2009 profile in the Los Angeles Times, Rose began her career partnered with right-wing activist James O’Keefe in 2006. O’Keefe had a history of attempting to smear liberal organizations by using doctored undercover video, but the two “came up with the idea to infiltrate clinics” after being “inspired by the work of Mark Crutcher, a Texas anti-abortion activist who in 2002 taped faked calls to hundreds of Planned Parenthood clinics,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Rose has staged (and illicitly filmed) conversations with Planned Parenthood providers and staff while masquerading as a young woman seeking an abortion. She then heavily edited these conversations to allege that Planned Parenthood engaged in a variety of systemic criminal activities.
Beyond O’Keefe, Rose has been supported by a larger infrastructure of right-wing media and anti-choice organizations. For example, when Rose released her deceptive videos in February 2011, Fox News provided frequent coverage. Rose herself appeared on Fox to promote the videos multiple times in the months that followed. Rose has also greatly benefited from the “generous assistance” of “powerful players” on the right such as anti-LGBT legal giant Alliance Defending Freedom and the Gerard Health Foundation -- an organization known for promoting fringe views on birth control, sex education, and reproductive rights. In 2008, Rose received the anti-choice group Operation Rescue’s Person of the Year award, and she also previously employed David Daleiden as Live Action’s director of research.
Rose also has a history of making extreme comments about abortion, such as that the procedure should be “done in the public square” so that people could experience outrage and then “hear angels singing as we ponder the glory of conception.” Rose has also attacked abortion providers, once calling Planned Parenthood “the single most evil organization in human history” and alleging that they provide abortions on behalf of Satan.
2. David Daleiden, Center For Medical Progress
David Daleiden is the founder and “project lead” at the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the organization responsible for propagating an extensive smear campaign against Planned Parenthood so fraudulent that CMP earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year. After CMP released its first deceptively edited video in July 2015, Daleiden appeared seven times on evening cable news programs over the next nine months to promote the false allegations that Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue.
CMP’s videos have been consistently discredited while over 13 state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. On January 25, a Houston grand jury, which was called upon to investigate allegations made by CMP, decided not to take action against Planned Parenthood and instead indicted Daleiden and one of his associates for using fraudulent means to gain access to Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Likewise, a federal judge determined that CMP’s work constituted “misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions … of criminal misconduct.”
Daleiden is not only well-connected to other anti-choice extremist groups; he also enjoys support from conservative media. Daleiden has used this media prominence as an opportunity to attack abortion providers. For example, in an interview on Glenn Beck’s radio program, Daleiden described one provider as “evil” and having “the predator look … that you see in someone who is accustomed to killing people.” Even when right-wing media have not given Daleiden himself a platform, they have frequently carried water for his misleading allegations.
CMP’s work has also prompted a variety of baseless congressional investigations and multiple efforts by anti-choice legislators to defund Planned Parenthood at the state and federal level. Most recently, the congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- established by Republicans in October 2015 to investigate fetal tissue donation practices -- has extensively relied on “evidence” pulled directly from CMP’s website and deceptively edited videos to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.
According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), harassment, violence, and threats against abortion providers and clinics have all been increasing. NAF’s 2015 statistics confirm that “the sharp rise in threats and violence in 2015 ... directly correlates to the release of inflammatory videos aimed at demonizing providers.”
3. Tony Perkins, Family Research Council
With six appearances over the span of 14 months, Tony Perkins -- an extremist hate group leader -- was the third-most hosted anti-choice advocate. Perkins is president of the Family Research Council (FRC), an anti-LGBT group that was listed as a “hate group” in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its role in propagating known falsehoods about LGBT people.
In addition to Perkins’ anti-choice views, he also has a history of making inflammatory comments about the LGBT community. For example, Perkins has equated being gay with using drugs and committing adultery, accused gay people of attempting to “recruit” children, and compared gay advocates to terrorists. As president of FRC, he has repeated the extensively debunked myth that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem,” argued in favor of the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “reparative therapy,” and falsely claimed that children are harmed by having same-sex parents.
Perkins is responsible for organizing key evangelical support behind former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Perkins served on the former candidate’s “Pro-Lifers for Cruz Coalition” alongside known anti-choice extremist Troy Newman. Cruz has made no secret of his disdain for Planned Parenthood, or of his support for David Daleiden and CMP’s smear campaign.
Dishonorable Mentions -- Other Anti-Choice Activists Hosted By Fox
1. Jay Sekulow, American Center For Law And Justice
Jay Sekulow is the chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) -- a conservative anti-choice legal group that is defending former CMP board member Troy Newman in a lawsuit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF). Sekulow has been a vocal opponent of Planned Parenthood funding and the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Following CMP’s release of deceptively edited video, Sekulow joined anti-choice legislators and extremists in calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Beyond attacking Planned Parenthood, Sekulow and the ACJL have frequently defended Daleiden and CMP as “investigative journalists.” A grand jury, a federal judge, and many journalists have rejected this characterization.
Sekulow is also a proponent of Senate Republicans' ongoing obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and he has suggested support for state policies that “punish” people for obtaining an abortion. In an April 1 edition of his radio show, Sekulow said that the idea of punishing people for receiving abortions was “not craziness” and that “for any other person that somebody killed, they’d be held culpable.”
Sekulow also represented one of the plaintiffs in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby -- the first challenge heard by the Supreme Court to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the court found that certain classes of employer could not be compelled to include contraception in their employees’ insurance plans if doing so ran counter to the employers’ sincerely held religious beliefs. In explaining his client’s position, Sekulow wrongly argued that the ACA’s contraceptive mandate would include coverage of “abortion-inducing drugs.”
Neither of his assertions is true.
Medical experts agree that there are stark differences between emergency contraception and abortion procedures or drugs that act as "abortifacients." According to a March 2016 white paper from the Princeton University Office of Population Research, emergency contraception pills "do not interrupt an established pregnancy" and therefore “are not abortifacient[s]," in part because the medical consensus defines "implantation" as the beginning of a pregnancy.
2. The Rev. Frank Pavone, Priests For Life
The Rev. Frank Pavone is the national director of the Catholic anti-choice group Priests for Life. Pavone is well-connected to other anti-choice groups -- notably bragging about his “partnership with Operation Rescue” and the “close” relationship he enjoys with CMP. In his work, Pavone regularly insults abortion providers, attacks Planned Parenthood, and promotes the stigmatization of abortion.
Pavone has a history of making extreme and false comments about abortion providers and reproductive rights advocates. For example, when the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, spoke at Georgetown University, Pavone argued that inviting Richards was akin to inviting “representatives of ISIS” to speak in order to “understand terrorism.” Similarly, when defending CMP’s work, Pavone wrongly accused abortion providers of “doing a lot of other evil things” as well. His examples were: “medical malpractice, sexual abuse of patients, violation of OSHA standards, insurance laws, money laundering, all kinds of fraud and, yes, even the sale of body parts.” In response to the deadly November 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado, Pavone blamed supporters of abortion access for “poisoning the moral climate in our nation.”
Despite Daleiden’s mounting legal troubles, Pavone has warned that “the troubles for Planned Parenthood have only just begun.” He has championed the efforts of anti-choice extremist Mark Crutcher -- who previously promised to train and “unleash a whole army of David Daleidens” to infiltrate and baselessly attack reproductive health care providers.
Pavone has also worked to stigmatize abortion, saying that anti-choice groups like his “exploit the stigma of abortion, we lift it up high for people to see, we reinforce it.” Abortion stigma is the shared idea that abortion is morally wrong or socially unacceptable, but in reality, abortion is an incredibly common procedure that 30 percent of women will undergo by age 45.
3. Troy Newman, Operation Rescue
Troy Newman is the president of Operation Rescue -- an extremist anti-choice group with a history of spouting violent rhetoric and harassing abortion providers, whose senior policy advisor, Cheryl Sullenger, was convicted of conspiring to bomb a clinic in 1987. A Rolling Stone profile of Operation Rescue described the organization’s strategy as a “smear campaign … to shut down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.”
To further this strategy, Newman has trained other anti-choice activists and supported the development of spin-off groups that continue Operation Rescue’s work across the country. He previously served as one of CMP’s founding board members before resigning after a Texas grand jury indicted Daleiden and one of his associates.
Newman claims that Operation Rescue has never endorsed violence, yet in his book Their Blood Cries Out, Newman wrote that the U.S. government had “abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty,” which he said would involve “executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes.” Similarly, when Paul Jennings Hill was executed for the murder of an abortion provider and a clinic escort, Newman argued that Hill should have been able to mount the defense that it was “necessary” to kill the providers in order to save "the lives of pre-born babies." Operation Rescue's Sullenger also reportedly helped convicted murderer Scott Roeder keep track of legal proceedings for his eventual victim, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.
Beyond his work with Operation Rescue, Newman also has a personal history of harassing providers -- a reputation that caused Australia to deport him out of concern that his “presence would be ‘a threat to good order’” and that he would “compromise the safety and wellbeing” of abortion providers and those seeking care.