Cable News Networks Are Perpetuating Abortion Myths

Progressive research and information center Media Matters (MM) released a study earlier this month that analyzed 14 months of evening cable news programming—totaling 688 segments—on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC that included a “substantial discussion of abortion or organizations that support or discourage reproductive rights.” For the most part, the results of the study were both staggering and disheartening: Overwhelmingly, MM found that discussions of abortions on the three networks featured anti-choice speakers and panelists who frequently spread misinformation about abortion and reproductive rights.

via mirsasha and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0
via mirsasha and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0

MM evaluated whether guests who appeared on evening cable news programming were anti-choice or pro-choice, based on statements they had made publicly in the past. They also evaluated whether and how often guests made “anti-choice” statements or “pro-choice” statements based on what they identified as the four most significant abortion-related pieces of misinformation: that government funds given to Planned Parenthood through Medicaid are illegally used to pay for abortions, the positioning of birth control as an abortifacient, that Planned Parenthood “harvests,” “sells” or is “profiting” from fetal tissue and that the Center for Medical Progress’ deceptive work or videos attacking Planned Parenthood are “fair” acts of “journalism.”

Nearly 82 percent of the statements Fox News made about abortion contained inaccurate information relating to the four claims above, leading Fox to contribute 89 percent of all misinformation claims found in the study. On Fox News, misinformation related specifically to Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue program was perpetuated far more than the other three common misinformation claims. Though the number of inaccurate statements aired on CNN was far lower at 54, these inaccurate claims still made up the majority of the 97 abortion-related statements made on the network.

The statistics were a bit different for MSNBC, however, as it was the only one of the three networks to air more accurate statements than inaccurate ones, at a 70 percent accuracy rate. MSNBC was also the only network to include any segments concerning the economic hardships associated with obtaining an abortion. Despite this uplifting information, it is important to note that the false statements that were made on MSNBC, especially those relating to certain types of birth control acting as abortifacients, went largely uncorrected.

Graph provided by Media Matters displays ratios of misinformation and accurate information presented on evening cable news programming

In terms of who made these statements and appeared as guests and panelists on the evening news programming, MM found that, overall, anti-choice guests appeared far more frequently than pro-choice guests to speak about abortion-related topics. FOX News featured 284 appearances of identified anti-choice people compared to 29 appearances of pro-choice people, while CNN featured 47 anti-choice guests and 18 pro-choice ones. However, MSNBC was the only network to feature more identified pro-choice people than anti-choice, as well as a large number of appearances by people who had no pro- or anti-choice identification.

Across all three networks, more men than women appeared to make statements about abortion-related topics. Looking beyond gender-based discrepancies, there was only one appearance during the entire 14-month timespan made by a group devoted to reproductive rights for women of color—when Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, participated in a panel discussion on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.

MM also tracked whether the news networks made any mention of two important abortion-related issues: economic hardships associated with obtaining an abortion and acts of violence directed toward abortion clinics and providers. Researchers found that MSNBC was the only network to include any segments concerning economic hardship impeding abortion access. Shockingly, 94 percent of segments that featured any mention of violence, threats and harassment made toward abortion providers occurred shortly after Robert Lewis Dear Jr. allegedly murdered three people while attacking a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. Before the incident, the topic went almost entirely ignored.

The results of this study are harrowing, to say the least. To know that the three top cable news networks in our nation are perpetuating anti-choice talking points is to recognize that the fight for abortion access remains more important than ever, as does the battle for better media representation for women and issues that concern their lives. To demand better, you can write to or call Fox, CNN, and MSNBC and hold them accountable for the ways they discuss and portray abortion.

 

 

About

Natalie Geismar is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a rising sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, where she double majors in International and Area Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is an ardent feminist with a passion for human rights work and advocacy of all varieties and hopes to become some combination of international lawyer/activist/journalist/Amal Clooney in the future.