People still use medically inaccurate and stigmatizing terms to talk about abortion. You can help change that.

For decades, conservative politicians and activists have dictated the rhetoric around abortion, and for that reason many of the words we use to talk about the procedure are medically inaccurate, emotionally charged, and suffused with stigma. And that includes even the most basic terms we use to describe the debate over abortion rights: The anti-abortion camp has long described itself as “pro-life” instead, monopolizing a powerful word that advocates say clouds their real intention—to ban abortion. The word “choice,” some say, is an imprecise one as well, creating the impression that one’s ability to get an abortion is simply a matter of choosing to do so, when in fact there are many systematic obstacles in the way that keep people from accessing the procedure.

Other terms are not just imprecise, but flat out incorrect. “Late-term abortion” isn’t a medical term, for example; and embryos don’t have “heartbeats” at six weeks, despite the dozens of bills named for this supposed phenomenon.

This language has not only influenced how we talk about abortion on an everyday basis, but has shaped legislation and policy that affects people’s access to the procedure, and, in some cases, prevented people from seeking the type of abortion care they would prefer to have. In a recent study on self-managed abortion, researchers found that some people chose to end their pregnancies on their own—in private—rather than get an abortion in a clinic “to avoid the stigma or shame of having an abortion.”

Most people don’t intend to harm people seeking abortions when they use medically incorrect terms; often it’s the case that they simply lack crucial knowledge about the procedure that would help them talk about it in a more sensitive way. (A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans don’t know how far along in pregnancy most abortions occur.)

Reproductive health experts say that changing the way we talk about abortion can begin to change the realities of the people who need abortions.

“The language that we use in this conversation defines the terms of the debate and defines whether people can access care in a supportive and affirming environment,” said Elisabeth Smith, the chief counsel of state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “When we use language that’s stigmatizing, we are simply dividing people and creating additional hurdles or barriers for [patients].”

Here’s how to begin undoing some of the stigma, according to providers, advocates, and people who have received abortion care themselves:

Women aren’t the only people who get abortions. “Pregnant people” or “people seeking abortions” are less stigmatizing terms.

Transgender and nonbinary people experience increased barriers to getting healthcare, and are more likely to face discrimination from providers when they can access it. And when it comes to abortion care, people can unwittingly exacerbate those barriers by implying that it’s only cisgender women who need the procedure.

“It’s not only women who can get pregnant, which means it’s not only women who seek access to care,” Smith said. “Leaving trans men or nonbinary people out of the conversation means that when they try to access care it’s that much more stigmatizing and that much more difficult to access.”

Instead of “heartbeat bill,” use “six-week ban” or simply “abortion ban.”

What might otherwise be called a “six-week” abortion ban has instead become widely known as “heartbeat” legislation, thanks to conservative lawmakers who have used the false claim that six-week embryos have “heartbeats” in order to ban abortion before many people even know they’re pregnant. (Even after a functioning heart does form, a fetus isn’t considered viable until around 24 weeks.)

“There’s no heart [at that stage], there’s only a collection of cardiac cells that pulse,” Smith explained. That pulse—which anti-abortion activists insist is the sound of a “heartbeat”—isn’t actually audible, Smith continued: “The sonogram machine is what makes the pulse,” she said.

Instead of “late-term abortion,” use “abortion later in pregnancy” or “later abortion.”

Over the last year, President Donald Trump and other anti-choice politicians have leaned heavily on the term “late-term abortion,” using it to bolster the false claim that providers perform abortions just before patients’ due dates. “Democrats are … pushing extreme late-term abortion,” Trump said at a 2019 rally, after telling his supporters that fetuses can be “ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

Not only is this a misleading portrayal of the procedure, and a misrepresentation of the stage at which the overwhelming majority of abortions occur—88 percent are in the first trimester—but the term itself is non-medical and inaccurate, according to experts.

“The term ‘late-term abortion’ was largely created by anti-choice individuals and groups as a way to create more emotion around the process of abortion and make people feel empathy for the fetus,” Anuj Khattar, an abortion provider based in Washington and a fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told VICE last year. “It’s not a medical term used by the medical community.”

This inflammatory language can mean that people who need later abortions (usually because of undetected fetal abnormalities or risks to their life) may find themselves experiencing stigma in already difficult circumstances.

“I kept telling my husband, ‘Please don’t think I’m a horrible person,’” said Dana Weinstein, a woman in Washington, D.C., who needed an abortion after she learned at 29 weeks that her fetus was missing large parts of its brain. “Of course he didn’t—but it was so frustrating that I had this stigma in my face when I was in this devastating situation.”

Avoid claiming that a state has “banned abortion”—and don’t share news stories that say so.

In the first six months of 2019, seven states passed some version of an abortion ban: Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio passed legislation banning abortion at six weeks, while Missouri banned the procedure at eight weeks, and Alabama passed a near-total ban on abortion. All of these laws were—and are—unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade which says states can’t restrict abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb. None went into effect right away. Yet at the time, some news outlets ran headlines like “Abortions after six weeks will be illegal under Georgia law,” or failed to mention the inevitable legal challenges the laws would face until readers got several paragraphs in.

Abortion providers have said that circulating this misinformation harms their patients by confusing them about the care they can legally access.

“People are saying, ‘I don’t know if I can make an appointment,’” Calla Hales, the director of a clinic network that oversees two locations in Georgia, told VICE last year amid the spate of bans. “We’re explaining to them, ‘No, abortion isn’t illegal. This ban doesn’t go into effect until 2020, and honestly, it may never get there.’”

Advocates say there’s a way to emphasize the severity of abortion bans, without circulating information that can harm patients: Instead, people who want to share news about new anti-abortion legislation can use words like “could” and “would” instead of “will,” to emphasize that the law is not yet in effect, and stress the law’s unconstitutionality.

Instead of “chemical abortion,” use “medication abortion” or “abortion with pills.”

Medication abortion is an early-abortion procedure that involves taking the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, which have been proven to be overwhelmingly safe and effective for ending a first-trimester pregnancy. When patients can access medication abortion in a clinic, they receive the medication from a licensed provider, and take the first drug in person and the second drug at home to pass the pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration continues to require patients to receive the medication in the provider’s office as part of its longstanding restrictions on mifepristone, which much of the medical community has deemed unnecessary.

But in an effort to portray the procedure as risky or illicit, abortion foes sometimes refer to medication abortion as “chemical abortion” instead.

“It’s a very deliberate choice on their part: People think of chemicals as causing harm, or something caustic,” said Elisa Wells, the cofounder of Plan C, a site that rates online abortion-pill sellers for those who can’t access medication abortion in a clinic.

“Medication is something approved and deemed to be safe,” she said.

Use “self-managed” to describe abortions people do themselves—never “back-alley” abortion.

Self-managed abortion in 2020 doesn’t involve a coat hanger or receiving care from an unlicensed provider. It’s the same method as medication abortion, except instead of getting the medications in a clinic, patients usually buy the pills online. And research has shown that the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol remain safe and effective even when administered without medical supervision.

Some people choose self-managed abortion because they don’t have access to in-clinic care, while others prefer it because of the privacy, comfort, and convenience it can offer. Either way, advocates say it shouldn’t be characterized as dangerous or rudimentary so as to avoid stigmatizing the people who choose to self-manage.

“When people use that term ‘back-alley’ it evokes a time when doing your own abortion could be very dangerous,” Wells said.

“That’s not at all the case now with self-managed abortion,” she continued. “We want to get away from the image of the coat hanger and help people associate self-managed abortion with pills and safety.”

Avoid the term “surgical” when referring to abortion—say “in-clinic” or “procedural” abortion.

Last week, New York City-based abortion provider Zoey Thill was explaining an early abortion procedure to a patient when she was faced with a revealing question: “What do you cut with?” Thill had shown the patient the tools she would use, but the patient was confused why there were no sharp instruments Thill could use to make an incision.

As Thill went on to explain, performing an abortion doesn’t involve any incisions or “cutting” of any kind. But she understands why some patients might think so: What Thill refers to as a “procedural abortion” is what most people likely consider a “surgical” abortion. And the term “surgical” can give both patients and lawmakers a misleading idea about what an abortion entails, Thill said: In reality, most abortion procedures involve dilating the cervix, inserting a thin tube into the uterus, and then connecting it to a plastic, syringe-like device known as a vacuum aspirator to extract the pregnancy.

“It’s a very simple in-office procedure that sometimes can last just two or three minutes,” she told VICE. But the term “surgical” can “elevate the perception of the severity of the procedure, which could make patients feel more anxious about it.”

Referring to abortion as surgery can also lend credence to regulations on providers and clinics, like the medically unnecessary and unconstitutional Louisiana law the Supreme Court will take up in March, requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. “Rhetoric that associates abortion with danger can serve as their justification,” Thill said.


The financial cards are stacked against women who want but are denied an abortion, as they and their children are more likely to spend years living in poverty than those able to end their pregnancies, a new study suggests. Those compelled to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are far more likely to experience eviction, bankruptcy and be mired in debt, according to the findings released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In looking at a decade of credit data for women who sought abortions at 30 health providers in 21 states, the latest findings build upon a study released last year that found denied abortions quadrupled the odds of a new mother and her child living in poverty. The new analysis compared changes over time in credit report outcomes for three years before and up to five years after the intended abortion.

“We find that being denied an abortion has large and persistent effects on financial distress that are sustained for five years following the intended abortion,” wrote the report’s authors, Sarah Miller of the University of Michigan, Laura Wheery of the University of California at Los Angeles and Diana Foster of of the University of California at San Francisco. “Unpaid debts that are more than 30 days past due more than double in size, and the number of public records, which include negative events such as evictions and bankruptcies, increases substantially.”

An inability to afford raising a child was the biggest reason given by women seeking abortions, and for those denied the procedure, public-assistance programs largely failed to compensate for the costs of having a baby and keeping the family out of poverty, the researchers noted.

Together, the studies found that carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term increased by 78% the amount of debt 30 days or more past due and increased negative public records like evictions and bankruptcies by 81%. Women refused abortions were nearly four times as likely to live below the federal poverty line four years later as those who had abortions, according to the research, and three-quarters reported not being able to cover basic expenses, such as housing, transportation and food, five years later. Almost two-third, or 63%, already had one child.

The economic picture illustrated in the research is particularly pertinent in that the decision to end a pregnancy is increasingly being challenged in the U.S., with at least nine states passing abortion bans in the last year, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Should the U.S. Supreme Court limit or overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion rights would be protected in less than half of U.S. states and in none of its territories, the center noted.

A federal appeals court in December upheld a lower court’s decision striking down Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The judge cited Supreme Court decisions dating back nearly five decades to the Roe v. Wade decision re-affirming a woman’s right to end a pregnancy before viability, or when the fetus can survive for a sustained time outside the womb.

The Supreme Court in March is hearing its first challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling in January 1973 that legalized abortion in the U.S., since Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the high court in October 2018.

“Given that the current trend has been for state laws to lower gestational limits, with recent efforts to ban abortions as early as six weeks or even through the entire pregnancy, it seems likely that the number of women being denied a wanted abortion in the U.S. will only continue to grow over time,” the study’s authors concluded.


Texas law requires minors to notify or get consent from a parent or guardian before getting an abortion. If they don’t want to, young women can ask a judge for permission.

The percentage of minors unable to get a judge’s approval for an abortion in Texas has fluctuated in the past two decades, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

Texas is one of 37 states that have laws requiring minors to notify or obtain consent from a parent or guardian before they get an abortion. Supporters of these laws argue they ensure parents stay involved in their children’s medical care.

If a young woman would prefer not to, she can ask a judge for permission, a process called a judicial bypass. In most judicial bypass cases, the young women fear for their safety or don’t have a parent or guardian.

Amanda Jean Stevenson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado – Boulder, said this is the first study to even acknowledge judicial bypass denials happen. She said this is an important issue that should be looked at.

“We know from really high-quality evidence that when people are denied wanted abortions there are long-term negative, socioeconomic, health and other consequences for them and their lives,” she said.

Researchers found that the rate of judges denying young women judicial bypasses in the state changed a lot between 2001 and 2018. According to the study, the biggest spike in denials happened after the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3994 in 2016. The law gave judges more time to rule on these requests, and if a deadline was not met it was automatically rejected.

Opponents said this made it harder to get a judicial bypass.

“In 2016, the first year under HB3994, the percentage denied rose more than threefold,” researchers wrote.

But in the two years that followed, the study found, the percentage of denials fell from about 13% overall to about 5%.

Stevenson said such a big change occurring within just a few years is concerning.

“That pattern indicates that the increase in denials after the law changes may not be due to the changing law,” she said. It could have something to do with politics or “some other process that’s leading judges to be more likely to deny the cases.”

Researchers said these figures raise concerns, because “the judicial bypass process is intended to insulate young people from anyone’s veto of their abortion decision.”


A new study says 99% of women don’t regret their abortions. So why is the procedure still stigmatized?

Abortion-rights protesters picket outside the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket/Getty Images

I wear a button on my winter jacket that reads “Abortion is normal.” It’s in big black letters set against a white background — pretty hard to miss. I got it last year at an event put on by Shout Your Abortion, a movement created to reduce stigma around the procedure and get people talking more openly about their abortion experiences.

Since I’ve started wearing the button, I’ve had more than a dozen women come up to me to talk about their abortions or tell me how much they love the sentiment. A woman who walked by me while I was on vacation gave me a thumbs up; the cashier at the bodega on my block told me in a hushed voice that she wished more people would talk about their abortions. “Why would they want us to have babies we don’t want?” she wondered aloud.

The truth is that abortion is an incredibly common experience—1 in 4 American women will have one. While media coverage might give the impression that the country is evenly split on abortion, the truth is that the percent of Americans who want the procedure to remain legal is at a record highNew research released this week provides even more evidence that abortion is safe and valued: The study shows that women who do have abortions overwhelmingly don’t regret their decision.

The study, published in Social Science & Medicine, shows that over a five-year period, 95% of women reported that they felt their abortion was the right decision, an already-whopping number that increased to 99% by the end of the five years.

In short, nearly all women who end their pregnancies look back and are glad they did it. The few negative emotions women did have were directly connected to the stigma around abortion in their communities. They felt bad if the people around them said that they should.

That said, we don’t often talk about abortion as a decision that can have resoundingly positive ripple effects even though it undoubtedly does. Because of abortion, women are able to continue on with school, take better care of the children they already have, get out of abusive relationships, and live the lives they want to have.

We don’t often talk about abortion as a decision that can have resoundingly positive ripple effects even though it undoubtedly does.

When I had an abortion in my late twenties, for example, I was able to finish my first book and get out of a relationship that wasn’t working. Three months later, I met the man I’d marry: We’ve been together 13 years and have a nine-year-old daughter. The life I have right now, the life that I love, exists in large part because I had an abortion.

In fact, when women don’t have access to an abortion they want, it can set their life off-track in severe and debilitating ways. In 2015, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that women who were denied the ability to have abortions suffered negatively across different areas of their life. Women who couldn’t get the abortions they wanted were four times more likely to live below the federal poverty line, three times more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to lack money for basic things like food and housing. They were also more likely to stay in contact with abusive partners.

Still, unpopular anti-abortion legislation is on the rise, as is clinic violence. The current president of the United States even lies regularly about women have “post-birth” abortions, falsely claiming that doctors execute newborn babies. That kind of overblown and false claim is the reality of life in a country where the rights of a fetus often trump the rights of a woman thanks to the power and passion of people who represent a minority that’s opposed to all legal abortions.

Given that so many men in elected office continue to limit reproductive rights, it may be hard to imagine a future where abortion is normalized in America. But if we want to stop the rollbacks of abortion rights and be proactive about women’s rights more broadly, decreasing stigma has to be a priority.

For many activists, it already is. Organizations like Shout Your Abortion and the Abortion Access Front as well as artists and abortion storytellers are changing the way that we talk about reproductive justice — moving from a defensive crouch to unapologetic candidness. It’s exactly what we need.

The other piece that will help, though, is if we can start making abortions easier to get. In the same way that emergency contraception is now available over the counter, so should birth control pills and medication abortion, aka abortion pills. (Experts have shown abortion pills to be safe and effective for women to take on their own.)

None of this will be easy, but it’s way past time. How many studies do we need showing that abortion is safe and necessary for women’s well-being? How many women need to share their most intimate stories before the men who are mostly in charge start to see them as fully human? Given that so many Americans already see and experience abortion as a normal part of life — one they are happy to have access to and have almost zero regrets over — the culture and politics need to catch up.

Abortion is normal, and it always has been. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.


Abortion access didn’t make the cut during Tuesday’s debate in Iowa among presidential candidates who have pledged to take radical steps to fight back against Republican attacks on reproductive health care.

The systematic rollback of reproductive rights on the state and federal level wasn’t mentioned during Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Iowa.
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Advocates Slam ‘Indefensible’ Omission of Abortion Rights at Iowa Debate

The systematic rollback of reproductive rights on the state and federal level wasn’t mentioned during Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, even as 8 in 10 likely Iowa caucusgoers call abortion rights “a must-have regardless of how they plan to participate,” according to CNN polling.

The 2020 presidential election comes a decade after Republicans swept to power in state legislatures, swiftly passing a raft of laws undercutting access to abortion care. Last year, Republican-held legislatures across the South and Midwest passed near-total abortion bans designed to challenge the precedent set in Roe v. Wade. Legislators in 32 states enacted 394 anti-choice laws from 2011 to 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, has stocked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with anti-choice activists who have dedicated their careers to ending legal abortion.

Still, abortion access didn’t make the cut during Tuesday’s debate among candidates who have pledged to take radical steps to fight back against Republican attacks on reproductive health care.

Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, said it was “indefensible” that abortion rights didn’t come up once during two hours of debate in a state that has seen Republicans pass a near-total ban on abortion.

“Iowans know better than anyone what it looks like for politicians to push their extreme agenda on people and their doctors,” she said in a statement, adding that Iowa lawmakers “have failed” their constituents. “At this critical juncture, the stakes for reproductive rights could not be higher. … We—and voters all across the country—demand better.”

The Democratic presidential debate in December only passingly addressed reproductive health care, drawing criticism from advocates. Candidates had a lengthy exchange about abortion access during the debate in June, answering questions with anti-choice framing and defending their reproductive health platforms.

“It’s not just about abortion—our lives, our bodies, our families, and our communities are literally on the line.”

Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund

Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund, a reproductive rights organization, said as the Democratic presidential field narrows, “it’s critical that voters know where candidates stand on issues of reproductive justice, which goes far beyond a promise to protect Roe v. Wade.”

“The stakes of this presidential election could not be higher for women of color,” Lopez told Rewire.News. “It’s not just about abortion—our lives, our bodies, our families, and our communities are literally on the line. It’s deeply disappointing that even as we face this stark reality, debate moderators failed to bring up any issues of reproductive health, rights, or justice at all.”

“Now more than ever, we need to hear from candidates on how they plan to overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure fair wages, decent working conditions, and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, so that families can be healthy and live with dignity,” Lopez continued.

Networks that host presidential debates and moderators who ask the questions should treat abortion access as a top-line issue, said Mallory Schwarz, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, which last year almost became the first state post-Roe without a standalone abortion provider.

“Amidst ongoing attacks on access to abortion from Republican lawmakers across Missouri, Georgia, and Ohio, Democratic presidential candidates must use every opportunity to speak directly and boldly on their plans to protect the right to choose,” Schwarz said in a statement to Rewire.News.

“The reality is: Abortion is not a niche issue, but a top priority for voters in 2020. … Voters deserve to hear each candidate’s response on how they will defend this fundamental freedom, including the steps they’ll take to stop coordinated attacks on clinics that provide abortion, repeal the Hyde Amendment, and expand abortion access, particularly for those individuals disproportionately impacted by state restrictions, including communities of color.”

What Else We’re Reading 

The New York Times reported on the potential impact of impeachment hearings in the U.S. Senate that will force three Democratic candidates—Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—off the campaign trail just weeks ahead of the February 3 Iowa caucuses. Recent FiveThirtyEight polling shows Sanders in second place in Iowa, Warren in fourth, and Klobuchar a distant fifth place.

Forty-two percent of Black voters between the ages of 18 and 34 are backing Sanders in the 2020 primary election, according to the Washington Post, making him the most popular candidate in that demographic. Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, leads among Black voters between 35 and 49 years old and maintains a commanding lead among older Black voters.

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, the eighth richest person on Earth, will ask Silicon Valley billionaires for their support in the 2020 election, Recode reported. Bloomberg has drawn support from tech billionaire and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos.


The anti-choice movement actively uses social media platforms to communicate and organize with its members. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook provide opportunities for movement leaders to test the effectiveness of anti-choice narratives before promoting their claims to a wide audience. As part of the NARAL research department, we monitor the public statements of major anti-choice organizations and individuals and track how these narratives evolve over time. Here are some of the most notable anti-choice narrative trends from this past quarter:

Tactic #1: Co-Opting Feminism

After a volatile summer of extreme anti-choice legislation sparked scrutiny and public outrage, anti-choice leaders increasingly attempted to co-opt feminist language to deflect further criticism. They frequently claimed (counterintuitively) that restricting reproductive freedom empowers women, that notable feminists from history were anti-choice (though their most common arguments have been repeatedly debunked), and that abortion access actually perpetuates gender inequality and oppression. Even the official theme of March for Life 2020, “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman,” announced in October, followed this narrative.

This trend is a reversion to an old anti-choice messaging tactic that claims it’s possible to be “pro-woman” while working against women’s actual freedoms. It emphasizes a narrow definition of femininity, venerating women who occupy traditional gender roles while attacking or erasing women who make different decisions. It also relies heavily on disinformation.

Tactic #2: Working the Refs at Social Media Companies

Much like the broader conservative movement, anti-choice activists have found that aggressive and unrelenting accusations of liberal bias in media and on social media can push outlets to be overly deferential to their conservative critics — and even give them preferential treatment. In late 2019, anti-choice activists continued their long-term effort to work the refs at social media companies by frequently claiming that companies like Twitter and Facebook intentionally censor anti-choice content and promote pro-choice content. Their accusations typically revolved around instances where examples of anti-choice misinformation had been accurately fact-checked, or anti-choice content had been removed for other rule violations.

For example, this September, Live Action and SBA List condemned Facebook for removing a video of Lila Rose stating “abortion is never medically necessary,” after the claim was determined to be false by a third-party fact-checker. (NOTE: This claim constitutes medical disinformation, as determined by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.)They also activated conservative U.S. Senators to promote their claims of “censorship,” who addressed a critical open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, to promote their claims of “censorship.”.

SBA List remains of the most vocal advocates for preferential treatment of conservatives online. Most recently, they called for Twitter to censor Planned Parenthood, NARAL, EMILY’s List, and other prominent pro-choice groups.

Tactic #3: Misleading the Public and Moving the Goal Posts

In early 2019, in the wake of Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and in expectation of a future ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, anti-choice activists ramped up their attacks on reproductive freedoms, eventually embracing fact-free claims that pro-choice advocates support “infanticide” or murder babies after birth. Though murder was already unquestionably illegal, they spent much of the year promoting legislation proposed by Senator Ben Sasse that would interfere with patient care and could criminalize doctors while doing nothing to change laws against murder. Using New York State’s Reproductive Freedom Act⁠ — which ensures access to needed care throughout pregnancy when a woman’s health or life is endangered, or their pregnancy is not viable⁠ — anti-choice politicians and organizations launched a full-scale disinformation campaign.

On September 10th, House Republicans held an unofficial hearing to again elevate a version of Sasse’s proposal. Anti-choice leaders promoted the stunt with the #EndInfanticide hashtag, which briefly trended on Twitter, furthering the false narrative. This is the same false narrative Trump pushed in his 2019 State of the Union address.

Other instances of this ongoing disinformation campaign include claims that infanticide is not already illegal and needs to be banned, that Democrats are advocating for abortion “up until” and “even after birth,” and the persistent canard that the Democratic presidential candidates all support infanticide. These attempts to peddle disinformation also intentionally conflated abortion later in pregnancy with post-birth palliative care.

As the 2020 legislative session kicks off, we continue to see this dangerous disinformation spread through state bills being introduced in several states. However, we will continue to monitor whether anti-choice organizations will double-down or shy away from this false narrative. Interestingly, Live Action has increasingly distanced themselves from the language of “infanticide.” Since September 2019, neither Live Action nor Lila Rose have tweeted the phrase.

Tactic #4: A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing — Posing As A Civil Rights Movement

Beginning in October, several anti-choice organizations began working to subvert widespread public support for reproductive freedom by pushing claims that abortion, rather than anti-choice laws, is discriminatory. In particular, they framed abortion as “lethal discrimination.” This narrative echoes their past arguments that abortion is “discrimination in the womb.”

By the fall of 2019, major anti-choice organizations including Live Action and Susan B. Anthony List appears to have adopted the language of “lethal discrimination” in their campaign against reproductive freedom.

Tactic #5: I Know I Am, But What Are You?

Many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have stated their strong support of reproductive freedom for all Americans. Though 7 in 10 Americans support reproductive freedom, the anti-choice movement has chosen to disingenuously cast Democrats as extremists. And despite pro-choice candidates’ overwhelming success in the 2018 and 2019 elections, anti-choice activists continue to insist that a commitment to reproductive freedom from all the leading Democratic presidential candidates will cost them the general election.

In a primary rife with questions of “electability,” conservative outlets aim to portray reproductive freedom as a losing issue. Despite copious polling showing the popularity of policies to safeguard reproductive rights, anti-choice activists would like the public to believe that these stances are “out of touch” with most Americans’ views and will alienate a crucial voting block.

What’s Next?

Monitoring the evolution of anti-choice narratives on social media provides invaluable insight for the fight for reproductive freedom. Historically, the narratives formally adopted by influential anti-choice organizations and individuals begin on sites like Twitter and Facebook and filter down to the rest of their movement. The reproductive freedom movement’s capacity to combat anti-choice propaganda requires being prepared for the types of arguments that may come our way. As we approach a crucial election year, the importance of this research cannot be understated.

As news generation and consumption migrates from traditional outlets to tech platforms, the traditional gatekeepers who once flagged disinformation are noticeably absent. In 2020, it’s critical that we be even more vigilant in pushing back on emerging disinformation narratives that aim to attack our freedoms.


Imagini pentru The Desperate Trail to Safe-Haven Abortions in Colorado

When Amber Jones told her husband Matt that she was pregnant, he had a hard time containing his excitement. “He’s like telling the lady at the gas station in town immediately, you know,” she remembers. “[And] we haven’t told our parents yet.” Amber, who was 36 at the time, hadn’t been actively trying to have kids, although she and her husband hadn’t ruled out the possibility. If it happens, it happens, they thought.

In 2016, when it did happen, Amber was nervous, but that nervousness gave way to excitement as she made it through the first trimester. Once you get past that, everything’s fine, she’d been told. They began to prepare for their child-free days to come to a close. They’d have to stop taking in more dogs. No more manual labor helping her Dad on the family farm in Alabama, where Amber had been born and raised. A friend helped them remodel the bathroom, and Amber starting painting the baby’s room a soft, smoky blue-grey.

Amber couldn’t sleep before her 20-week prenatal appointment (it was actually closer to 21, since her doctor had been out of town), and was up doing the trim in the nursery that morning. At the appointment, the ultrasound technician was taking a long time, repeatedly leaving the room and coming back in. Something doesn’t look right, the doctor told them. The organs don’t look right. The heart doesn’t look right. Soon, they were sending Amber to a maternal fetal specialist.

About a week and a few tests later, they got the diagnosis: Trisomy 13, a rare genetic disorder involving multiple life-threatening abnormalities that is frequently described in medical literature as “incompatible with life.” Amber did her research. The prognosis was grim.

Medical research from the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, a leader in research and screening for fetal anomalies, estimates that by 12 weeks gestation, around half of all pregnancies diagnosed with Trisomy 13 end in miscarriage. For those that make it through delivery, the median life expectancy is about a week, and only 10 percent survive beyond their first year, according to the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Devastated by the diagnosis but decisive, Amber, at around 23 weeks into her pregnancy, started looking for places she could get an abortion. Similar to the other 43 states with gestational cutoffs for abortion, Alabama bans the procedure after 22 weeks. Their legal options looked slim. “It was just call after call after call explaining the situation over and over again, and just hitting a wall each time.”

Finally, Amber found a clinic in Florida, where the gestational limit is 24 weeks, a little later than most states in the region, which said it might be able to help. Rapidly approaching an invisible line that they had just learned existed, Amber and Matt were told they’d have to drive through the night if they wanted to make it to the clinic before the 24 week cutoff. It was a Thursday, and clinic workers pledged to stay open through the weekend for what would be a three-day procedure.

“So we’re like, holy shit. Ok. Let’s find somebody to come stay with the dogs, tell our parents what’s happening… we haven’t even told our parents,” she recalls. After driving through the night, “trying to hold it together,” she said, they finally reached the clinic.

There are multiple metrics by which doctors estimate gestational age. Judging by the length of the femur, Amber was about 15 weeks along. Judging by the size of the head, however, she was well past 24 weeks. The clinic staff’s hands were tied. Amber and Matt turned around and began the 12-hour drive home, devastated, enraged, and desperate.

When the only legal option she’d found for ending the pregnancy turned out to be a bust, Amber found the idea of waiting excruciating. “The assessments you start doing in your head… I’m thinking, okay, how long will it take me to miscarry?” she said. “Will I miscarry next week? I’ve got about 17 weeks left if I go full term. Am I going to have to be pregnant for 17 weeks just waiting?” Depression was setting in, she said. “At one point, I literally said to Matt, ‘You may have to throw me down the stairs,’” she told me, her voice serious.

There was so little time left that Amber kept making calls on the drive home from Florida. Finally, sitting in a Cracker Barrel parking lot, she found a clinic in Boulder, Colorado, one of a small handful of clinics in the country that offers abortions late into pregnancy, and thus attracts visitors to the state that are desperate for an abortion. So, they made an appointment, and borrowed cash from their parents to help pay for what would be a week-long procedure.

The story of Colorado’s abortion laws actually begins in Peru. In 1967, after becoming aware of the dire public health outcomes associated with illegal abortions while traveling in the country, Dick Lamm, a freshman Democrat in Colorado’s House of Representatives, introduced a bill to legalize abortion in limited cases. It was, by today’s standards, an incredibly conservative bill, allowing the procedure only in cases of rape or incest, if the woman’s physical or mental health was threatened, or if the child might have birth defects. Lamm saw the move as a long shot, and one that was likely to end his political career. It was still six years before the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion a constitutional right, but the bill managed to win strong bipartisan support and was signed into law.

That same year, Dr. Warren Hern had recently completed his medical degree, and like Lamm, was shocked after observing the high death rate associated with illegal abortion, both as a medical student in the states and while traveling abroad in Latin America. Hern tells Jezebel he sent a letter to Lamm after reading about Colorado’s new abortion law asking whether it was better for him to continue his path in public health or pursue a law degree, pointing to Lamm’s success on the issue. Lamm told him to stay in public health, and Hern took his advice.

After Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, Hern began working as an abortion provider in Colorado. Two years later, he opened his own practice, the Boulder Abortion Clinic. Hern’s clinic was met with immediate hostility from anti-abortion activists, but as abortion became increasingly politicized in the ’80s—when the political right aligned with the religious right—the hostility gave way to all-out violence. The clinic had bulletproof glass installed in 1988 after shots were fired through its windows, narrowly missing a staff member. Hern has seen his colleagues in the field assassinated, including Dr. George Tiller, and has survived threats on his own life throughout his career. Through it all, he kept practicing medicine.

Today, Hern specializes in performing abortions late into pregnancy, particularly for those who, like Amber, are seeking third-trimester abortions after experiencing complications. The Boulder Abortion Clinic is one of just four clinics in the country that publicly accept patients seeking later abortion care from anywhere in the world.

Because of this, Colorado has become something of a travel destination for people in increasingly desperate circumstances, a rare point of unobstructed access for people making decisions about their pregnancies, their families, and their lives. The Boulder Abortion Clinic often sees patients from other countries—gestational limits on abortion vary significantly across the globe, but places where abortion laws are as liberal as Colorado’s are scarce. While many states have rushed to restrict abortion over the last decade, Colorado has very few restrictions on abortion, and is one of just seven states that don’t have gestational cutoffs. Over 400 state laws restricting abortion were passed between 2011 and 2017, from mandatory waiting periods to strict regulations on clinics that caused many to close down. Besides New Mexico, its neighbor to the south, Colorado is surrounded on all sides by states where abortion laws are restrictive and abortion providers are scarce. Together, Colorado and New Mexico form an island in a sea of hostility toward abortion.

That might change soon: This year, anti-abortion activists in Colorado have begun pushing a ballot initiative to ban abortion after 22 weeks, except in cases of life endangerment, posing a grave threat to Colorado’s status as a reproductive health safe haven and access to later abortion care worldwide.

Hern said the initiative to ban abortion after 22 weeks would be a “catastrophe” for patients with fetal abnormalities that often aren’t detected until late in pregnancy. “These women are desperate,” said Hern. “They don’t want to have an abortion. They want to have a baby.”

While a significant portion of his patients come to him with wanted pregnancies marred by complications, he provides later abortion care for a variety of reasons. “All these patients have some critical issue for which pregnancy is just the death knell for them,” he said. “There are all kinds of situations.” Some are struggling with addiction, he said. Some have serious mental health concerns. Some are trying to get out of an abusive relationship. Some are minors who have been raped. “Pregnancy is a threat to their lives. Period.”

In spite of Colorado’s status as an abortion care safe haven—or, perhaps, because of it—it’s no stranger to attacks on reproductive care. Between 2008 and 2014, anti-choice advocates pushed three nearly identical ballot measures, each defining life as beginning at conception, thereby establishing “fetal personhood,” or the conferring of legal rights to fertilized eggs and fetuses in the state constitution—a near-total ban on abortion.

These attempts were rejected by Colorado voters. Yet for 2020, state activists have proposed what they see as a more moderate proposal, one that they believe will be much more palatable to voters: a ballot initiative to ban abortion at 22 weeks.

The group advocating for the initiative, dubbed Due Date Too Late, began gathering the 124,632 signatures needed to place it on Colorado’s November 2020 ballot in September, and is confident that they’ll have plenty of support.

“We have built a grassroots coalition of people with diverse interests and backgrounds who believe that abortion up to the date of birth is too extreme,” Giuliana Day of Due Date Too Late told the Denver Post. “This initiative will succeed because 73 percent of Americans think that abortion should have limitations, according to a recent Gallup poll.”

Children born with lissencephaly, a rare brain malformation, often have trouble swallowing and frequent seizures, in addition to other intellectual and physical challenges. Some need feeding tubes. Some are never able to walk, stand, or sit. Many never show significant development beyond the three to five month level. Early death is common, often before the age of ten years, due to respiratory disease, aspiration of food or fluids, or severe seizures, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Lissencephaly occurs in roughly one in 100,000 pregnancies. Margot was the one.

In Michigan, where Margot lives and teaches at a university, abortion is banned after the fetus is considered viable, around 24 weeks, except in cases of life endangerment. When doctors first detected abnormalities, Margot wasn’t yet past the cutoff, but still didn’t have a clear prognosis. She could have ended the pregnancy then, without having the information she needed to make the decision, and it would have been legal in her state.

“It was shocking,” said Margot. “I could have an abortion today, and you can’t tell me what’s going to happen to this baby, what even the range of options is, but in a few weeks, we might be able to say what is going to happen with complete precision, and yet at that point, there would be no options at all in Michigan.”

She waited. More tests and more time revealed a particularly severe case. So, at 29 weeks into her pregnancy, she traveled to Colorado to visit the Boulder Abortion Clinic. It was only in retrospect, after the procedure was done and she was home, that it dawned on her how meaningful the lack of interrogation felt: the right way to treat somebody who has made their decision, is to treat them as if they have made their decision. Like they’re the authority over their body and their life.

This lack of scrutiny has become increasingly rare. It was close to what would have been Amber’s due date in the fall of 2016 when Donald Trump was broadcast into her living room during the third presidential debate, launching a graphic and inaccurate assault on later abortion.

“If you go with what Hillary [Clinton] is saying, in the ninth month you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother, just prior to the birth of the baby,” Trump notoriously said at the time. “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb, in the ninth month, on the final day. That’s not acceptable.” Trump’s comments, Amber recalled, made her want to puke. She wanted to throw the TV in the trash. “It’s rage-inducing,” she told Jezebel.

Despite the fact that later abortion is exceptionally rare—less than 2 percent of abortions occur after 21 weeks, and less than 1 percent occur after the third trimester—it is still a reliable target of conservative rhetoric.

Trump’s graphic mischaracterization of later abortion care was a gift to the anti-abortion movement, bringing the issue squarely into the public spotlight, where it’s remained for the better part of three years now. Those who have sought abortion care late into a desired pregnancy have been forced to relive what is often one of the most devastating events of their lives, all while being characterized as murderers.

One byproduct of the renewed attention and escalation in rhetoric is that women like Amber who have ended wanted pregnancies are turning to each other for support. Margot, who now helps run a private online support group called Ending a Wanted Pregnancy, tells me that the need for such groups has escalated. “People are I’m sure headed to therapy in greater numbers, and they’re absolutely headed to us in greater numbers.”

Margot explained that usually new members join the group fresh in their grief, around the time they’ve decided to terminate their pregnancy or shortly thereafter. In the last several months, however, women like Amber, who decided to end desired pregnancies years ago, are flocking to the group.

“We’ve gotten a lot of members whose abortions were three, five, ten, sometimes even 20 or 30 years ago, and the political rhetoric is bringing up emotional issues for them,” Margot said. “All of a sudden, you have our president and one of the two major political parties and most of the people in it talking about procedures that are specifically targeting things that happened to them, and doing it in such violent, inaccurate, and clearly manipulative ways.”

After Amber returned home from Boulder, she felt isolated and emotionally withdrawn, not wanting to pick up the phone or talk to anyone. She wishes she would have known about the group back then. “It’s so important for people to have support and be able to talk with other people who have been through the same thing and not feel like they’re a baby murdering asshole,” Amber said.

Margot says members of the group frequently experience internalized shame and stigma. “If you have shame about it, which is usually produced by that feeling that you’re alone and different and unworthy, finding out that other people are the same is the best medicine for it,” said Margot. “It’s the antidote to it. You’re not alone or unworthy.”

Days after finding out they’d have to travel to Colorado for an abortion, Amber and Matt boarded a plane. A friend of theirs donated airline miles for their flight and upgraded them to first class, something Amber said she had never before and probably will never again experience.

Who knew eggs and bacon on an airplane could be this fucking delicious, and how weird is it that I’m flying first class to go have an abortion?, Amber remembers thinking as she stared out the airplane window, trying not to cry.

“It felt so bizarre,” she said.

Back home in Huntsville, Amber’s sister and Matt’s brother were looking after the dogs and removing the traces of a baby from the house.

Amber said she can’t imagine what it would have been like to not have that kind of support, on top of the emotional distress and financial hardship. After taking a week off of work at the gun range without warning, Matt feared he wouldn’t have a job when he came back.

Once in Boulder for the procedure, Matt was in and out of the clinic giving updates to Amber’s family. Phones aren’t allowed inside the building for security reasons, something Amber described as a little jarring.

“You can’t even bring in a bag or anything,” Amber said. “You just go in with your ID, and I might have had a book or something. At this point, of course, I realized why.”

For the next week, they were back and forth between the clinic and the hotel, where Amber said she spent a lot of time lying on the floor and binge-watching Game of Thrones while Matt went to go pick up food. When they would go out to eat, Amber remembers thinking, Oh God, does everyone know? I’m barely showing, but I’m showing.

Amber used a payment plan to pay off the procedure, which cost nearly $15,000, and for about a year, she received a monthly reminder of her loss in the form of a charge on her credit card.

Reflecting on her own experience and the ballot initiative that would strip other pregnant people of the ability to access that kind of care, Amber found herself searching for the right words: “Frustrating and irritating are not sufficiently intense emotional words,” she said. “It’s insane.”

She returns to the memory of talking to Matt about how they might have to end the pregnancy without medical care. The “joke” about being pushed down the stairs. “I wasn’t just saying that,” she said. “Women are going to seek unsafe alternatives.”

“You’re putting women in this position of increasing their risks of death and harm needlessly,” she continued. “Why are you risking this woman’s life? How unimportant is a pregnant person’s life?”