Parroting Propaganda on Family Planning

Julie Hollar

Of all the supposed "pork" in the proposed economic stimulus bill, perhaps none got so much media attention as the provision to extend family planning to more low-income women.

Of all the supposed "pork" in the proposed economic stimulus bill,
perhaps none got so much media attention as the provision to extend
family planning to more low-income women. As the House struggled to
pass the legislation, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a
press release (1/23/09) claiming that the plan "includes taxpayer
funding for contraceptives and the abortion industry." Two days later,
Boehner railed on NBC’s Meet the Press (1/25/09), "Spending…over $200 million for contraceptives, how [is] this going to fix an ailing economy?"

It didn’t take long for media to pile on. Cal Thomas-one of the most
widely syndicated columnists-parroted Boehner nearly word for word
(1/26/09): "There are millions included for contraceptives and the
abortion industry, which are unrelated to job creation." Sean Hannity (Fox News, 2/5/09) called it "reckless spending."

And it wasn’t just far-right punditry that got riled up. MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell pressed Rep. Chris Van Hollen (1/26/09):

O’DONNELL: How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives? How does that stimulate the economy?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think if you look at government spending as a
whole, I mean, any economist will tell you that when the government
goes out and spends a dollar, that’s a dollar in the economy that has a
multiplier effect. So-
O’DONNELL: On contraceptives, really?
VAN HOLLEN: No. No. Look, look.
O’DONNELL: Really? Can you give me that with a straight face, congressman?

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Her colleague Chris Matthews (Hardball,
1/26/09) went so far as to claim: "It sounds a little like China….I
think everybody should have family planning….But why should the federal
government have a policy of reducing the number of births?"

There was virtually no corner of the corporate media that didn’t
propagate the "millions for contraceptives" trope-the day after Boehner
put out his press release (1/24/09), both the New York Times and Washington Post ran his quote unchallenged; reporters from CNN (e.g., 1/26/09) to NPR (e.g., 1/29/09) to PBS (e.g., 1/30/09) repeated it as fact.

But there’s a problem: The talking point was, it seems, a complete fabrication.

First of all, the policy had nothing to do with "the abortion industry"
or a Chinese-style limit on how many kids families can have. And
reducing it to a scornfully tossed-off "contraceptives" fails to convey
what the provision would do: allow states to bypass onerous federal
hoop-jumping in order to cover more low-income women under Medicaid.
This would make family planning services available for women who would
be eligible for pregnancy-related Medicaid services, thereby saving the
costs of unwanted pregnancies for both the federal and state
governments. (Currently, the income cut-off is higher for women who
aren’t already pregnant.) The family planning program was created under
the Republican Nixon administration, and eight states with Republican
governors thought the idea of expanding it was uncontroversial enough
that they’ve already jumped through all those federal hoops the
provision would simply have removed (Talking Points Memo, 1/26/09).

Even more outrageous, the "hundreds of millions of dollars" claim seems
to have been conjured out of thin air. Nowhere in the proposed
legislation was a cost assigned to the provision, nor could it be found
in the Congressional Budget Office report that estimated costs and
savings of the plan. In fact, the CBO estimated in a January 21 report
obtained by ThinkProgress
that the family planning provision would actually save the federal
government $700 million over 10 years-and that’s not even considering
the savings to state governments.

As Cristina Page at Rewire noted (1/30/09), Rep. Henry Waxman’s calls to Boehner’s office about the claim found him "not forthcoming." Extra!’s
repeated inquiries likewise produced nothing to substantiate Boehner’s
claims. His office, it would seem, simply invented the whole thing.

And yet instead of performing the basic journalistic task of
fact-checking an easily falsifiable talking point from a GOP press
release, mainstream reporters gleefully repeated it until the provision
was forced off the table. Days later, a few mentioned the true CBO
numbers (e.g., New York Times, USA Today,
both 1/28/09), but quietly enough not to actually challenge the myth,
unlike the moderate pushback mustered against the similar GOP myth
about Nancy Pelosi’s supposed $30 million earmark for marsh mice (FAIR Blog, 3/2/09).

It’s a lesson in the complacency of the Washington press corps;
according to the corporate media’s warped rules of "professionalism"
(see Extra!, 11-12/04),
it’s not journalists’ job to judge a source’s credibility, ferret out
lies or bring up anything that "important people" aren’t already
saying-they’re simply there to report what those important people say.
And since most Democrats were woefully uninformed on the issue and
didn’t push back, journalists didn’t think twice about running with it.

But it’s also a lesson in the respect accorded issues of women’s rights
and health in the corporate, male-dominated media. Few journalists
paused to consider that family planning could actually be a valuable
piece of an economic plan, or the enormous effect it could have on
struggling low-income women across the country; instead, they simply
accepted that the provision was "pork" (e.g., CNN, 1/27/09).

As NPR’s Keith Reed argued (2/2/09):

You can debate, for example, the merits of
family planning and whether or not that’s a good thing or something
that the federal government should be participating in. But I think no
matter what side of the aisle you’re on, how much does that really have
to do with the economy?

A whole lot, actually. As economist Nancy Folbre pointed out on the New York Times Economix blog (2/5/09),
family planning spending would generate roughly as many jobs as other
health spending, and long-term savings-as the CBO also noted-are high.
Folbre also emphasized that family planning increases women’s "access
to higher education and better-paying jobs," and pointed to the
economic disparities involved: Women in the income bracket that would
have been aided by the provision are more than three times as likely to
experience unplanned births than their wealthier counterparts-and thus
more likely to experience the associated financial burdens.
In a rare voice in support of including the family planning program in the package, Boston Globe
columnist Ellen Goodman wrote (1/30/09): "Women’s health was reframed
as pork and dumped as if it were no more fundamental to family life
than the proposal to refurbish the National Mall. All this in an
elusive quest for bipartisan support."

And it couldn’t have happened without the corporate media.

This article was first published by FAIR in Extra!

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”