WashPo Fail: Article on Cuccinelli Bid to Restrict Access to Abortion Fails to Counter Deliberately Misleading Info

Jodi Jacobson

In its coverage of a new opinion released by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Washington Post failed to do its job of presenting the facts, instead acting as a megaphone for the anti-choice agenda.

Since taking office, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has followed the path of many far right political opportunists, in his case by seeking to prosecute scientists whose findings he does not like, opposing basic human rights for lesbian, gay, and transgender persons, and suing the federal government on health reform, all to impose his ideology on the people of the state and, presumably, build his far-right fundie cred for a future bid for office.

So it’s no surprise that he’s released a legal opinion opening the door to regulations restricting women’s access to abortion care despite the fact that the state legislature has several times rejected such restrictions. You know the drill: the right in this country decries efforts by appointed officials and “activist” judges to “make law” unless it’s the law they want and can’t get passed by elected bodies.

But while we can depend on people like Cuccinelli to trample on human rights and freedoms, especially when it comes to sex and gender, we can no longer depend on once-venerated newspapers to do their job informing the public debate.

Take today’s Washington Post article on Cuccinelli’s opinion, which empowers Virginia’s Board of Health, if it chooses, to require clinics providing first-trimester abortions to meet hospital-type standards. If put into effect by the board, new regulations comporting with this opinion would result in the closure of an estimated 17 out of 21 clinics providing first-trimester abortions in the state of Virginia, because second- and third-trimester procedures are performed in hospitals.

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Cuccinelli’s stated reason for taking the action, according to the Post, is “safety” and “protecting Virginia’s women” (from what?  their own autonomy?). The argument for “safety” as a justification for these new restrictions is parroted by several people including Va. Delegate Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), Tucker Martin, the spokesperson for Governor Bob McDonnell, Victoria Cobb, president of the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia, and Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein.

“The state has long regulated outpatient surgical facilities and personnel to ensure a certain level of protection for patients,” Gottstein told the Post.

“There is no reason to hold facilities providing abortion services to any lesser standard for their patients. Even pharmacies, funeral homes and veterinary clinics are regulated by the state.”

Actually the state does regulate abortion care by, for one thing, requiring that first trimester procedures be conducted by licensed medical doctors.  But I digress.

The real issue here is that the Post either did not speak to or question anyone on the need for improving the “safety” of first-trimester abortions in Virginia, or did not quote anyone challenging the dramatic hand-wringing and expressions of worry about women on which these professional anti-choicers base the legitimacy of this move.

Not one statement of fact nor any quote appears in the article providing context on the issue of “safety,” which if it were done, would have revealed this to be a red herring to say the least.

The facts are these:

  • Surgical abortion is one of the safest of all types of medical procedures. Repeat: Of all medical procedures of all kinds. 
  • An early elective abortion–one in which a woman facing unintended and untenable pregnancy decides freely to end a pregnancy before 12 weeks–carries far lower risks of adverse outcomes or health risks than does carrying to term.  So a woman who has an early abortion is facing less risk than pregnancy, labor, and childbirth.
  • Unsafe abortion kills more than 70,000 women worldwide each year and leaves many times that number of women ill or disabled.
  • The kinds of restrictions Cuccinelli suggests in his new regulations would actually have the opposite effect than what he and his colleagues misleadingly state as their goal. Reducing access to first-trimester abortion care will ensure that more women will face longer delays in accessing abortion, resulting in more second-trimester procedures.  The later the procedure, the higher the risk.

So despite the misleading propaganda of the anti-choice fundamentalist movement in the United States, the fact is that complications from having a first-trimester aspiration abortion are considerably less frequent and less serious than those associated with giving birth. The outcomes of early medical abortion (using medications to end a pregnancy) are similar in terms of risk and safety.

It is quite obvious that Cuccinelli is not at all concerned with “safety” and women’s health, but rather in controlling the decisions of women and curtailing their reproductive rights. And his efforts, if successful, will have exactly the opposite effect of his purported objective, which is to make safe abortion procedures later and more risky.

Yet, reading the Post article and the unanswered repetition of “we’re doing this for their own good” statements by anti-choice leaders in Virginia would leave the average citizen with the notion that something is “unsafe” about early termination of pregnancy. 

Perpetuating this fallacy is exactly the agenda of the anti-choice crowd in Virginia, and the Post did a great job of advertising for them.

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