Opinion

What 5 Media Fact-Checkers Get Wrong on Trump and Abortion

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Posted: Feb 08, 2019 9:08 AM
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What 5 Media Fact-Checkers Get Wrong on Trump and Abortion

Source: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

The media are accusing President Trump of omitting or distorting abortion information. But they should point to themselves first.

On Feb. 5, Trump delivered his second State of the Union address to Congress. During his speech, he called out New York and Virginia officials for their extreme legislation and comments on abortion. In response, media outlets, from NBC News to the New York Times, raced to fact-check him. Not only did they omit information in some cases, but they also disagreed with one another, ruling Trump as “false,” and, at other times, “misleading.”

Here are Trump’s remarks the media took issue with:

“There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our Nation saw in recent days. Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments from birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia, where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.”

According to the media, he was wrong. Here are five outlets that tried to fact-check him:

1. NBC News

NBC fact-checkers Jane C. Timm and Carrie Dann attacked the president’s claim that New York permits abortion “moments before birth.” 

“This is false,” they argued Feb. 6.

“The state recently passed a law loosening restrictions on abortions in the state,” they elaborated, “allowing abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or when it’s necessary to protect the life of the mother.”

What they didn’t say is that New York’s Reproductive Health Act also allows abortion past 24 weeks for the sake of the mother’s “health.” The term “health” can be applied extensively to abortion, as National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru has pointed out, in light of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Doe v. Bolton ruling. The case regarding Georgia abortion legislation was decided the same day as Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.

“We agree,” wrote Justice Harry Blackmun in the opinion, “that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age – relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” (Emphasis added.)

Still, said Timm and Dann, Trump “paints the picture of a healthy mother and child, but an abortion would not be legal in that scenario after 24 weeks in New York state.”

But Trump never said the mother and child were healthy. He said the law “would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments from birth.” And while the law discourages abortion past 24 weeks, it doesn’t place a time limit on abortion for the sake of a mother’s “health.” In fact, it repeals protections for born babies that survive failed abortions.

Next, Timm and Dann tackled Trump’s claim that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said he “would execute a baby after birth.” A spokesperson for the Democratic politician “disputed this characterization,” they said. But this time, they didn’t call Trump’s comments false.

Here are Northam’s relevant comments during a Jan. 30 interview where he defended proposed abortion legislation:

“It’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that’s nonviable. If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

2. Associated Press

In contrast with NBC, the AP took a stronger stance against the president for saying Northam “stated he would execute a baby after birth.”

“That’s not what Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said,” the AP argued Feb. 6. While that comment is not word for word what Northam said, the case remains that he suggested a baby that could survive might be left to die after being born.

3. The New York Times

The NYT staff called the president’s comments regarding New York “misleading,” instead of false on Feb. 5. 

The abortion legislation “does not broadly allow abortions until shortly before birth, as Mr. Trump suggested,” they wrote. “Instead, it will allow for an abortion after 24 weeks to protect the mother’s health or if the fetus is not viable.”

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Or, as Trump put it, it will allow for that abortion “moments from birth” because it doesn’t specify a time limit in those cases. Trump didn’t say that would happen. He said it could happen.

They called Trump’s comments about Northam “false” because “Mr. Northam was talking about an end-of-life care discussion in the case of a child that would not live.” Northam has yet to explain why he suggested resuscitating a baby doomed to die.

4. Newsweek

Newsweek political reporter Nicole Goodkind didn’t touch Trump’s New York comments, but instead focused on Virginia.

Northam “said the baby would be kept comfortable and the parents and doctor would discuss what would happen next,” she wrote Feb. 5. “He did not suggest killing or ‘executing’ a baby.” 

Unless, of course, Americans define killing a baby as leaving him or her to die when there’s a possibility of resuscitation. 

5. The Huffington Post

HuffPost reporter Lydia O'Connor criticized Trump’s comments Feb. 5.

“In reality, what the bill does is expand access to abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy to women carrying a fetus that cannot live outside the womb,” she said. “Previously, the procedure was available only to women at that stage of pregnancy if their health was threatened.”

Actually, previously, abortion was available only to women at that stage of pregnancy if their life was threatened – according to CBS News.

Of Virginia’s proposed (and failed) legislation, she added, it “clearly states that life support ‘shall be available and utilized if there is any clearly visible evidence of viability.’” 

Too bad the governor’s words didn’t reflect that.

Other outlets made similar arguments. But in omitting and twisting information, many of them risked appearing as partisan onlookers rather than objective fact-checkers to the American public.