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Leading Progressive Groups Demand that Presidential Debate Moderators Confront Misinformation on Abortion, Systemic Racism

PLANNED PARENTHOOD VOTES
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, September 28, 2020
CONTACT: Planned Parenthood Votes Media Office; 212-261-4433; [email protected]
Planned Parenthood Votes Pressroom


Washington, DC — Today, Planned Parenthood Votes, UltraViolet Action, Women’s March, BlackPAC, Color of Change PAC, and Media Matters Action Network sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates demanding that presidential debate moderators fact-check and correct misinformation on abortion and systemic racism in real-time. In 2016, Chris Wallace, the moderator of the first debate on Tuesday, asked the only substantive question on abortion of the four presidential and vice presidential debates, but unfortunately he used the medically inaccurate and stigmatizing rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement. The groups also expressed concern that one of the announced topics for the debate uses harmful, racist language. 

The letter is penned by Jenny Lawson, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Votes, Shaunna Thomas, Executive Director of UltraViolet Action, Rachel Carmona, Executive Director of Women’s March, Adrianne Shropsihre, Executive Director of BlackPAC, Arisha Hatch, Executive Director of Color Of Change PAC, and Julie Millican, Vice President of Media Matters Action Network: 

“We are reaching out ahead of the presidential and vice presidential debates with great excitement and anticipation, but also with significant concern regarding the impact of misinformation spread during these debates,” the organizations wrote. “To start, while we would hope that the debates be a place for thoughtful conversations of systemic racism in our justice system, we were incredibly disappointed to hear that the framing of one of the topics for the first debate is ‘race and violence in our cities.’ Linking race and violence plays into the same racist stereotypes lifted by President Trump day in and day out. It’s this sort of rhetoric that brings about more violence at the hands of militiamen and white supremacists claiming to be fighting for the protection of private property. The perpetuation of this language and misinformation puts our bodies in danger and dehumanizes people of color.”

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“In 2016, there was only one question about abortion, which was asked in the third and final presidential debate. In 2020, only eight questions were explicitly about abortion in 11 Democratic primary debates. With just over a month until Election Day, and people already casting their votes through early voting and mail-in ballots, it is imperative that voters understand where Trump, Biden, Pence, and Harris stand on the important issues of our sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

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“We are asking you two important things: One, moderators question the candidates about access to sexual and reproductive health care, including birth control and abortion. Two, we demand that the questions be based on medically accurate information and that moderators be prepared to fact-check in real-time when candidates mislead or spread inaccurate, stigmatizing rhetoric.”

Full letter is below:

To: Commission on Presidential Debates
CC: Chris Wallace, Susan Page, Steve Scully, Kristen Welker

Dear Mr. Fahrenkopf, Ms. Ridings, and Mr. Wollack,

We are reaching out ahead of the presidential and vice presidential debates with great excitement and anticipation, but also with significant concern regarding the impact of misinformation spread during these debates. To start, while we would hope that the debates be a place for thoughtful conversations of systemic racism in our justice system, we were incredibly disappointed to hear that the framing of one of the topics for the first debate is “race and violence in our cities.” Linking race and violence plays into the same racist stereotypes lifted by President Trump day in and day out. It’s this sort of rhetoric that brings about more violence at the hands of militiamen and white supremacists claiming to be fighting for the protection of private property. The perpetuation of this language and misinformation puts our bodies in danger and dehumanizes people of color. 

We also fear that these debates have the chance of promoting more disinformation about our health and rights, which have never been more at stake. Since the heartbreaking death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week, access to sexual and reproductive health, especially abortion, has been more top of mind for voters, and rightly so. With 17 abortion cases just one step away from the Supreme Court, and the most recent abortion cases that made it to the court decided by just one vote, as well as the survival of the Affordable Care Act at stake, it is inevitable that the next Supreme Court justice will make decisions that directly and significantly impact access to reproductive health care, including safe, legal abortion, for generations. Additionally, these last few days have seen the absolute lack of accountability of the officers who killed Breonna Taylor while she was sleeping in her home, serving as yet another reminder that the justice system is another system of white supremacy that doesn’t value the lives of Black, Latinx, AAPI, and indigenous people.

Over the last four years, we’ve seen the Trump-Pence administration attack our health and rights at nearly every turn:

In contrast, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have pledged to support and expand access to and coverage of sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion. It is imperative that voters understand this contrast through the presidential and vice presidential debate processes.

Even before the recent developments of the past weeks, these issues have been top-of-mind for voters. Nearly one in four U.S. women will have an abortion by age 45. 77 percent of Americans support Roe v. Wade. 58 percent of registered voters have said that support for abortion bans or the overturning of Roe might cause them to change their votes this November. Nearly nine in ten women will use birth control in their lifetimes. Additionally, the four debates are held in states that have taken draconian measures to restrict access to abortion in the last two years. And there are 17 abortion cases just one step away from the Supreme Court.  

Despite the salience of these issues, sexual and reproductive health is often ignored in these debates. In 2016, there was only one question about abortion, which was asked in the third and final presidential debate. In 2020, only eight questions were explicitly about abortion in 11 Democratic primary debates. With just over a month until Election Day, and people already casting their votes through early voting and mail-in ballots, it is imperative that voters understand where Trump, Biden, Pence, and Harris stand on the important issues of our sexual and reproductive health and rights.

We are asking you two important things: One, moderators question the candidates about access to sexual and reproductive health care, including birth control and abortion. Two, we demand that the questions be based on medically accurate information and that moderators be prepared to fact-check in real-time when candidates mislead or spread inaccurate, stigmatizing rhetoric.

With so much at stake, we cannot afford to fall into the traps of promoting medical disinformation. We expect the questions at the debates to be accurate and should not include misinformation, like past rhetoric below:

  • There is no such thing as a “partial-birth abortion” or “abortion up until birth.” Terms used should be based on actual medical practice.
    • Attacks on abortion later in pregnancy are misleading and are not based in fact. They’re designed to confuse and manipulate people. Every pregnancy is different. Abortion that occurs later in pregnancy is often for complicated reasons. Sometimes a person may experience a health crisis or the pregnancy cannot survive. Other times, a person may not be able to get an abortion as soon as they decide because politicians have placed obstacles in the way of care, such as the discriminatory Hyde Amendment or the executive orders Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and others signed, banning abortion at the beginning of the pandemic.
  • The terms “born alive” or “after birth” or “after term” abortions are made up by politicians. Infanticide is illegal in every state in the United States. Legislation proposed using this term does not solve a problem because it does not exist. Its only intent is to drive a negative narrative about abortion providers and their patients. Or as CNN stated during the Republican National Convention, “No politician from either party — and, really, no one — supports infanticide, or killing a baby that's been born, which is illegal.”
  • Due to the discriminatory Hyde Amendment federal, or “taxpayer,” funds have been barred from covering abortion for over 40 years. In practice, this means that the amount of money you make, and the type of health insurance you have, determines your ability to get an abortion and make your own health care decisions. That’s why the Hyde Amendment is particularly harmful for people with low incomes, people of color, and young people — who are disproportionately covered by Medicaid for their health care.
  • Abortion is an incredibly safe medical procedure with complication rates lower than many common outpatient procedures. Additionally, any suggestion that abortion causes infertility, breast cancer, or mental health conditions are absolutely unfounded. These lies are often used to promote so-called TRAP laws, which drastically restrict access to abortion.
  • Abortion is not akin to “Black genocide.” Framing it as such robs Black women of their agency and implies that Black women are unable to make their own decisions about their bodies.
    • The terms “Black genocide” or “Babies Lives Matter” are efforts by the anti-abortion movement to co-opt the Black community’s very real history of mistreatment by the medical community, trying to turn that fear into yet another tool used to shame Black women out of making their own reproductive health care decisions.

Moderators also must be prepared to fact-check claims concerning sexual and reproductive health in real time. According to a Washington Post analysis, Trump himself has made over 20,000 false or misleading claims since he’s been in office. Additionally, both Trump and Pence have consistently and repeatedly lied when it comes to sexual and reproductive health care. The Trump-Pence administration has promoted — and even given federal funding to — supposed “health care” groups that refuse to tell the truth about abortion. Moderators must be prepared to correct these lies in real time.

Medical misinformation has been amplified amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot afford to let it seep into our politics more than it already has. That is why we must hear questions from moderators about abortion and sexual and reproductive health during the presidential and vice presidential debates, grounded in science. Moderators must come prepared to push back at lies.

Sincerely,

Jenny Lawson, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Votes

Shaunna Thomas, Executive Director, UltraViolet Action

Rachel Carmona, Executive Director, Women’s March

Adrianne Shropsihre, Executive Director, BlackPAC

Arisha Hatch, Executive Director, Color Of Change PAC

Julie Millican, Vice President, Media Matters Action Network

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Planned Parenthood Votes is an independent expenditure political committee registered with the Federal Election Commission.