By Kathleen Minelli and Steve Macek
In the weeks since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the corporate media has been saturated with analyses and reports about the implications of the ruling for women’s lives and health. Legal observers have weighed in on the conservative majority’s reasoning in the case. The impact of the ruling on the 2022 midterm elections has been discussed endlessly. The state-by-state battles over legislation and state-level constitutional amendments banning abortion have been covered exhaustively, as have efforts by women’s rights groups and medical providers to ensure that women get the reproductive health services they need.
Yet, in the decades leading up to the Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, the establishment press overlooked a number of important stories about the rightwing—and in some cases, neo-fascist—push to outlaw abortion, not to mention the steps many states and federal agencies had already taken to restrict women’s access to reproductive health services in the U.S. and around the world.
Consider the link between the anti-abortion movement and armed right-wing nationalist and white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Christian Identity movement, Gun Owners of America, and other “militia” groups. Feminist publications such as On the Issues and other independent news outlets reported on the connection between the militant right and anti-abortion organizing back in the 1990s. One example highlighted in this coverage was “the conviction in July 1996 of three members of the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia (which included a Christian Identity “prophet” and his followers) for conspiring to blow up abortion clinics, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other civil rights targets.”
But the affiliations between the radical right and the anti-abortion movement did not end in the 1990s. In recent years, prominent Republicans have embraced the so-called “great replacement” theory, the racist fantasy that white people in the U.S. are being deliberately marginalized thanks to unregulated immigration from majority non-white countries, and see legal abortion as part of a long-term plan to decimate the country’s white population. Both Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson have paid lip service to this delusional theory and endorsed authoritarian, pro-natalist polices. Even further to the right, virulently anti-Semitic pastor Rick Wiles has claimed that there would be no abortion in America were it not for “powerful, influential, rich Jews.”
As Alex DiBanco detailed in a February 2020 article in The Nation, fascist and alt-right groups from Abolish Human Abortion (AHA)—whose logo resembles some of the new swastika-like symbols favored by white supremacist groups—to the neo-Nazi Traditional Workers Party have infiltrated the anti-abortion movement. Writing in Ms. Magazine, feminist scholar Carol Mason explained that extremist anti-abortionists were “in the mix of white supremacists, paramilitary militia and conspiracy believers who stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C.” while militant anti-abortion groups including Operation Save America cheered on the insurrection via social media.
The corporate media have belatedly awoken to the influences of racist ideology and far-right activists on the organized opposition to women’s reproductive rights. On May 15, 2022, MSNBC interviewed Dorothy Roberts of the Penn Program on Race, Science and Society about the racist “great replacement theory” that informs the most extreme anti-abortion rhetoric and action. “Underlying anti-abortion rhetoric and action is the idea that white women should be having more babies to build up the ‘white nation’,” Roberts explained. Since the horrific, racially-motivated May 12, 2022 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, the Washington Post has been raising the alarm about the popularity of the “great replacement theory” among Republican politicians and conservative commentators. But independent media outlets—including The Intercept, The Nation, and Ms. Magazine—have conducted the most sustained and detailed reporting on connections between the racist right and the anti-abortion movement.
Every year, Project Censored—the media-monitoring organization, established in 1976, to which we both contribute—releases a list of 25 significant news stories that have gone underreported by commercial, for-profit media. A 1996 story about the link between militias and the anti-abortion movement was on the Project’s list back in 1997. Last year’s list included a story on how the Trump administration not only reinstated but tightened the restrictions of the “global gag rule,” blocking international NGOs providing abortion services from accessing US government funds. Earlier versions of the top 25 list highlighted alternative media’s reporting about the jailing of women who had suffered miscarriages under punitive state-level anti-abortion laws and stories about how mergers between secular and Catholic hospitals eroded both abortion and family planning services.
The Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate federal protection for women’s control over their own bodies has sparked widespread outrage—and, finally, a flurry of establishment new coverage.
But history shows that the corporate media are not reliable guardians of women’s reproductive rights. As Project Censored’s monitoring of underreported stories shows, independent media, especially independent feminist outlets such as Ms. Magazine and Rewire News Group, do a much better job of reporting on reproductive health issues than most corporate outlets. If you are looking for a forewarning of the next brazen assault on women rights, and what reproductive rights activists are doing to forestall it, you’d be much better off reading Ms. or other independent news outlets than relying on CNN or The New York Times.
Kathleen Minelli is a senior at North Central College with a major in Writing and minor in Business and Entrepreneurship. She is a contributor to State of the Free Press 2023, Project Censored’s forthcoming yearbook. She will be pursuing her master’s degree in Writing after graduation.
Steve Macek is Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at North Central College. He is a coordinator, along with Andy Lee Roth, of Project Censored’s Campus Affiliates Program and a contributor to State of the Free Press 2023.