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November 10, 2020 / Memos

Decoding the Radical Right: How We Defeat Anti-Choice Disinformation on Abortion Later in Pregnancy


AT A GLANCE: The anti-choice movement, as part of a long-term strategy to deflect from the fact that most people support abortion access, put a measure on the Colorado ballot to ban abortion later in pregnancy. Believing this was a clear win for them and an opportunity to wedge public opinion, they flooded the zone with disinformation to gin up support for the measure. They lost big: 60%-40%. When we lean into our values and the truth and have conversations about abortion, we win. 

THEIR STRATEGY: Anti-choice activists rely on disinformation tactics to mislead voters about abortion later in pregnancy and advance draconian policies. 

OUR RESPONSE: Center pregnant peoples’ stories, call out anti-choice lies, and use questions to expose how their disinformation harms public health and our democracy.

The anti-choice movement has long relied on distorting the truth to prop up its unpopular policies and mislead voters. Their disinformation, which flies in the face of medical reality and scientific evidence, has been carefully honed for decades in an effort to compel silence from the reproductive freedom majority they can never convert. 

This year, anti-choice advocates hoped their disinformation strategy would reap benefits in Colorado. They pushed Proposition 115—a ballot initiative that would have banned abortion at 22 weeks with no exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant person. Local anti-choice groups propagated a flood of disinformation and employed other manipulative messaging strategies to confuse voters and minimize the dangers of this one-size-fits-all mandate—all to push their proposal over the top. 

But on election night, Coloradans defeated the measure by a landslide. In the wake of an onslaught of disinformation, Coloradans overwhelmingly voted to trust pregnant people to make their own decisions about their health, free from political interference. Our movement’s secret weapon? Centering pregnant people in conversations about their health. 

OUR STRATEGY: Debunking Disinformation And Centering Pregnant People 

Abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare, but anti-choice politicians and activists are all too ready to exploit this minority of cases to advance their controlling and unpopular agenda. When facing a disinformation campaign about abortion later in pregnancy, NARAL’s research shows that the most effective value we can communicate is that of supporting families, specifically those in difficult and often painful circumstances. 

When combatting the Radical Right’s disinformation about abortion later in pregnancy, it’s not enough to simply ignore their lies. Research shows that we can win these conversations by calling out these dangerous fabrications and by centering the people who would be most impacted by abortion bans—and in Colorado, that’s exactly what happened. Here are just some of the ways people told their later abortion stories in Colorado and national media:

  • “So many people make assumptions about what resources people have and what type of person seeks abortion care later in pregnancy, but this happened to me, a mature adult who did everything she possibly could to prevent it. I feel it is crucial for people to understand this can happen to anyone.” — Claire S. (written under a pseudonym) 
  • Once we walked through the doors of the Boulder Abortion Clinic, we were treated with care, compassion, and respect by Dr. Hern and clinic staff. I found myself strangely surprised by every kind, thoughtful gesture. I realized that, despite having family members and close friends who’d had abortions, I’d never known anyone who had sought care later in pregnancy.” — Patient advocate Erika Christensen
  • “If the people behind Prop. 115 would care to ask people who have actually had abortions later in pregnancy what we think, we would tell them we stand firm in our decisions, we feel grateful for the care we received, and we’re sickened that our stories and lives are being twisted.” — Christina Taylor

THE LANDSCAPE: A Flood of Lies About Later Abortion and the Impacts of Prop 115

Anti-choice advocates know that their only chance of advancing their unpopular goals lies in distracting the public from thinking about the harmful impact bans and restrictions on abortion care have on pregnant people’s lives. In Colorado, they relied on disinformation to: 

  • Lie about the impacts of Proposition 115. Proponents tried to minimize the dangers of Proposition 115 by downplaying the ban’s effects—even going so far as to egregiously claim Proposition 115 was “not a ban”—when in reality, it would have required a pregnant person to be on the brink of death before they could receive an abortion after 22 weeks. 
  • Erase pregnant people from the conversation by fearmongering and centering fetal “viability.” Though doctors overwhelmingly agree that viability is not a black and white issue and that some pregnancies are never viable, proponents tried to make a case for their 22-week ban by pushing medically-inaccurate claims that fetal viability uniformly occurs at 22 weeks. 
  • Attempt to divide Democrats. In an attempt to sow division among their opposition, proponents co-opted the language of social justice to talk about their ban, falsely implying or suggesting outright that Catholics and disability rights advocates would be hypocritical to oppose the ban.
  • Shame and stigmatize people who seek later abortion. Proponents of Proposition 115 tried to drown out opposition to their ban by stigmatizing pregnant people and egregiously implying that supporters of abortion access were violating gender norms—even making the sexist claim that women should not seek abortion care because they were “nurturers by nature.” 

Social media added fuel to the fire. In an election cycle that was already almost entirely online, proponents found fertile ground for their disinformation on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms. In particular, Facebook allowed users to be inundated with disinformation from proponents, who placed paid ads intentionally misleading viewers about Proposition 115, proving yet again Facebook’s unwillingness to stand up for truth in the face of anti-choice lies and manipulations

THE FUTURE: Amidst Rampant Disinformation Campaigns, Prop 115’s Defeat is a Glimmer of Hope

Disinformation poses a major threat to both our democracy and the future of reproductive freedom, as the GOP and anti-choice movement continue to spread lies freely to advance their unpopular and dangerous agenda. But election night in Colorado proved that when presented with accurate, real-life stories about abortion later in pregnancy—that center pregnant people—voters can see past the lies themselves. Coloradans’ defeat of Proposition 115 offers a template for victory as the pro-choice movement continues to face an onslaught of attacks on reproductive freedom at the state level and beyond.

Everyone should be able to decide if, when, how, and with whom they start or grow a family.

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