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‘Myth vs. Fact: SCOTUS Dobbs Decision and America’s Attitude on Abortion’ Heritage Blog Post

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Heritage Action for America's "myth vs. fact" blog post on the decision overturning Roe v. Wade (Dobbs v. Jackson) is accurate and truthful.

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On June 29 2022, Trendolizer listed a blog post from Heritage Action for America (“Myth vs. Fact: SCOTUS Dobbs Decision and America’s Attitude on Abortion”) as a virally popular link in circulation on social media. The contents of that link can be viewed here.

Heritage Action for America is a highly influential far right activist group and known disinformation purveyor that has existed since 2010. Its Wikipedia page describes some of its actions since its creation:

Heritage Action, which has affiliates throughout the United States, is a sister organization of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. Heritage Action has been called a “powerhouse in a new generation of conservative groups” and “perhaps now the most influential lobby group among Congressional Republicans.” … Heritage Action launched a campaign in August 2013 to link the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA or “Obamacare”, with laws to keep the federal government open or to increase the federal debt limit. The organization played an instrumental role in the government shutdown of October 2013.

SourceWatch’s entry on Heritage Action for America explained the group’s relationship with some Republican lawmakers in the early 2010s, and RationalWiki’s entry on sister organization The Heritage Foundation — also documented disinformation purveyors — summarized some of the group’s efforts in terms of “research” and “policy”:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Heritage Foundation sought to turn the reconstruction efforts in New Orleans into a test bed for all its harebrained conservative ideas: suspension of all government welfare, distribution of school vouchers, and the repealing of environmental and land use regulations in the New Orleans area.

In 2022 it used the Ukraine crisis to bizarrely claim that Vladimir Putin planned to annexe Belarus as part of a scheme to restore the old Soviet Union/Russian Empire.

As a think tank, Heritage Foundation conducts studies on socioeconomic issues. Suspiciously, their results always support whatever they are already lobbying for. In one classic example, a study they conducted found that poor people aren’t actually poor. They then lobbied to end welfare for the poor.

The foundation also pushed lackadaisical policies about Iraq, stating that only 40,000 troops would be needed to take over and maintain order in Iraq, that the war would be over in a couple of years at most, and that the Iraqis would greet us with open arms (which proved true, but not in quite the way it was intended), and that the Iraqis wanted democracy.

Heritage and all its affiliates have also been instrumental in organizing and promulgating the anti-critical race theory and anti-LGBTQ disinformation campaigns that are now bearing fruit as moral panics and book bans:

The ‘Critical Race Theory’ Coordinated Disinformation Campaign

They are also involved in pushing anti-masking and anti-vaccine narratives that have been used to consistently attack public institutions, such as schools and libraries:

Anatomy of an Inauthentically Organized Campaign

On June 28 2022, following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, Heritage Action published their “myths v. facts” sheet (also available as a PDF). It opened with a clearly partisan introduction:

The Supreme Court corrected a grave constitutional error when their ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturned both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This returns the power to protect life back to the American people through their elected representatives at the state and federal level.

The Left is smearing conservatives and spreading falsehoods about the decision. Here are the facts:

Next, Heritage Action listed nine “myths” alongside their “facts” in response. The first deemed claims a “majority of Americans support abortion” to be a “myth,” adding:

FACT: Most Americans want to protect unborn babies from abortion. 71 percent of Americans support protections for life after 15 weeks of gestation, protections that Roe prevented states from passing.

The Left claims Americans support Roe v. Wade, but the legal framework for the case is widely misunderstood. In fact, public sentiment changes dramatically once the facts of the case are broken down.

Many Americans don’t know that Roe permitted abortions up until the moment of birth. A Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll found that a majority of Americans said they either wanted the decision overturned or protections for life to start earlier, at 15 weeks. In addition, a 61 percent of Americans believe that abortion should either be illegal or left to the states to decide …

Based purely on the quoted context alone, the “FACT” section contradicted itself. Heritage Action claimed that “most Americans want to protect unborn babies from abortion,” but that “public sentiment [favoring abortion access] changes dramatically once the facts of the case are broken down” — if “most Americans” felt one way, then “public sentiment” wouldn’t change to match that purported “FACT.”

Statements like “many Americans don’t know Roe permitted abortions up until the moment of birth” are neither substantiated nor clarified. Four links appeared in that section, two of which are italicized above, and two of which pointed to the same webpage.

The second (“A Harvard CAPS-Harris pill found that a majority … wanted [Roe] overturned” linked to an article published by TheHill.com in December 2021, which appeared to contradict the claims it supposedly evidenced. It was titled “Majority oppose overturning Roe v. Wade: poll,” and it began:

A majority of Americans say they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, according to a new Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey released exclusively to The Hill.

Fifty-four percent of respondents polled said they opposed overturning Roe v. Wade if the court were to roll back the ruling and leave abortion laws to the states. Forty-six percent of voters said they were in favor of repealing it when asked the same question.

The findings come less than a week after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which involves a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

TheHill.com further broke down figures from the poll, but none of those figures suggested a majority of Americans wished to overturn Roe v. Wade. Two of the links (on text reading “71 percent” and “61 percent”) pointed to an anti-abortion website’s partisan content.

“A plurality of Americans” pointed to a survey conducted by Heritage Action in May 2022 [PDF] — itself an anti-abortion organization with a history of bad-faith analyses. Heritage’s second “myth” concerned whether the “United States’ abortion laws are already overly restrictive,” on a document dated after Roe was overturned.

In the “FACT” section, Heritage claimed, in part:

FACT: The United States actually has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the entire world, just like some of the most notorious human rights abusers, China and North Korea. The United States has been one of just five nations in the world to permit elective late-term abortions after 24 weeks – 75 percent of nations do not permit elective abortion after 12 weeks. Nations including France protect against abortion after 12 weeks.

Needless to say, if readers made the inadvisable decision to take its claims at face value, those claims were outdated, at best. “Five nations” (italicized above) used Heritage’s May 2022 blog post (“Get the Facts on a Pro-Life Nation”) as a citation, and “24 weeks” linked to a 2017 Washington Post fact check.

In contrast, a 2020 fact sheet on reproductiverights.org [“European Abortion Laws: A Comparative Overview,” PDF] provided a much clearer and less compromised look at abortion in peer nations. With respect to “time limits,” the document plainly described policy dictated by medical necessity:

Some European countries’ laws set the time limit for abortion on request or broad social grounds between 18-24 weeks of pregnancy, whereas many set the limit around the first trimester of pregnancy. However, all these countries’ laws also allow access later in pregnancy in specific circumstances, such as where a woman’s health or life is at risk. The standard practice across Europe is to not impose time limits on these grounds.

A number of European countries have enacted reforms to extend the time limits for access to abortion on request or broad social grounds. These reforms recognize that although most abortions in Europe take place during the first trimester of pregnancy, rigid time limits can have harmful impacts, create pressure and further complications for women who seek abortion care.

Later in the fact sheet, the organization referenced “international human rights law”:

Measures that roll back reproductive rights, by introducing new barriers or scaling back the legality of abortion care, violate the principle of non-retrogression under international human rights law.

Heritage’s third “myth” held that there was widespread belief that when “Roe was overturned, abortion was outlawed across the entire country.” Significant discourse about which states do and do not permit abortion across news and social media indicated there was little to no belief abortion was “outlawed across” the United States.

The entirety of the fourth “myth” section held that abortion was broadly unsafe for women:

Myth 4: Abortion is safe for women.

FACT: Despite pro-abortion activists claiming that abortions do not have health risks, there are a number of dangerous risks or complications associated with abortions for a woman’s immediate and long-term health, including blood clots, infections, cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, subsequent preterm birth, future placenta previa, miscarriage, and even death. Aside from the risks of the procedures themselves, there are also severe mental health side effects for women post-abortion.

Once again, the italicized portions were links. Both links pointed to anti-abortion organizations.

Credible, non-partisan organizations have roundly and repeatedly explained that abortion is safe when legal. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)’s “Abortion Policy” was reaffirmed in May 2022, and it read in full:

All people should have access to the full spectrum of comprehensive, evidence-based health care. Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive, evidence-based health care. As the leading medical organization dedicated to the health of individuals in need of gynecologic and obstetric care, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) supports the availability of high-quality reproductive health services for all people and is committed to protecting and increasing access to abortion.

ACOG strongly opposes any effort that impedes access to abortion care and interferes in the relationship between a person and their healthcare professional. Because the patient-clinician relationship is a critical component of the provision of the highest quality healthcare, any efforts interfering in this relationship harm the people seeking essential healthcare and those providing it. As such, clinicians should not be subject to criminal penalties, lawsuits, fines or other punishments for providing the full spectrum of evidence-based care. ACOG condemns stigma, violence, intimidation and threats against doctors, clinicians, and members of their professional teams and families.

ACOG supports every person’s right to decide whether to have children, the number and spacing of children, and to have the information, education, and access to health services to make these decisions. Individuals seeking abortion must be afforded privacy, dignity, respect, and support, and should be able to make their medical decisions without undue interference by outside parties. ACOG advocates to improve access to full-spectrum reproductive services, to integrate abortion as a component of mainstream medical care, and to oppose and overturn efforts restricting access to abortion.

ACOG did not make explicit reference to safety, but it was inarguably evident that the non-partisan medical organization considered it to be an essential part of reproductive care in the United States. Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) maintained a resource for abortion risks, but noted that “Abortions are generally very safe and most women will not experience any problems.”

Doctors Without Borders’ page on safe abortion was prefaced with a statement about the risks of overturning of Roe v. Wade:

MSF statement on SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

June 24, 2022 — Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides safe abortion care as a critical part of our comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services around the world. We do not run medical operations in the US, but we see the devastating consequences in countries where people do not have access to safe and legal abortion. MSF-USA President Africa Stewart, an OB-GYN based in Atlanta, issued a statement today in response to the US Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade …

On the same page, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) explained:

MSF considers access to safe abortion care as a critical, lifesaving part of comprehensive reproductive health care, one that reduces maternal mortality and suffering. Our commitment to this issue stems from experience at our projects, where every day we see suffering and death caused by unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions. In 2020, we treated nearly 15,000 women and girls for abortion-related concerns and complications, many of which resulted from unsafe attempts to terminate pregnancy.

In 2018, NPR reported on an actual study on abortion safety in the United States:

Abortions in the United States are safe and have few complications, according to a landmark new study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The report, called “The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States,” examined the four major methods used for abortions — medication, aspiration, dilation and evacuation, and induction — and examined women’s care from before they had the procedure through their follow-up care.

“I would say the main takeaway is that abortions that are provided in the United States are safe and effective,” says Ned Calonge, the co-chair of the committee that wrote the study. He is an associate professor of family medicine and epidemiology at the University of Colorado and CEO of The Colorado Trust.

Heritage’s blog post leaned heavily on claims about late-term abortions; the NPR piece noted:

Calonge says the researchers found that about 90 percent of all abortions happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. And complications for all abortions are “rare,” the report says.

Across the board and all over the world, non-partisan, non-ideological healthcare organizations and non-governmental organizations described a safe abortion as a legal and accessible abortion. Unsafe abortion typically resulted from draconian laws restricting access to abortion, which is broadly considered safe by doctors and their organizations.

Another dangerous point was “myth” five, that “women will be denied life-saving care.” On June 28 2022, we published a fact check about disinformation concerning a specific and life-threatening condition, ectopic pregnancy:

Ectopic Pregnancy and Abortion Bans

A June 28 2022 New York Times article addressed the same absence of protection, and the possibly fatal ambiguity it has already inflicted on health care:

… women’s health care providers say the recent ruling has raised questions about their ability to treat ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening complication. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has warned that abortion bans — even those with an exception for ectopic pregnancies — can create confusion and impede a patient’s timely access to care.

“We’re already seeing on Twitter and elsewhere physicians being scared to treat ectopic pregnancies,” said Dr. Aileen Gariepy, director of complex family planning at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. “As doctors, our job is to follow science and evidence-based medicine, it is keeping up-to-date and doing what’s right for the patient. It is not the nuances of how state legislatures wrote something.”

As we noted in our fact check, medical professionals were not always empowered to save lives during emergent ectopic pregnancy scenarios, due to confusingly worded, but ever more draconian, laws:

Still, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which deems abortion an “essential component” of health care, has warned that bans can impede treatment of ectopic pregnancy — even if a specific exclusion is included. Bans have the potential to create confusion for patients and health care providers, the group says.

In 2019, Dr. Jen Gunter authored a New York Times editorial about ambiguous laws from the perspective of a reproductive care provider. Gunter wrote:

I am an obstetrician and gynecologist trained to do abortions. I do not know how to translate these laws into clinical practice because often the language is preposterously vague and they include terms with no medical meaning.

In Alabama, for example, a doctor can “deliver the unborn child prematurely to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”

The legislation does not define what constitutes a “serious” maternal medical condition nor how “serious” it must be to prompt intervention. The language about how to terminate the pregnancy is similarly problematic. Does the vague word “deliver” mean an induction of labor, or does it also apply to a surgical abortion?

Gunter also provided a first-person account of how vague laws endanger women’s lives, recalling how the situations she got caught up in grew increasingly absurd:

… when I received a call asking whether I could help [a] patient, my next phone call was not to the operating room to make arrangements — instead I called the hospital’s attorneys. They did not know how to interpret the law either. Unless my patient was actively dying — for example, we were running a code for a cardiac arrest — an abortion would most likely be illegal. If I did the procedure, I would be fired.

To reconcile our disagreement, the hospital’s attorneys felt the only course of action was to get the opinion of the legislator who wrote the law. An attorney set up a conference call with this man so that I could plead my patient’s case.

Director of Reproductive Bioethics at Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics Louise Perkins King tweeted about ectopic pregnancy being an ambiguous legal area post-Roe:

Kansas clinician Kevin Ault participated in the thread, adding crucial context about the gap between standard gynecological practice and laws as written:

In that thread, doctors openly discussed the lack of protection for life-saving medical interventions in the wake of Dobbs.

Heritage’s sixth “myth” involved an opinion on whether anti-abortion activists were sufficiently focused on the healthcare of babies after they are born, followed by some peevish editorializing:

FACT: Much of the pro-life legislation being passed at the state level, or proposed at the federal level, includes funding and support for mothers. There are assistance programs and non-profits already working to support maternal health, provide post-birth education, or create safe harbor laws. Rather than supporting the organizations that help women, the progressive Left is harassing them and even vandalizing their storefronts.

The real hypocrisy comes from an abortion industry masquerading as women’s health care. For years, Planned Parenthood has touted that abortion only accounts for three percent of their services. However, in the days following Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, numerous Planned Parenthood clinics have closed their doors rather than carrying on with their supposed 97 percent of non-abortion services.

Heritage’s seventh “myth” and “FACT” pertained to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), falsely claiming that the law had no effect on those procedures:

Myth 7: Making abortion illegal will criminalize IVF treatments.

FACT: In vitro fertilization is not banned by abortion protections. We should protect every unborn human life. There are fertility treatments and methods of IVF that do not intentionally destroy a human life. Pro-life protections still allow these treatments to continue unhindered.

Once again, medical and legal experts have explained that IVF treatment was not protected by Dobbs. A June 29 2022 NBC News article noted that many states’ trigger laws defined “personhood” as beginning at the moment of fertilization (not implantation):

Most existing or expected state abortion bans refer specifically to ending a pregnancy, [Susan Crockin, a legal scholar at Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law] said, so they shouldn’t apply to IVF. But some lawyers are concerned nonetheless about “personhood” laws that treat a fertilized egg as a human being.

“If a law is written to establish personhood of a fertilized egg or an embryo, for example, then discarding an embryo would violate that law. It would be considered homicide,” said Priscilla Smith, director of the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at Yale Law School.

That might even apply, legal experts said, to people who damage an embryo in a lab or clinic. Or in some cases, patients who don’t intend to store or use an embryo might be forced to relinquish control over it to a doctor or clinic, as is already the case under Louisiana law.

“If legislators enact personhood laws, they will substantially undermine IVF patients’ ability to make decisions about their care, including what to do with frozen embryos,” said Karla Torres, senior human rights counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

NBC News sought clarification from state Attorneys General, adding that in the few responses they received, at least one state indicated they planned to defer the decision to prosecutors:

Attorneys general offices in Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota and Texas did not respond to inquiries about whether their abortion bans could affect IVF. North Dakota’s attorney general office referred NBC News to a letter enforcing the state’s ban but declined to comment further. Tennessee’s directed NBC News to the language in its trigger law, and Mississippi’s pointed to a section of the state code.

In Idaho, the attorney general’s office said it will be up to individual prosecutors in each of the state’s 44 counties to decide how to enforce its abortion ban, which is set to go into effect in less than 30 days.

“We will defer questions on potential enforcement to prosecutors,” the office said in a statement.

It remained possible states with trigger laws set to go into effect if Roe were overturned would affirmatively exempt IVF, but that clearly was not the case as of June 29 2022. Worryingly, some responding states merely reiterated the language of the law, which conceivably affected IVF treatments — depending on the interpretations of various ambiguous legal rulings.

Heritage’s eighth and ninth “myths” were some of the most dishonest of all. Its eighth read:

Myth 8: If Roe is overturned, interracial or same-sex marriage may be outlawed as a result.

FACT: There is absolutely nothing in overturning Roe that would impact interracial or same-sex marriage. In fact, the decision clarifies explicitly on page five and elsewhere in the opinion that this issue is “fundamentally different” because it concerns an unborn life.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence on Dobbs explicitly set its sights on Obergefell, the Supreme Court decision granting the fundamental right to marry to same-sex couples:

In the Supreme Court’s opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Samuel Alito writes that “nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurrence, suggests otherwise.

Thomas voted with the 6-3 majority that struck down Roe. In a concurring opinion, however, he expressed the view that he would go further — much further — than the majority in thinking through the implications of [June 24 2022]’s decision. One passage in particular captured people’s attention:

In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents.

Finally, Heritage’s ninth “myth” was:

Myth 9: Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch misled senators during their confirmation process.

FACT: No justice currently on the bench promised to uphold Roe, and it would have been inappropriate for them to do so.

In the immediate aftermath of Dobbs, confirmation testimony by four concurring justices came under scrutiny. A June 29 2022 Newsweek.com article explained:

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for the impeachment of U.S. Supreme Court justices she accuses of lying under oath about overturning landmark abortion precedent … She appeared to be referring to the fact that four of the conservative justices who joined the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggested during their confirmation hearings that they considered Roe v. Wade to be “settled law” and would respect precedent.

[…]

Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the majority opinion in Dobbs, called Roe “settled law” and “important precedent” during his 2006 confirmation hearings, but did not rule out re-examining it.

The three most recently appointed justices—Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett—were all asked about Roe during their confirmation hearings and all referred to the importance of precedent.

Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett were all confirmed during Donald Trump’s single term in office. All three suggested they did not seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, and a New York Times tweet on the day Dobbs was handed down pertained to Kavanaugh:

On June 29 2022, @InsiderNews shared video of the justices’ confirmation hearings:

We found it notable that Heritage’s phrasing involved “misled” rather than “lied.” It seemed easier to make a case for misleading statements versus outright lies.

A June 28 2022 Heritage Action blog post, “Myth vs. Fact: SCOTUS Dobbs Decision and America’s Attitude on Abortion,” was virally popular and functionally served as a gish gallop. All nine of its “FACT” statements were misleading to outright false, and not a single one of its points was honest, accurate, or presented in good faith.

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