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Anti-Abortion Ad Uses Campus Newspapers To Spread Inaccurate Propaganda

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April 22nd, 2010

By Guest Blogger Alex DiBranco
Alex DiBranco

The Human Life Alliance provides “educational” resources in the form of a 12-page iCare ad insert to campus newspapers. Yet this so-called advertising supplement is only advertising an ideology, and is riddled with typical anti-choice lies — revealing it as but a part of the right-wing’s ongoing campaign to use media strategies to promote inaccurate, manipulative, and biased arguments against reproductive rights. And in running these ads, student newspapers have become tools of the campaign of misinformation.

In a series on RH Reality Check, Robin Marty investigated the deceptive information disseminated by the Human Life Alliance (the pdf of the insert is available here). It starts right in Table of Contents, which claims that abortion in America “is legal through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason.” I’m astounded at the audacity of this statement, and that any self-respecting publication would allow it to appear within its pages, when a multitude of laws prove just the opposite. Let’s look to earlier this month, when the governor of Nebraska signed a bill into law banning abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions only to save the life of the mother or a major risk of “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” So … what was that about any reason?

Next up, the pamphlet inaccurately defines birth control as abortion because it thins the lining of the uterus to make it more difficult for a fertilized egg to implant. But pregnancy is defined by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as occurring at implantation. The American Medical Association specifically states that Emergency Contraception does not terminate pregnancy. It’s also worth noting that 60-80% of fertilized eggs naturally will never implant and simply pass out of a woman’s body with her period.

Then, the Human Life Alliance moves into breast cancer scare tactics, using a pamphlet from the legitimate-sounding Breast Cancer Prevention Institute to claim that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. The truth is, this organization is an anti-choice front group whose claims have been debunked again and again by the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

Unfortunately, these colorful iCare supplements makes inaccurate “data” seem credible and even endorsed by the paper in which it appears. Readers are being failed by the newspapers they trust, and their health jeopardized, when something so flagrantly false is included alongside regularly scheduled content without so much as a disclaimer.

The pamphlet also demonizes female sexuality. Using the pseudo-science of oxytocin, a hormone released in women during sex and breastfeeding, iCare attempts to scare women into believing that every time they have sex, their ability to bond with another person becomes degraded. It uses the descriptive tactic you’ll find in many abstinence-only classrooms of comparing a woman to a piece of duct-tape: every guy you stick her on leaves crud on her, making her unclean and unable to bond in the future. However, there’s — wait for it — zero evidence that casual sex impacts women’s ability to bond with their partner in the future, or that it harms their emotional well-being. Newspapers have a responsibility to make certain this kind of misogyny-disguised-as-fact isn’t allowed to run without factual correction.

What really takes the cake is the shaming and manipulation of rape and incest survivors, who are told they will feel they’ve “conquered” their assault by giving birth. The advertising supplement informs students, “In the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, Dr. Sandra Mahkorn found that 75 to 85 percent chose against abortion” (underlying message: so if that is your choice, something is clearly wrong with you). But what was the “major” study? Turns out this rests only on the decisions of 37 women who came to the study’s author for advice. This tiny, self-selected sample is not scientifically significant data, and ignores the biases of the counselor in impacting the choices of these women. Do newspapers really want sexual assault survivors reading this kind of made-up data in their publications?

The goal of the Human Life Alliance supplement is to manipulate young women into not having abortions by whatever false means, or to push readers to seek “Pregnancy Help” from Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), which just continue this orchestrated campaign of shaming, pressure and lies. A Congressional report found that CPCs disseminate false information 87% of the time. The Feminist Majority Foundation currently has a campaign to expose these fake clinics and a petition asking Congress to pass truth-in-advertising legislation against deceitful CPCs.
Student newspapers and other media outlets have a responsibility to prevent their outlets from being used to spread inaccurate propaganda.

On a positive note, students haven’t simply taken the lies lying down. At Stony Brook University, where a student paper ran the ads, the campus Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance fought against these problematic inserts as part of its campaign against the deception of Crisis Pregnancy Centers. And at other universities, a number of letters to the editor from students called out the lies, and critiqued the student newspapers for failing to assure a basic standard of accuracy for material appearing in their publication.

Women deserve accurate information about their reproductive health, and luckily students are demanding accountability from editors. I encourage you to do the same.

[Editorial Note: This post originally appeared with a typo, now corrected above: Birth control thins, not thickens, the lining of the uterus.]

Guest blogger Alex DiBranco is the Editor of Change.org’s Women’s Rights, Immigrant Rights, Human Trafficking, and Education causes. She has also worked for the The Nation, Political Research Associates, and the Center for American Progress.

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