Don’t Let GOP States Criminalize Abortion Coverage
More than two dozen newsrooms and press freedom groups sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday, calling on the Justice Department to prevent journalists and their employers from being prosecuted for simply writing about abortion.
“Rather than risk jail time, fines or legal costs, some news agencies may not be able to publish stories about abortion and possibly even contraceptives.”
At stake is a campaign, led by the National Right to Life Committee, to expand the GOP’s devastating attack on reproductive freedom and other constitutional rights. In mid-June, anticipating that the reactionary majority of the US Supreme Court would soon overturn Roe vs. Wadethe forced pregnancy group wrote and disseminated model legislation to state legislators across the country.
If enacted, the legislation—already under consideration in the South Carolina Legislature, with more Republican-controlled states likely to follow in the near future – would prohibit “aiding and abetting” someone seeking an abortion, including by “hosting or maintaining a website…that promotes or facilitates efforts to obtain an illegal abortion.”
While the letter, led by Mother Jones and Rewire News Group and signed by 24 other outlets and trade associations – makes it clear that such a measure “could be interpreted loosely criminalize news agencies and journalists for simply posting abortion articles on their websites.”
“There is a precedent for state legislatures enacting nearly identical laws that trample on people’s rights, and there is a history of well-funded organizations and individuals targeting news outlets through lawsuits that drain resources and can put newsrooms out of business,” the letter reads. .
Mother Jonesfor example, “spent $2.5 million more than two years of fending off a lawsuit from a conservative billionaire who claimed he was defamed in one of their 2012 articles,” the letter continued. “The ordeal diverted enormous amounts of time and money from normal day-to-day operations”, and the magazine’s finances “were compromised for years”.
If the “helpful and encouraging” abortion bills are enacted, “news organizations would be vulnerable in states where they have offices, and potentially in states where affected employees reside,” the letter said. “Rather than risk jail time, fines or legal costs, some news agencies may not be able to publish stories about abortion and possibly even contraceptives.”
Essentially, “such laws would allow state governments to dictate what stories can be reported and published, at a time when an independent press is needed more than ever,” the letter noted.
Newsrooms and press freedom groups have implored Garland “to honor the protections of the U.S. Constitution and defend the news organizations that play a vital role in bringing attention to all of our society’s issues.” .
“We ask that you publicly reiterate the freedoms of the press granted under the First Amendment and remind states that they cannot infringe on these rights when the media writes about abortion, that they and their journalists work and live in states where abortion is legal or illegal,” they wrote.
“If a state enacts such legislation,” they added, “we ask that you step in and use any authority granted to the Department of Justice to prevent the general law or provisions that may punish media outlets and journalists”.
The 26 signatories are listed below:
Rewire Press Group
The Marshall Project
The American Perspective
The New Republic
The Investigative Reporting Center
Center for Public Integrity
Center for Media in Danger
Nonprofit Institute for News
Radio Television Digital News Association
New York News Publishers Association
Media matters to America
Association of News Leaders