After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Focus on the Family ran ads celebrating the ruling and accusing multiple states of allowing late-term abortion “even up to the moment before birth.” Fact-checkers at PolitiFact looked at the ads and declared them to be “Mostly False.”
However, the facts tell a different story — and reveal a trick in the publication’s fact-check game. That is our topic for this edition of Fact Check Check™.
Since the moment the court’s ruling was leaked in May, pro-life organizations praised the decision and began to shift attention to fighting abortion in the states. The evangelical Christian organization Focus on the Family ran a number of Facebook ads targeting six states — Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont — and accusing those states of allowing abortion up to the moment before birth without restrictions.
Fact-checkers at PolitiFact asked the group for data to back up the ads’ claims. Focus on the Family cited a report from World Population Review, an independent organization that provides worldwide demographic data. The report specifically noted that the six states in question have “no state-imposed thresholds” on late-term abortions.
PolitiFact then asked the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute and the Kaiser Family Foundation for information about abortion restrictions in the six states. Both Guttmacher’s and Kaiser’s websites showed that several states, including Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont, had no gestation or viability prohibitions on abortion.
Guttmacher also said, “44 states prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy.” Which means six states do not. Those six states were Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont
Even in its own fact check summary, PolitiFact admitted, “Under laws in those six states, abortion is not specifically prohibited at any stage of pregnancy.”
Yet PolitiFact called the ads “mostly false.” It did so by changing the premise of the fact-check.
After admitting that late-term abortions in the six states are not prohibited, PolitiFact’s fact-checkers repeatedly noted that these late-term abortions “are rare” in the six states. But the Focus on the Family ads never mentioned the frequency of late-term abortions — only that they were unrestricted.
We asked both PolitiFact and Focus on the Family if they had anything to say about this.
PolitiFact replied in an email that it stands by its ruling. Managing editor Katie Sanders told us, “We don’t have anything to add for your piece that isn’t already in the story/published rating explanation.”
Focus on the Family Vice President Paul Batura responded, “We would encourage PolitiFact to get their facts straight. Late term abortions are legal in the states specified in our advertisements. Fortunately, they are rare – but we never claimed they weren’t.”
Batura added, “We rate PolitiFact ‘Mostly False.'”
Our ruling: This fact check is wrong – and dishonest. PolitiFact’s fact-checkers admitted that the six states cited by Focus on the Family “do not explicitly prohibit an abortion from being performed at any stage of pregnancy” — which was Focus on the Family’s point. However, PolitiFact called the ads false anyway. Then they compounded their error by “fact-checking” something Focus on the Family never claimed.
That’s why we fact-check the fact-checkers and hold them to account with Fact Check Check™.