Civil Rights

‘Alternative facts’ and the anti-abortion movement


The recent statements by President Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, and Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, have launched a national discussion about the nature of “facts.”

Defending patently false statements made by the administration, Conway stated on national television last week that they were simply offering “alternative facts.” It didn’t take long after that for sales of George Orwell’s novel 1984 to skyrocket, memes to multiply and t-shirt designs to proliferate on Etsy.

As this new administration begins, people across the country are worried — what kind of dystopian future is this?

{mosads} One doesn’t need to look to 1984 to imagine what an “alternative fact”- filled administration might produce.

Dangerous “alternative facts” have been the norm in anti-abortion advocacy for decades. Conway herself is a long-time opponent of abortion rights and is a featured speaker at the annual March for Life in Washington today, alongside Vice President Mike Pence.

Conway, Pence and their “alternative facts” must feel right at home. Since Roe v. Wade first guaranteed the right to abortion throughout the United States 44 years ago, opponents of abortion have been systematically working to establish their own “alternative facts” and have turned those lies into harmful laws.

In the years since Roe, states have quietly enacted more than 1,100 abortion restrictions – nearly one third of those just since 2010. This proliferation of anti-abortion laws based on lies runs the gamut from the offensive to the intrusive to the absurd.

Some states force doctors to lie to women about a purported link between abortion and breast cancer — an “alternative fact” that has been debunked by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.

Other states require doctors to repeat anti-abortion lies about women’s feelings and mental health after abortion, compelling them to give the false information that abortion has negative mental health outcomes – another “alternative fact,” this one refuted by the American Psychological Association.

Over half of the states in this country impose a mandatory delay before a woman who has decided to have an abortion can get the care she needs.

These laws are grounded in “alternative facts” about women’s supposed inability to make thoughtful decisions about their own bodies and lives. And state after state has enacted restriction after restriction that aims to make abortion care too expensive or impossible to provide — all based on “alternative facts” about abortion safety.

The real facts (or “facts,” as we used to know them) show that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures provided in the United States, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association and many other medical organizations operating in the fact-based reality.

Anti-abortion legislation based on “alternative facts” has been litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This past June in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court issued a resounding affirmation of reality, stating plainly and in no uncertain terms that states cannot simply make up their own facts about women’s health and abortion care in order to enact laws that restrict abortion access or shame and punish women.

Instead of changing their tune, anti-abortion rights legislators have doubled down on their “alternative facts.” Sound familiar? These “alternative facts,” or lies, to use an old fashioned term, continue to be used to promote harmful legislation designed to shame and punish women and push abortion out of reach.

By the second week of January, at least 46 new restrictions had been introduced in state legislatures. Kentucky has already enacted two new abortion restrictions this month. And the ink was barely dry on Whole Woman’s Health before the Texas Department of State Health Services issued a regulation requiring burial of embryonic or fetal tissue, under the guise of public health.

So while Kellyanne Conway and the Trump administration may be content to live in their post-truth world, the devastating impact of anti-abortion lies on women’s access to care is all too real.

From those of us fighting for accessible, affordable abortion care to everyone now grappling with what to do in the face of “alternative facts” with grave implications, the real alternative is to stand strong and fight back. It’s the only way to ensure 2017 doesn’t turn into 1984.

Sarah Lipton-Lubet is a vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families. To learn more about how anti-abortion lies harm women and push care out of reach, visit

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags 1984 George Orwell Kellyanne Conway Mike Pence

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