WashPost Gets Almost Everything Possible Wrong in Abortion Story

  • Quotes Supreme Court justices, but it turns out she made up the quote
  • Phillips repeatedly misstates and misunderstands the state of abortion law
  • Phillips uses a source whose few law clients are militantly pro-abortion and biased

OUR RATING: Journalistic Malpractice. Even Salon.com is ashamed. 

Indicted Outlet: Amber Phillips | Washington Post | Link | Archive | 9/2/21

There are certain topics where you know the mainstream media is going to get the story wrong, and not just a few minor errors, but profoundly, thoroughly, completely wrong. 

Amber Phillips fulfills that prophecy now on a regular basis. This article is about abortion, and Phillips gets about everything possible wrong. 

Major Violations:

  • Quote Fabrication
  • Bad Sources
  • Misrepresentation
  • Missing Context

Here’s how Phillips starts out:

We need to talk about Roe v. Wade. That’s the 50-year-old Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. And it could be revisited very soon.

It’s always interesting when “Reporters” talk in the royal ‘we’ – the collective ‘we’ as though they are leading a small group of people. It’s a tactic and a trick to imply intimacy and also establish authority, which we will see that Phillips entire lacks because she is incredibly ignorant on the topic.

I… the royal we, you know, the editorial…

Also, Roe v. Wade has been ‘revisited’ many times since it came out in 1973. [1] The actual controlling abortion law in America is not Roe, it’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey from 1992, which created the ‘undue burden’ test. [2] Roe is also NOT the decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Roe had a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, which together legalized abortion. [3]

Roe sets out the infamous ‘trimester’ system for political and legal purposes, not for health purposes. The state has an interest in stopping abortion in the third trimester but not the first, under Roe, and there is an arguable interest in the second trimester. Roe says that abortions should be permissible for health reasons. Doe then says that ‘health’ can mean anything including mental health, economic health, social health, it creates so many justifications for abortion that it precludes any reasonable restriction on the practice. 

PHILLIPS CLAIM RATED FALSE: Roe v. Wade was not the case that legalized abortion nationwide. Roe v. Wade along with Doe v. Bolton were the two that legalized abortion. 

PHILLIPS CLAIM RATED FALSE: Roe v. Wade will not be ‘revisited’ soon, it has been revisited many times since it first came out in 1973. 

Then Phillips writes more nonsense. She writes next:

What happened: The high court decided not to block a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks that even some of the justices said was blatantly unconstitutional. (We reviewed the law in Wednesday’s newsletter; more is here.)

The key point in this is that she says “…even some of the justices said was blatantly unconstitutional.”

That would be pretty striking for a Justice, prior to hearing a case, to weigh in and say that something was ‘blatantly unconstitutional.’ The entire process of judicial review depends on a judicious review of a case without resorting to a reactionary, knee-jerk decision to say it’s ‘unconstitutional.’ Very few cases and controversies as they approach the Supreme Court are so easily determined as ‘constitutional’ or ‘unconstitutional.’ 

But Phillips gives us a link citation to another story, and if you click the link it takes you to… a story written by Amber Phillips. 

In that Phillips-citing-to-Phillips story, [4] you find this interesting paragraph:

The court’s most conservative justices, including the three President Donald Trump nominated, such as Amy Coney Barrett, decided to let the law stand. In a one-paragraph statement, these justices said there are “serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law,” but indicated that the way the law was set up, the court is unsure how to stop if from going into effect.

The three liberal justices, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., dissented. Roberts said he would stop the law from going into effect because it is so novel and far-reaching.

The justices didn’t say anything about whether the statute is constitutional. They just said it will stay in place while that question is litigated.

So Phillips references judges saying there are “serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law” but that is a far cry from saying it was “blatantly unconstitutional.” 

In fact there does not seem to be any judges that referred to it as “blatantly unconstitutional” even though Phillips put that specific phrase in quotes. The ACLU called it ‘blatantly unconstitutional’. [5] Biden used the phrasing similar, “…blatantly violates the constitutional right…” [6]

It is very serious when a Reporter fabricates a quote. It’s Jayson Blair level misrepresentation [7] and a serious breach of ethics. Though I doubt it will even earn Phillips a mild reprimand at the Washington Post.

PHILLIPS QUOTE FABRICATION: No Supreme Court Justice said the Texas law was “blatantly unconstitutional” even though she quoted them in her story as though they did. 

I will say that I think this is the first time in our fact-check history where a Reporter has been sloppy enough to debunk themselves by linking to the quote debunking their wild claims written by themselves. 

pictured: our TGP FactCheck award for Reporters who debunk themselves with stories they wrote.

Here’s the next problematic part of Phillips’ writing and reporting:

Keeping it intact — even as some justices said they acknowledge its potential unconstitutionality — was an unexpected move that could signal the court is ready to strike down Roe v. Wade, said Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, which supports municipalities in cases before the Supreme Court.

So, this is first off Opinion as Fact because she is using the quote from Soronen to determine the motives of the Supreme Court. There are also the notable Weasel Words “could signal” here, even though the full context of the Court’s statement makes pretty clear they are unlikely to strike down abortion laws. 

The important missing context is that the State of Texas used a novel approach to avoid a certain type of lawsuit by providing what is called a private cause of action. [8] When a state uses a new or novel approach to accomplish something, it usually ends up in court and gets tested in court through trial courts, appellate courts, and sometimes the Supreme Court. Texas is giving a private, civil, remedy to try and affect abortion in Texas. The Court’s reluctance to stop the law from going into effect may be nothing other than a reluctance to dictate state law absent any showing that there is any harm associated with the law. 

Meaning that, since no one has been sued yet under the law, and no one has suffered any demonstrable harm from the law, the Court is likely unwilling to stop it from going into effect because there’s no provable urgency. 

Instead of providing this kind of context, Phillips uses a quote from a no-name lawyer at a no-name non-profit that appears to have some potential conflict of interest in a case like this, as it will probably have clients who have positions in support or opposed to this.

A brief look at Phillips’ source, Lisa Soronen at the State and Local Legal Center, [9] shows this to be true. Of the two briefs on the main page, one of the two is for the City of Austin, Texas. [10] Austin, Texas is the most liberal city in Texas, and regularly takes actions in order to aggressively promote abortions in Texas. [11][12][13

Lisa Soronen’s legal clients, the people who pay her bills, the people who pay her to be a prejudiced zealous advocate for their cause, are themselves militantly pro-abortion. This is whom she chose to get an opinion as to whether or not the law is constitutional. 

I wonder how many Washington Post readers said to themselves, “I wonder what Lisa Soronen has to say about the constitutionality of this law?”

There should be no doubt that if Soronen had said the opposite, that the law WAS constitutional, that she would have had angry paying clients calling her protesting her opinion and threatening to stop paying her one-person non-profit filing futile amicus briefs in support of state and local governments. 

This is how Phillips further quoted biased Soronen: 

“The justices know that this Texas law violates Roe v. Wade,” she said. “They all know that.” Keeping the law in place doesn’t overturn Roe, but it does make a “really big statement about what they think of Roe,” Soronen added.

AMBER PHILLIPS MAJOR ETHICAL LAPSE: Using a source for a determination on a law’s constitutionality that was so obviously biased and financially motivated to come to only one conclusion. 

Here’s how Phillips continues her writing: 

What happens next: It will take a while for this Texas law to make its way through the courts. But this fall, the justices have an opportunity to knock down Roe v. Wade if they want. They’ll hear arguments in a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks.

Again, Roe is not the controlling law of the land. Roe and Bolton were the decisions authorizing abortion until 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey changed the court’s jurisprudence on the matter. 

Here’s Phillips continuing in her ignorance:

If the court knocked down Roe, the states could regulate or allow abortion as they choose. The Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, estimates that abortion could be severely restricted or illegal in as many as 22 states if the Supreme Court overturns its legal protections for abortion. That’s in large part because Republicans control so many state legislatures across America. (Fifteen states have laws on the books protecting abortion rights.)

Again, it’s as though Phillips can’t even be troubled to wikipedia Planned Parenthood v. Casey. States already regulate abortion. They currently already do this. There are things they can regulate, and things they cannot regulate. The Supreme Court’s abortion decisions in Stenberg v. Carhart in 2000, [14] and then in Gonzales v. Carhart in 2007, [15] were about the Court giving direction as to how much abortion could be regulated at both the federal and state level in the greater context of the barbaric procedure known as “partial-birth abortion.” 

The Guttmacher Institute is not just pro-abortion rights, they are an offspring of Planned Parenthood itself, so they are an entirely biased and prejudiced source on any abortion topic. 

I also want to bring attention to this phrase from Phillips: “…because Republicans control so many state legislatures across America.” 

And frankly, this may or may not be true, but it’s certainly unsourced and not documented anywhere. The source for this statement is Phillips saying “because I think it’s this way.” Many of these abortion restrictions were passed in the 1970s and 1980s, such as the ‘trigger law’ in Michigan that was designed to outlaw abortion if the Supreme Court ever allowed state laws banning the practice to come back into force. The Michigan law was passed by pro-life Democrats, as were many of the other strong pro-life laws at the state level around the country. 

Modern politics has all but forgotten about the strong pro-life Democrats of the 60s, 70s and 80s, but they existed and it’s just Amber Phillips’ colossal ignorance and arrogance that she only sees the political calculus of today and assumes that’s how it’s always been. 

One under-reported story is that the first woman to run for President as a Democrat and do well enough to get federal funding and receive Secret Service protection, was Ellen McCormack in 1976. There were once many strong pro-life Democrats.

Even a state as ‘conservative’ as Texas had a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives until 2003. [16] Democrats had control of both chambers of the legislature in Louisiana until 2011. [17

Louisiana’s ‘trigger law’ outlawing abortion if the Supreme Court ever allowed states to outlaw abortion was passed in 2006, by Democrats who were in control of both chambers of the legislature, and who controlled the Governor’s office. It was called the “Human Life Protection Act” and it was authored by a Democrat, State Senator Ben Nevers. [18

It might be true that, generally speaking, a more aggressive, more left-wing, and more pro-abortion Democrat Party is unable to repeal many of these pro-life laws because of existing Republican majorities in these states who are unwilling to allow its repeal. But the idea that these Republican majorities are the ones who passed all of them and are vigorously protecting them is a claim without evidence. It’s just Phillips’ left-wing-meme projections and fantasies about how she thinks politics works. 

Phillips continues: 

The only other option would be for Congress to step in to protect abortion rights. Add it to the list of the many things Democrats in Washington are trying to do right now as a runaround to Republican-led states (think voting rights, climate change legislation, expanding the government safety net).

It’s always revealing when so-called ‘Reporters’ breathlessly show options like a menu at the restaurant of neoliberalism. It’s as though they’re saying, “we could do this to make sure you can kill your babies, or we could do this, or we could do this and then this, but no matter what we will make sure you can kill your babies!” It’s a form of associating with one side of the political debate and purposefully alienating another. It’s a key way of signaling that the acceptable opinion is pro-infanticide and the out-of-favor tribe is the neanderthal pro-lifers. 

“The only other option… “ as though accepting the Court’s decision and trying to patiently win elections, change the culture, impact society, and win converts was never an option. Pro-lifers have been told for generations to win office at every level, to campaign as single-issue voters, to make nice with the mainstream media that so clearly hates them, and keep coming back for more even though they were repeatedly cheated out of results by opportunistic politicians like the Bush family. 

But it’s clear that Phillips has staked a position on this issue, and her position is subtly infused within the tone of the article. The urgency with which she justifies Democrat actions to control the Court and get to the proper elite-approved results, is obvious, the “Washington… runaround to Republican-led states” – winning elections aren’t important, it’s about who can do the proper ‘runaround.’ 

Phillips continues by writing: 

Let’s also talk about a conservative Supreme Court

A law like the Texas ban — and the Supreme Court’s reaction to it so far — was one of abortion rights advocates’ worst fears when former president Donald Trump appointed three conservative justices, saying in the process that he wanted to end legalized abortion. That is closer than ever to happening.

Yes, let’s talk about this supposedly ‘conservative’ Supreme Court. 

Phillips is trying to make it seem as though since Trump appointed these justices, they are going to rule like robots over the topics that GOP voters want and desire.

Yet a pro-life President, George Bush Sr., appointed David Souter to the Supreme Court, who ended up being as pro-abortion as possible. To be fair allegedly Souter lied to Bush and his Chief of Staff John Sununu about his pro-life convictions, a fact that pro-abortion liberal Republican Senator Warren Rudman laughed about until the end of his life. Pro-life President Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, who was a staunch supporter of abortion her entire tenure. Again, to be fair, apparently then-DOJ official Ken Starr was supposed to check her credentials with Arizona Right to Life and never bothered to do so, and that negligence came at the cost of millions of unborn lives. 

Feeling betrayed over court nominations is a common sentiment on the right. [19

Yet none of the liberal-nominations seem to evince even an iota of support for the unborn, or the viewpoints of those who seek to protect the unborn. Is Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer soft on abortion? Have any of them adjusted their views even a little bit? If you consider that both Breyer and Ginsberg were recommended to then-President Clinton by pro-life conservative Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah, conservatives have an amazingly bad track record on advancing their agenda through judicial nominees. 

Truthfully, so far Gorsuch seems to be a big business libertarian, [20][21] Kavanagh is a relative coward, [22][23][24] and Coney Barrett is just a go-along-to-get-along with the reigning elite opinion. [25][26] These aren’t the personalities that are likely to do something dramatic and controversial.

So is “that closer than ever to happening” or is it just overblown fears given those new members of the court to the court’s most controversial topic: abortion? Any sober court watcher would say that it is very unlikely for these tepid conservative justices to do anything dramatic. But that doesn’t fit the needs of Phillips’ pressure group friends, so she is purposefully exaggerating the threat here. It’s a form of what we call legislative lobbying, when it’s so obvious that a reporter is just trying to make nice direct mail copy for a non-profit, or otherwise just trying to pour gas on one specific agenda.

Almost every paragraph written by Phillips had major problems. In addition, there were several places where there were major ethical breaches and horrible journalism. This piece is hot trash, and Amber Phillips is now in the clear running to be our TGP Fact Check MVP, challenging Phil Bumpsters for the title and crown. 

OUR RATING: Journalistic Malpractice. Even Salon.com is ashamed.


1 ] https://www.pewforum.org/2013/01/16/a-history-of-key-abortion-rulings-of-the-us-supreme-court/

2 ] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/the-last-time-the-supreme-court-was-invited-to-overturn-roe-v-wade-a-surprising-majority-was-unwilling/2019/05/29/2cd37b30-7b39-11e9-8bb7-0fc796cf2ec0_story.html

3 ] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doe_v._Bolton

4 ] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/09/01/texas-abortion-law-faq/?utm_campaign=wp_the_5_minute_fix&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_fix&carta-url=https%3A%2F%2Fs2.washingtonpost.com%2Fcar-ln-tr%2F349039a%2F61311f639d2fda9bb7ad350a%2F59861f04ade4e26514e3438c%2F11%2F42%2F61311f639d2fda9bb7ad350a

5 ] https://www.aclu.org/news/reproductive-freedom/a-new-texas-law-threatens-to-eliminate-abortion-access-were-suing-to-stop-it/
6 ] https://www.joemygod.com/2021/09/biden-tx-abortion-law-is-blatantly-unconstitutional/
7 ] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayson_Blair#Plagiarism_and_fabrication_scandal
8 ] https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/texas-law-that-deputizes-private-citizens-to-ban-abortions-flagrantly-violates-constitutional-rights-lawsuit/ar-AAM6Z8c
9 ] https://www.statelocallc.org/
10 ] https://www.statelocallc.org/briefs
11 ] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/abortion-austin-texas-funding_n_5d79c220e4b06028fd370d43
12 ] https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/news/2020-08-14/city-council-redirects-apd-funds-to-abortion-support-access/
13 ] https://www.lifenews.com/2020/06/12/austin-texas-gives-150000-to-group-getting-secret-abortions-for-teens-without-their-parents-knowing/
14 ] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stenberg_v._Carhart
15 ] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonzales_v._Carhart
16 ] https://ballotpedia.org/Party_control_of_Texas_state_government
17 ] https://ballotpedia.org/Party_control_of_Louisiana_state_government
18 ] https://ballotpedia.org/Ben_Nevers
19 ] https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/john-robertss-betrayal/
20 ] https://reason.com/2018/09/03/gorsuchs-record-was-more-liber/
21 ] https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/for-a-trump-nominee-neil-gorsuchs-record-is-surprisingly-moderate-on-immigration/
22 ] https://time.com/longform/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-first-term/
23 ] https://www.ocregister.com/2020/03/16/brett-kavanaughs-record-shows-an-independent-streak/
24 ] https://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/judge-kavanaughs-record/
25 ] https://theconservativetreehouse.com/blog/2021/08/12/breaking-supreme-court-justice-amy-coney-barrett-approves-forced-covid-vaccinations-for-indiana-college-students/
26 ] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-07-02/barrett-s-first-supreme-court-term-gives-taste-of-shift-to-right

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