26 News Outlets, Press Freedom Groups Urge U.S. Dept. of Justice to Protect Reporters from Anti-Abortion Legislation
‘Cookie-Cutter’ Bill May Criminalize Writing About Abortion
As the campaign to end abortion gathers speed across the country, conservatives are now pushing state-level legislation that could threaten press freedoms, and criminalize news outlets and reporters for posting stories perceived to be helping someone access abortion care, according to a letter signed by a coalition of 26 news outlets, press freedom organizations, and allied groups sent today to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Spearheaded by Mother Jones and Rewire News Group and signed by news outlets and trade associations including BuzzFeed News, HuffPost, News Leaders Association and Radio Television Digital News Association, the letter urged the Justice Department to shield news organizations and reporters from model legislation, circulated by the National Right to Life Committee, that they fear could move through states in the coming months, following its first introduction in South Carolina.
The complete list of outlets and organizations signing the letter includes:
Rewire News Group
The Marshall Project
The American Prospect
The New Republic
The Center for Investigative Reporting
Center for Public Integrity
Center for Media at Risk
Institute for Nonprofit News
Radio Television Digital News Association
New York News Publishers Association
Media Matters for America
News Leaders Association
The proposed legislation prohibits “aiding and abetting” someone who is seeking an abortion, including by “hosting or maintaining a website…that encourages or facilitates efforts to obtain an illegal abortion.” In essence, the proposed language could be interpreted to criminalize news organizations and reporters for merely posting stories about abortion on their websites.
If such anti-abortion laws are passed in the coming months, the letter says, news organizations could be vulnerable in states where they maintain offices, and potentially in states where affected employees reside. Rather than risk the threat of jail time, fines, or legal fees, some news organizations may choose not to publish stories about abortion, and possibly even contraceptives.
The letter signers had two specific requests of Garland: 1) publicly reiterate the press freedoms granted under the First Amendment, and remind states that they cannot infringe on those rights when news outlets write about abortion; and 2) intervene if any state enacts such a law by using the agency’s authority to halt the overall law from taking effect, or provisions that may punish news organizations and reporters.
The letter notes how there is a history of well-funded groups and individuals attempting to squash reporting with which they disagree, through legal action that drains resources and can put newsrooms out of business. Mother Jones spent $2.5 million over two years fending off a lawsuit by a conservative billionaire who disliked how he was depicted in one of their 2012 stories.
Mother Jones is a nonprofit, reader-supported news organization founded in 1976. It reaches millions of people each month via its website, social media, videos, newsletters and print magazine. Learn more at www.motherjones.com.
Rewire News Group (rewirenewsgroup.com) is the nation’s only media organization dedicated to coverage of reproductive and sexual health, rights, and justice. Follow Rewire News Group on Twitter and Instagram.