Thursday, July 11, 2024

PolitiFact's Humpty Dumpty act on 'abortion'

It was Lewis Carroll's fictional character Humpty Dumpty who gave us one of the classic quotes regarding word games:

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.’ 

Sadly, it's fact checkers who are doing their Humpty Dumptiest to play games with the term 'abortion.' A fact check by "Science Feedback" gave us a definition of abortion a few years ago that encompassed cesarean section, a procedure that regularly results in living babies. A July 10, 2024 fact check from PolitiFact in effect asked Science Feedback to "Hold my beer."

PolitiFact executed a "False" judgment on GOP senatorial candidate Tim Sheehy for saying "Elective abortions up to and including the moment of birth. Healthy, 9-month-year-old baby killed at the moment of birth. That's what Jon Tester and the Democrats have voted for."

Yes, the whole fact check was essentially bunk (we'll explain later), but we were particularly struck by PolitiFact's word game chutzpah in his concluding paragraph (bold emphasis added):

These statements are rooted in Tester’s support for the Women’s Health Protection Act. That bill, however, doesn’t open the door to abortion on demand later in pregnancy. Instead, it allows for the role of medical judgment. In addition, CDC data indicates that late-term pregnancies are rare. Also, the term "elective abortion" is a political rather than medical phrasing.

So far as we can see, PolitiFact fact checker Matt Volz relied entirely on one of his expert interviews for that judgment.

That expert was Katrina Kimport, yet another in a long line of PolitiFact-cited neUTRal experts who give heavily to Democratic Party politicians and causes. PolitiFact readers don't need to know that Kimport gives to the "pro-choice" group EMILY's List ($3,500 since 2020):

Kimport ... also criticized Sheehy’s use of  "elective abortion." In her view, that terminology reflects a political colloquialism that’s come to mean an abortion that is optional. That’s different from the medical definition, she said, in which an elective procedure is one that may be necessary but is not an emergency and can be scheduled for a particular date, such as knee surgery. 

She says it's her view, so PolitiFact just runs with it. PolitiFact didn't just run with it, they twisted it into the term being political and not medical as a matter of fact. That's despite many medical sources (textbooks, professional journals, etc.) using the term. Rather, the evidence suggests that the term has fallen into political disfavor, fostering a movement to stop its use.

Image from ACOG.org

PolitiFact is down with that.

"Elective abortion" means an abortion not done for therapeutic reasons. In the simplest terms, it's an abortion done because the patient doesn't want a baby. Politically, it's advantageous for the pro-choice movement to blur such distinctions.

Of course it's amusing to see fact checkers do their part to empty words of their meaning. The pro-choice movement would have us believe that the choice to have an abortion is automatically therapeutic and that "elective" is a misnomer. Review a few more words from Kimport:

Women have abortions later in pregnancy either because they find out new information or because of economic or political barriers, Kimport said. 

"I have never spoken to somebody whose abortion decision was not informed by deep thought and consideration," she said. 

Kimport's talking point doubtless has its genesis with information parallel to this:

The reasons people need third-trimester abortions are not so different from why people need abortions before the third trimester: 

  1. They received new information—including that they were pregnant—that made the pregnancy not (or no longer) one they wanted to continue
  2. They tried to obtain an abortion before the third trimester but faced insurmountable barriers (including policy restrictions and stigma) that delayed them into the third trimester.

Did Kimport and PolitiFact forget to tell you that the "new information" included patients learning they were pregnant? Oopsie! We are so sorry (not sorry!)!

At PolitiFact Bias we're not here to tell our readers whether to take a pro-choice or pro-life stance. We're here to show you how PolitiFact stops short of fully checking the facts when the facts don't favor the pro-choice view. And maybe the spin is intentional, which is naughty.

As For The Rest of This Steaming Pile of Fact Check ...

We might quibble with Sheehy's mention of abortion "at" the moment of birth. Other than that, it would seem he's right despite PolitiFact's protestations to the contrary.

Here's the key part of the (most recent version PolitiFact linked) of the bill Sheehy's prospective Democratic opponent signed:
After fetal viability, governments may not restrict providers from performing abortions when necessary to protect a patient's life and health. The same provisions that apply to abortions before viability also apply to necessary abortions after viability. Additionally, states may authorize post-viability abortions in circumstances beyond those that the bill considers necessary.

The federal bill has a somewhat narrower pathway to elective abortion than the Florida bill PolitiFact cited in this piece, but it's there. "After fetal viability" obviously doesn't have anything to do with abortion before viability. It's specifically addressing post-viability abortion.

The opening comes with the "health of the mother" language. When it isn't defined, it can mean nearly anything. And, as we have noted before, the medical profession can claim (Harvard.edu) that every pregnancy carries risk. If every pregnancy carries risk, then an abortion can be "necessary" to avoid that risk for any pregnant patient.

PolitiFact can't figure that out because it's inconvenient for the ideology PolitiFact favors. Plus by sticking with the opinions of liberal experts the inconvenient stuff gets suffocated with a pillow.

And of course there's the last line, explicitly allowing states to go as far as they wish in allowing post-viability abortion.

So, no truth at all to what Sheehy said. Or something.

Fact checkers. 

Meh.


Afterword

I could not resist a follow up question. 

Find the abortion conversation with Gemini AI here. Gemini's got its own Humpty Dumpty going on.

Friday, July 5, 2024

PolitiFingers on the scale: Presidential debate edition

 As we have documented over the years, PolitiFact's supposedly objective system affords its writers and editors myriad ways of inserting political bias into their work.

One popular method employs story focus to skew fact check findings. If a political figure utters a compound statement, PolitiFact affords itself the flexibility of focusing on the whole statement, just one part of the statement, or by evaluating multiple parts of the statement and averaging out the results. That's not to rule out a random mixture of all three approaches. See this vintage version of PolitiFact's statement of principles.

It's a highly unscientific and non-objective process, and PolitiFact provided a good pair of examples in its analysis of the debate between President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump.

PolitiFact on Biden

Biden: While talking about a bipartisan border bill, "by the way, the Border Patrol endorsed me, endorsed my position."

Half True. The National Border Patrol Council — the U.S. Border Patrol’s union endorsed a bipartisan border security bill in February. But it didn’t endorse Biden.

Biden made a compound claim consisting of two parts. With part 1, Biden claimed to have the endorsement of the Border Patrol. With part 2, Biden claimed the Border patrol endorsed his position. PolitiFact allowed that Biden hadn't received the endorsement of the National Border Patrol Council, but gave Biden half credit because the border patrol union favored a failed bill Biden had said he would sign into law. As to why PolitiFact would come to rest on that instead of Biden's position on the border generally, perhaps the Texas sharpshooter fallacy explains it best.

The Texas sharpshooter fallacy involves taking note of where one finds a bullet hole and then drawing a target around it with the bullet hole at its center.

PolitiFact took a false statement and averaged it out with a vague statement that might have some truth to it to reach a "Half True" conclusion. But even that leaves out part of the story because many of these evaluations never become part of a politician's "Truth-O-Meter" record.

PolitiFact on Trump

Trump: "The problem (Democrats) have is they're radical, because they will take the life of a child in the eighth month, the ninth month, and even after birth."

False. Willfully terminating a newborn’s life is infanticide and is illegal in every U.S. state. 

 Here we have another compound claim, this one made up of three parts. Democrats, Trump claims, would permit abortion in the eighth or ninth month (part 1, part 2) or even after birth (part 3).

PolitiFact focuses entirely on part three, and rules solely on that basis.

To be fair in a twisted sort of way, PolitiFact tends to rule it "False" that various "Pro-Choice" laws permit abortion up until the moment of birth even though they would permit abortion up through the moment of birth. The explanation? Abortions up until the moment of birth don't happen. That's supposed to mean it's not legal to do one, we suppose.

Why It's PolitiFingers on the Scale

As noted above, no objective process accounts for this willy-nilly drift of story focus. PolitiFact focuses on what it pleases. And if the rulings fall more harshly on conservatives or Republicans, hey maybe Republicans just lie more, right?

That's a post hoc justification for a slanted fact-checking process.