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The Dangers of Treating Anti-Abortion Pseudoscience as 'Opinion'

This morning, the New York Times published a column by someone representing Human Coalition, which the paper fails to mention is an anti-abortion nonprofit that calls abortion "a human rights holocaust."

by Kimberly Lawson
May 9 2017, 9:50pm

Photo by Helen Sotiriadis via Stocksy

This morning, reproductive rights activists on Twitter wondered what the hell is going on at the New York Times. For the second time in three months, the paper of record published an opinion column this morning written by someone representing Human Coalition, an anti-abortion nonprofit that calls abortion "a human rights holocaust."

But it's not necessarily the anti-abortion spiel that's garnered criticism; rather, critics are upset about the lack of transparency in disclosing how the author of today's column, Lori Szala, has a personal interest in the abortion issue. In her op-ed, she writes that linking the right to choose to economics "reduces mothers and their children to mere economic objects, and amounts to saying we are justified in killing those who impede our economic progress."

As Jessica Mason Pieklo, a writer and adjunct law professor in Colorado, tweeted: "In this trash fire of an op-ed @nytimes fails to disclose author owns anti-abortion fake 'crisis pregnancy centers.' It seems relevant in terms of editorial transparency to note when authors of an op-ed have a financial stake in the outcome of an issue. If you are going to publish a piece that argues against the fundamental right of bodily autonomy at least note the author stands to profit."

Read more: What Women Do When They Can't Afford an Abortion

Szala is a member of the leadership team at Human Coalition, serving as its national director of client services. According to its website, one of the organization's practices is to "serve abortion-determined women" through crisis pregnancy centers, or what they call women's care clinics. These kinds of centers can receive millions of federal and state dollars and often use tactics to deceive women seeking an abortion. Human Coalition, previously called Online for Life, started in 2010 as an organization that used search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to reach women searching for abortion information online, only to direct them to their own anti-abortion messaging.

Moreover, they actually fail miserably in their mission to deter women from getting an abortion. According to a report from ReWire, which analyzed data from an anti-choice software company, "Of the 2.6 million clients who visited crisis pregnancy centers since 2004, 3.52 percent, or 92,679 people, decided against having an abortion."

And while the intent behind these often Christian-founded pregnancy centers appears supportive, a yearlong investigation from Cosmopolitan found that was hardly the case: Not only are the counselors and workers often unlicensed, but they "repeat myths about abortion and contraception" and discourage the use of contraception "by emphasizing disproven 'negative consequences' and encouraging 'sexual integrity,' meaning sex only within heterosexual marriage."

That's why people like NARAL president Ilyse Hogue are annoyed with the New York Times and its decision to run another anti-abortion op-ed from Human Coalition. "Human Coalition has called abortion 'The Worst Holocaust In Human History' for some context on the true motives of the author of this OpEd," she tweeted this morning.

Read more: Letters from Women Pleading for Abortion, Sent in 1917, Mirror Emails Sent Today

Publishing uninformed opinion in mainstream media has real-life consequences. Chase Strangio is an attorney with the ACLU who fights for trans rights. He has previously pointed out the impact the media can have on legal cases, specifically that of Gavin Grimm, the trans teen at the center of the anti-trans "bathroom bill" debate who wanted to use the boy's bathroom at his school.

"One's confusion about what it means to be transgender and occupy one's body as a trans person," Strangio tells Broadly, "should not be journaled on the pages of the New York Times or the New Yorker because those musings will soon be found in Supreme Court briefs used to argue against the basic humanity of trans people and fueling a powerful movement to expel us from public life."

"It is fine to disagree and it is fine to express one's views," he continues, but "reckless half-truths disguised as debate" can have serious ramifications.

Hannah Groch-Begley, NARAL's research director, explains the harmful impact the Human Coalition has already had on women across the country. "The Human Coalition is a network of crisis pregnancy centers that's known for targeting and shaming women who choose abortion," she says. "Instead of focusing on policies that will help women and families get ahead, such as expanding access to birth control and paid family leave, they spend their time and resources attacking vital healthcare resources and working to dismantle our basic rights and freedoms."