When President-elect Joe Biden assumes office on January 20, he will face immediate pressure from reproductive rights advocates to undo many of the harmful measures restricting access to vital health care.
From the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion, to 2019’s devastating Title X changes, which include a rule that clinics receiving federal money can’t refer patients for abortion care, the list of ruinous policies in need of review is long, and it impacts the lives of millions.
Even with Democrats poised to control the Senate, our wait on some of these issues may continue for at least another election cycle. Which is why it’s worth focusing on at least one action Biden can take immediately that will help increase reproductive freedom: He can commit to combatting the rampant disinformation campaigns that have targeted reproductive and sexual health, rights, and justice issues with the same vigor he applies to attacking other destructive lies.
On December 10, House Democrats sent President-elect Biden a proposal for combatting digital disinformation. The signees specifically called out the flagrant spread of fictional claims regarding COVID-19—what has been dubbed an “infodemic”—for contributing to the erosion of our democracy, and expressed grave concern about how foreign adversaries might take advantage of a citizenry that’s proved to be highly vulnerable to online manipulation.
As a nonprofit media organization that has its roots in RH Reality Check—a blog the United Nations Foundation launched in 2006 specifically to counter the never-ending barrage of misleading claims about reproductive and sexual rights and health care—Rewire News Group supports the aims of this proposal. After all, while many people have been caught off-guard by the inability of voters to distinguish between truth and lies, we in this space have been living in this alternate reality for a long time, doing everything we can to call out propaganda and promote evidence-based conversations.
All too often, however, this work has been dismissed by those who either see our issues as not affecting them—or at least not affecting them enough to make it the life-and-death situation it is for so many of the most vulnerable—or as too fraught to deeply engage with. The result has been a lazy insistence on telling “two sides” of the story, so that personal religious beliefs are treated as equal to science, even when public health is at stake.
Sound familiar? It should; as we’ve repeatedly reported, in the decades—yes, decades—since Roe v. Wade, right-wing forces have become increasingly more blatant and more reckless in weaponizing anti-abortion language. And they’ve done it so effectively that even though nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults say they don’t support overturning Roe, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, that decision is now hanging on by the thinnest of threads.
How can there be such a disconnect between what voters say they want and the way the story gets told? The answer, as we saw during an election in which Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes—a record margin—but is still seen as the runner-up by a quarter of Republicans, is that the meaning of “truth” has, for far too many, ceased to exist.
We are all now aware of this deep-seated problem, and of the need to rebuild a stronger, smarter voter base. We are losing the information war across all fronts, and unless President-elect Biden makes the reclamation of facts, including those around reproductive and sexual rights and health care, a top priority, there is not a single policy action he or Congress can take that will deliver on its intended promise.
The time has come for all of us to scream as loudly as we can—as loudly as abortion rights activists have been doing for years—that the truth matters. Science matters. Prioritizing public health over private beliefs matters.
Let’s hope President-elect Biden is finally the leader who listens.