How Authorities, Media Are Abortion Shaming an Arizona Woman

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How Authorities, Media Are Abortion Shaming an Arizona Woman

Nicole Knight

Media reports described how an Arizona woman received a "taxpayer-funded abortion," without explaining that Arizona covers abortion care in very limited cases.

A campaign launched over the weekend is demanding that Arizona media correct a local crime story that advocates say sensationalizes abortion care and perpetuates stigma surrounding the procedure.

At issue is the media coverage of an Arizona woman who told doctors she had cancer to gain Medicaid coverage for abortion care. Chalice Renee Zeitner was sentenced last week to 28 years in prison on charges of fraud, theft, and forgery.

The Arizona Republic’s coverage of the story ran under the headline: “Phoenix woman who faked cancer to get abortion sentenced to 28 years.”

The article describes how Zeitner received a “taxpayer-funded abortion,” without explaining that Arizona covers abortion care in very limited cases. Arizona follows the Hyde Amendment, the 40-year-old federal budget rider barring the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

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Zeitner is enrolled in the state Medicaid program, meaning she can only get coverage for abortion care by proving one of those three conditions. Some 7.4 million women live in states, like Arizona, that restrict abortion care coverage for women enrolled in Medicaid, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found.

The analysis noted that Arizona also bans abortion care coverage in Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces.

The Sea Change Program, an advocacy organization that seeks to dispel abortion stigma, posted a link to the story on social media, calling for a correction:

We must demand that the media #stopshaming abortion! This headline is a clear example of abortion stigma – one that is out of context and out of line. Focusing on a “government-funded” abortion ignores bad policies such as the Hyde Amendment and contributes to the cultural shaming of abortion. Please SHARE and ASK azcentral to ISSUE A CORRECTION.

CBSNews on Monday ran an Associated Press wire story on Zeitner’s sentencing under this headline: “Arizona woman sentenced for faking cancer diagnosis in late-term abortion.” The story made a brief mention of restrictions on publicly funded abortion care.

Zeitner had an abortion in 2010 while she was enrolled in the state Medicaid program. She claimed she had cancer in her abdomen and lower spine, as the AP reported. She told her obstetrician that the pregnancy endangered her life so the procedure would be covered. The same doctor discovered the fraud a year later while performing a cesarean section on Zeitner in a subsequent pregnancy, and finding no signs of cancer or cancer treatment, the Arizona Republic reported.

Zeitner’s sentence included convictions in separate cases of defrauding a military charity and another charity.

Authorities played up the taxpayer-funded and “late-term” aspect of the termination from the start.

State Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced the charges in May in a press release under this headline: “AG’s Office Files Charges Against Woman Accused of Faking Cancer to Qualify for Tax-Funded, Late-Term Abortion.”

Hammering on that point again Thursday, Brnovich said in a statement: “Zeitner is a con-artist who brazenly stole money from veterans and the taxpayers of Arizona.”

In the same statement, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael DeLeon blasted Zeitner for defrauding taxpayers to have “a government-funded, late-term abortion.”