Fox Buries Arizona Court Decision Ordering Near-Total Abortion Ban

Fox Buries Arizona Court Decision Ordering Near-Total Abortion Ban

Jesse Watters

Fox News’ evening “opinion” hosts completely ignored Tuesday’s ruling from the all-Republican Arizona Supreme Court reviving a 160-year-old state law that bans abortions under almost all circumstances, as the network continues its pattern of shielding viewers from stories that could damage Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Arizona’s restored statute “forbids the procedure except to save a mother’s life and punishes providers with prison time,” The Washington Post reported. “Under the 1864 territorial law, which went into effect 48 years before Arizona became a state, anyone who administers an abortion could face a mandatory prison sentence of two to five years.” Arizona Republicans had expanded the court in 2016, and every current member was appointed by a Republican governor.

Trump bears a share of the responsibility for this ruling: His Supreme Court appointees were crucial votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional protections for abortion rights which had stood for nearly 50 years and opening the door for statewide abortion bans and other extreme policies. The ruling is also consistent with the GOP’s most recent platform, which calls for a nationwide ban on all abortions because “the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed.”

In short, the ruling is a victory for the anti-abortion movement’s decadeslong quest to ban the procedure — and could theoretically be treated as such by an ideologically conservative news outlet. But you can tell that Fox’s stars and executives, who prioritize their effort to return Trump to the White House, think the story undermines that goal because the network is giving it minimal airtime.

Fox provided a mere 12 minutes of coverage to the Arizona ruling on Tuesday; America Reports, Your World, and Special Report were the network’s only programs to address it at all. By contrast, CNN gave the ruling 2 hours of airtime across 8 shows, while MSNBC provided 2 hours and 20 minutes of coverage over 9 shows.

Some Fox coverage acknowledged the ruling — and abortion more broadly — could pose a serious threat to Trump’s presidential campaign. Chief political anchor Bret Baier noted that the story is “politically harmful to Republicans kind of across the board” during a discussion on Special Report. In response, Fox contributor Byron York said that it “seems scripted” that the ruling came one day after Trump’s vague statement that the states “will determine” abortion. He continued, noting the political peril the ruling poses for Trump:

BYRON YORK: He's really trying to create a tent that enough Republicans can stand under to elect him in November. So he does that yesterday. Today, Arizona comes out after the Biden campaign jumps all over Trump and said, "States are going to do radical things and Trump is going to be at fault," and then they do this with this 1864 law. It absolutely seems scripted. And Trump is going to get stuck with this time after time after time throughout this campaign.

Meanwhile, hosts Laura Ingraham, Jesse Watters, and Sean Hannity — among the former president’s biggest supporters at Fox — did not address the ruling on their evening broadcasts, even as they all found time to discuss an NPR editor’s claim that the outlet is too liberal.

The trio and their guests had touted Trump’s Monday statement on abortion, arguing that the former president was “entirely right” and had enshrined “democracy” and “states’ rights,” while dodging the political consequences of extreme and unpopular GOP-backed abortion bans.

But Tuesday’s ruling showed the horrifying and politically disastrous consequences of such a state-by-state regime — so they pretended it didn’t happen.

The network did the same thing in February, providing little coverage after the Alabama Supreme Court halted in vitro fertilization treatments in the state by ruling that frozen embryos are legally equivalent to children. Fox also hid bad news for Trump from its audience in March, when former Vice President Mike Pence said he would not endorse Trump over their differences on issues including abortion.


Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for either of the terms “Arizona” or “court” within close proximity of any of the terms “abortion,” “Howell Code,” “1864,” “160,” “1901,” “123,” “Planned Parenthood,” “ban,” or “bar” or either of the names “Hazelrigg” or “Mayes” (including misspellings of either) on April 9, 2024, when the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a penal code provision that bans all abortions except in cases to save the life of the mother.

We timed segments, which we defined as instances when the Arizona Supreme Court ruling was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the ruling. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the ruling with one another.

We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned the ruling without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the ruling scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

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