NewsBusters Interview: Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List Explains How Democrats Aren't Accountable on Abortion

The only competitive gubernatorial race this year is in Virginia, where the state's newspapers have demonstrated a viciously negative bias against conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

One expert who is seeing all of this on the ground is Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which has been the pro-life counterpoint to Emily's List for more than 20 years. They're attacked by the Left as "the NRA of the anti-choice movement." When I asked her about the media's performance in this race, she began by explaining how pro-abortion reporters are extremely weak in asking the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, to clarify where he stands on the extreme end of the abortion lobby's demands:

NB: How is the abortion issue playing out in the governor’s race? How in your opinion has Virginia’s media reported each candidate’s position on the abortion issue?

DANNENFELSER: It has not been equal. While the media demands a response from Ken Cuccinelli each time Terry McAuliffe launches another false attack, they have not pressed McAuliffe in the same way.

McAuliffe has not been asked to clarify his stance on late-term abortion, even as legislation to stop abortions after 20 weeks – more than halfway through pregnancy – advance across the country and in Washington. McAuliffe has not been pressed to reconsider or defend his outright opposition to health and safety standards for abortion facilities – even in light of the 80-plus health violations, and recent medical emergencies in Falls Church.

The media have simply let Terry McAuliffe get away with gross inconsistencies and ambiguity on his abortion stand. For example, McAuliffe told Ben Pershing at the Washington Post that he supports current Virginia law as to “when abortion is legal.” Well, Virginia is one of the top 10 most pro-life states in the nation. Besides a ban on third-trimester abortions, there are a host of other laws that determine “when” abortions are legal in Virginia. For example, legal abortion in Virginia requires that a mother wait 24 hours, an ultrasound must be done with opportunity for the mother to see the images of her unborn child before undergoing abortion. Virginia also has a parental consent law and prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion.

McAuliffe’s statement simply provides NO clarity to Virginians because it seems to suggest that McAuliffe supports existing Virginia abortion law, but this goes against all other indications as to where he stands. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and Planned Parenthood – both organizations which are spending heavily to elect McAuliffe and that have been authorized to speak on behalf of his campaign – vehemently opposed all of the aforementioned laws and would undoubtedly seek to overturn them with an ally in the Governor’s Mansion.

If Terry McAuliffe supports these current laws, will he veto attempts by the pro-choice lobby to change it? He should be pressed by the Post to answer this question. McAuliffe’s campaign recently told Politico there was no credence to an ad which called their candidate out for his support of taxpayer funding of abortion on demand, up till birth. But the campaign refused to point to single inaccuracy.

John McCormack of the Weekly Standard has been – to my knowledge – the lone reporter to actually press McAuliffe on the issue of taxpayer funding. Terry McAuliffe remarked about the weather – “A beautiful day out today” – that was his answer.  


When he does answer questions on this issue, it only becomes clearer that he will say just about anything to get elected. McAuliffe was recorded explaining how he will use the Governor’s mansion to wipe safety regulations for abortion facilities off the books. McAuliffe said he’d use a “guidance opinion” to help existing abortion facilities – where more than 80 violations have been discovered – skirt the standards. The problem is that the Governor has no such authority. “Guidance opinion” doesn’t exist in the Virginia code.

NB: It’s obvious that Terry McAuliffe’s campaign thinks it can win this election among women by painting Ken Cuccinelli as an extremist. Do you sense that reporters think every woman is or should be a proponent of abortion on demand?

DANNENFELSER: That is certainly the opinion of the McAuliffe campaign. Their entire TV and radio ad strategy is based on this idea that somehow women absolutely must have abortion on demand to be happy. If you are a woman who disagrees, you’re deemed a lost-cause to the McAuliffe campaign. The media utterly fails to scrutinize this claim despite abundant and well-documented evidence to the contrary.

Trends in the polls show that women are increasingly calling themselves pro-life. In the case of concrete legislation, take the 20 week abortion ban –  five recent, major national polls (by Quinnipiac, National Journal, Huffington Post, NBC/Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post/ABC News) all found that Americans support limiting abortion after 20 weeks gestation.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake also reported that all of them found that women supported the measure in higher numbers than men. Quinnipiac found that women were even 10 points more likely than men to back it (60 percent to 50 percent). To his credit, Blake even pointed out how the numbers might actually understate the support among women.

While some in the media are beginning to understand and report the shirt in opinion among women, reporting on the Virginia race has shown no trace of scrutiny. This is either bad reporting or profound bias. Both disserve and disrespect women and readers generally.

NB: What has been the most egregious example of bias regarding abortion in this race?

DANNENFELSER: The lack of reporting of McAuliffe’s recent dirty trick with the robocalls accusing Ken of not being pro-life. McAuliffe isn’t just extreme, he is duplicitous. Last week, Ken Cuccinelli restated that because Virginia participates in Medicaid, a federal program, taxpayer dollars are used to fund abortions in the case of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. McAuliffe and the Democratic Party of Virginia are now doing robocalls to pro-life voters, trying to claim that Cuccinelli isn’t pro-life anymore.

The dishonesty of making different arguments to different audiences would normally merit a high degree of coverage and editorial criticism if discovered. Here it was discovered. Journalistic integrity requires that journalists refrain from picking sides. The lack of reporting on this issue reveals a shocking lack of integrity.

They cannot have it both ways. McAuliffe cannot go on television and radio claiming that Ken Cuccinelli is an extreme pro-life candidate at the same time he sends out robocalls claiming that Cuccinelli is not pro-life. This is a desperate, hypocritical tactic to distract from McAuliffe’s extreme position on abortion. And the media – who has given unlimited print space and air time to riding Cuccinelli on this – should call him out for such a lie.

NB: If the reporters covering Virginia politics were doing their jobs in a fair and balanced manner, how do you think they would report the issue of abortion in this campaign?

DANNENFELSER: It’s simple: They would pull up national polls of women’s opinions on abortion – again, that a large majority of women across the board are against third trimester abortions, for instance – and then simply repeat what the stances of both candidates are on abortion. Although McAuliffe is determined to be opaque on this matter –that’s the media’s job after all. It is the journalist’s job to pierce the veil of secrecy. So far they have failed. Because of that, McAuliffe enjoys the advantage. His record is reported as he likes it; Cuccinelli’s record is also reported as McAuliffe likes it. Virginia voters can be trusted with the truth. The facts are all they need.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis