FACT CHECK: Did Kavanaugh Suggest That Contraceptives Are ‘Abortion-Inducing Drugs’?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Politicians, news outlets and advocacy groups claimed that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh considers contraceptives to be “abortion-inducing drugs.”

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

Remarks by Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing Thursday were taken out of context by certain organizations that did not quote him in full.

In context, Kavanaugh was stating the argument made by a religious employer in a case on contraception access. Since he used the term “abortion-inducing drugs” uncritically in his characterization of the case, some question whether Kavanaugh himself believes that birth control causes abortion.

Fact Check:

During his third day of Senate confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh was asked about a 2015 case challenging the contraceptives mandate in Obamacare. Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion in the case that expressed sympathy for the Catholic organization Priests for Life.

“Can you tell this committee about that case and your opinion there?” asked Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

“It was a technical matter of filling out a form,” Kavanaugh responded, referring to a religious exemption to the mandate. “In that case, they said filling out the form would make them complicit in the provision of the abortion-inducing drugs that they were, as a religious matter, objected to.”

Democrats seized on Kavanaugh’s use of the term “abortion-inducing drugs” in the days following.

“Calling birth control ‘abortion-inducing drugs’ is textbook anti-choice extremism,” tweeted Washington Sen. Patty Murray. “This alone should disqualify Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the Supreme Court.”

Planned Parenthood, California Sen. Kamala Harris and others shared snippets of Kavanaugh’s remarks, but omitted the words “they said,” giving the impression that Kavanaugh was stating his own beliefs on contraception.

Even news outlets like Business Insider omitted the words in its reporting.

Planned Parenthood acknowledged the error, according to CNN, and Harris subsequently posted a video on Twitter with the full remarks. Business Insider did not respond to a request for comment.

White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah criticized the omission over Twitter.

“Reporters Beware: Judge #Kavanaugh critics at @PPFA have copped to selectively editing his statement during testimony to misconstrue his words, and are claiming it was simply an ‘error,’ and not the obvious act of deception it was,” he tweeted.

The White House told Buzzfeed News that Kavanaugh “didn’t indicate a personal view” on contraception, and Republicans like Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said that Kavanaugh was merely restating the argument made by Priests for Life.

“Kavanaugh did not refer to contraceptives as ‘abortion-inducing drugs’ as his own view, he was summarizing Priests for Life’s case,” he tweeted. “Very silly to suggest otherwise.”

Hatch was responding to a tweet by CNN that implied that Kavanaugh himself believes contraception to be “abortion-inducing.”

Left-leaning outlets like NowThis News continue to make the claim explicitly.

“Brett Kavanaugh, who could determine our country’s future of reproductive health care, thinks birth control pills are ‘abortion-inducing drugs,'” it tweeted.

A number of news outlets took a more cautious view of the judge’s remarks. “In context, it’s not totally clear whether Kavanaugh is endorsing Priests for Life’s claim that birth control causes abortion, or merely repeating it,” writes Vox reporter Anna North.

In its lawsuit, Priests for Life was opposed to providing health care that covered any form of birth control. The organization argued that a subset of these contraceptives – certain intrauterine devices (IUDs) and emergency contraception – were abortifacients.

Since Kavanaugh only mentioned that subset in his summation of the case, groups like Planned Parenthood construed that the judge was saying that all forms of contraception were “abortion-inducing.”

“The argument for the lawyers of Priests for Life was that they objected to all birth control,” Beth Lynk, a spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told CNN. “In Kavanaugh’s testimony his description of their objection characterized all types of birth control as ‘abortion inducing drugs.'”

Buzzfeed reporter Ema O’Connor argued that Kavanaugh simply summarized the case incorrectly.

“Kavanaugh misstated the plaintiff’s stance, but he did not generally call birth control ‘abortion-inducing drugs,'” she tweeted.

Whether Kavanaugh was referring to all forms of birth control, or only those that Priests for Life believes to be “abortion-inducing drugs,” some question his matter-of-fact use of the term.

“The way he restates that argument may be significant – by uncritically repeating the term ‘abortion-producing drugs,’ Kavanaugh implies that this term is a neutral fact of the case, when it’s actually politically charged and the subject of much debate,” writes North.

This is the argument made by Harris, who called Kavanaugh’s use of the term a “dog whistle” to pro-life advocates.

The White House blamed the confusion on the judge having limited time to give his answer. “The best way to see what he wrote there is to look at his dissent. In that, he states the position of Priests for Life,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed.

Kavanaugh summarized the organization’s stance more carefully in his 2015 dissent. “They complain that submitting the required form contravenes their religious beliefs because doing so, in their view, makes them complicit in providing coverage for contraceptives, including some that they believe operate as abortifacients,” he wrote.

“When he was referring to that in the hearing, it clearly wasn’t a blanket description of birth control,” said the White House spokesperson.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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