Facebook Deletes Science Fact Check at Ted Cruz’s Request

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Let’s talk about censorship, and how wrong it is for government officials to use their position to silence the free speech of others. That’s a common rallying cry of conservatives, though most often they aren’t talking about government overreach — they more often talk about the overreach of social media companies like Facebook, which they think are biased against conservatives. So hell, let’s talk about that, too. 

Specifically, let’s talk about how Facebook has censored actual doctors from trying to combat misinformation by delivering science-based explanations about abortion, and let’s talk about how Facebook took that action to please politicians like human colostomy bag Ted Cruz.

Last week the anti-abortion group Live Action, headed up by lying Lila Rose, posted a video to Facebook claiming that abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a preganant woman. That’s just a straight up lie, and what’s insane to me is that this lie has been a staple of anti-abortion dialogue for years now. Back in 2012, for instance, Joe Walsh — yes, that Joe Walsh, the one saying he’s going to be the one to get Trump out of office — said in a debate with Tammy Duckworth that thanks to “modern technology and science” there were zero instances of abortion being used to save the life of a mother. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists replied, saying “more than 600 women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related reasons right here in the US. In fact, many more women would die each year if they did not have access to abortion to protect their health or to save their lives.”

That “more than 600” figure is probably a serious lowball, with other studies, like one from the CDC, finding about double that amount of women die each year from pregnancy-related conditions. 64,000 women a year suffer ectopic pregnancies (where the fetus grows outside the uterus), which is just one example of a condition that would lead to the mother’s death if abortion were not an option, since neither the mother nor the fetus can survive it. Other conditions that can threaten the life of the mother before the fetus is able to survive outside the uterus include infections, high blood pressure leading to stroke, and heart conditions.

Even when the fetus has developed to the point of viability, sometimes it’s just not possible to do a live birth when the mother’s life is threatened. Following the Walsh comment in 2012, USA Today spoke with a writer named Cecily Kellog, who was six months pregnant with twins when she developed severe preeclampsia (high blood pressure) and one of the twins died. Then, she said, “my liver had shut down, my kidneys had shut down and they were expecting me to start seizing at any minute.” The doctors said they had to quickly dilate her cervix and perform an abortion to save her. “I fought it,” she says. “But they told me I would die — that it was either me and my son or just my son.”

It’s rare, but unfortunately it happens, and denying that it happens is just a cheap way for anti-abortion activists to push their agenda, tricking people into thinking that abortion is not healthcare. It is — it’s healthcare when it’s used to save the life of a mother, just as it’s healthcare when it’s used to help a woman continue her life as is, and to prevent a child being born into a world that doesn’t want it and can’t raise it properly.

So Live Action repeated this stupid lie (that even Joe Walsh eventually had to admit was a lie back in 2012) by posting a video about it on Facebook. Facebook has made some weak efforts at stopping the proliferation of fake news on their platform that has led to things like, you know, Donald Trump being elected, including having actual humans fact check posts. In this case, some doctors saw the Live Action video and made their own, countering the lies with actual facts about abortions that are used to save the lives of women. A link to their video showed up alongside the Live Action video whenever anyone posted it.

Live Action received notice that their video was found to be false, and this had happened so often with past posts that therefore their posts would no longer reach as many people on the platform, in order to curb the proliferation of lies.

That was “censorship” according to the right wing, so four male politicians wrote Facebook a letter. Ted Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana told Facebook that “no reasonable person would describe Grossman or Schickler (the doctors who fact-checked the video) as neutral or objective when it comes to the issue of abortion.” Why? Because THEY’RE DOCTORS who provide abortions and care about women’s health. One is on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America and the other is a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. How dare they care about reproductive health, the area in which they spent decades training? 

In other words, reality has a liberal bias and the far right are very upset about it. Honestly, it shouldn’t matter if the fact-checkers in question run a Tumblr called “Fuck Forced Birthers.” What matters is the actual facts they provided — are they right? Great. Done. If I make a video saying that 100% of all abortions are performed to save the life of a mother, and Facebook has Lila Rose fact check it and she counters with “No, only about 3% of abortions are performed to save the life of the mother,” then guess what? She would be right, even if she’s my ideological enemy, and her fact-check would deserve to sit next to my outright lie.

Unfortunately, Facebook gonna Facebook, so instead of telling Ted Cruz and his posse of pussy-haters to get fucked, they removed the doctor’s fact check while they “investigate,” leaving the video full of lies active and able to be spread all over the place. Even if they eventually realize the doctors are correct and put it back up, it will be too late — the news cycle will have moved on, and thousands of people will have already seen and believed an obvious lie that has in the past and WILL continue to endanger the lives of women.

Another huge win for Facebook. Good job guys.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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