August 11, 2022
Letter from News Outlets, Allied Groups Urging U.S. Dept. of Justice to Protect Reporters from Anti-Abortion Legislation.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Garland:
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, some organizations in the country now feel emboldened to suppress Constitutional rights, such as freedom of the press. We are writing to alert you to this campaign, the effects it will have on news organizations, and request your intervention to shield news organizations and reporters from such legislation that may be signed into law at the state level.
The campaign originated with the anti-abortion group National Right to Life Committee, which drafted and circulated “model legislation” to state legislatures around the country. Under the proposed legislation, it prohibits “aiding and abetting” someone seeking an abortion, including by “hosting or maintaining a website…that encourages or facilitates efforts to obtain an illegal abortion.” In essence, it could be loosely interpreted to criminalize news organizations and reporters for merely posting stories about abortion on their websites.
There is precedent for state legislatures enacting nearly identical laws that trample on people’s rights, and there is a history of well-funded organizations and individuals targeting news organizations through legal action that drains resources and can put newsrooms out of business. For example, Mother Jones spent $2.5 million over two years fending off a lawsuit by a conservative billionaire who claimed he had been defamed in one of their 2012 stories. The ordeal diverted tremendous time and money from normal day-to-day operations, and Mother Jones’ finances were compromised for years.
There is also precedent for campaigns such as the one underway by the National Right to Life Committee resulting in legislative action in multiple states. At this moment, the South Carolina legislature is considering the “model legislation,” and we can assume others will follow suit in the coming months, either during special sessions or regular legislative sessions.
If “aiding and abetting” abortion laws are passed in the coming months, news organizations would be vulnerable in states where they maintain offices, and potentially in states where affected employees reside. Rather than risk the threat of jail time, fines or legal fees, some news organizations may not be able to publish stories about abortion and possibly even contraceptives. If passed, such laws would enable state governments to dictate which stories can be reported and published, at a time when an independent press is needed more than ever.
We ask you to honor the protections of the U.S. Constitution and defend the news organizations that play a critical role in bringing attention to all the issues in our society. We ask that you publicly reiterate the press freedoms granted under the First Amendment, and remind states that they cannot infringe on those rights when news outlets write about abortion, whether they and their reporters work and live in states where abortion is legal or illegal. In addition, if any state enacts such legislation, we ask that you intervene and use whatever authority is granted to the Department of Justice to halt the overall law from taking effect or provisions that may punish news organizations and reporters.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of our request.
Rewire News Group
The Marshall Project
The American Prospect
The New Republic
The Center for Investigative Reporting
Center for Public Integrity
Center for Media at Risk
Institute for Nonprofit News
Radio Television Digital News Association
New York News Publishers Association
Media Matters for America
News Leaders Association