NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

Jul 15, 2022, 7:21 AM | Updated: 7:56 am

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:


Posts falsely claim abortion is never medically necessary

CLAIM: Abortion is never medically necessary to protect the health of the mother.

THE FACTS: Doctors say there are multiple situations in which abortion is medically necessary to save the life of the pregnant mother. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to end constitutional protections for abortion has reinvigorated misinformation about what constitutes an abortion and whether the procedure can be medically necessary. “Abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of the mother,” read a widely shared Facebook post from an anti-abortion nonprofit. “There are maternal health emergencies that require the mother and child to be separated through natural delivery, c-section, or the removal of a child in an ectopic pregnancy situation,” another widely shared post read. “And sometimes the child is sadly too young to survive. But this is not an abortion because every effort is made by doctors to preserve the lives of BOTH patients – mother & child.” But doctors told the AP that there are many circumstances in which abortion — meaning the termination of a pregnancy — can be medically necessary. “Without question, abortion can be medically necessary,” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a 2019 statement after similar claims spread online. “There are situations where pregnancy termination in the form of an abortion is the only medical intervention that can preserve a patient’s health or save their life.” Those situations include a pregnant woman’s water breaking before 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to Dr. Kristyn Brandi, a practicing OB-GYN and abortion provider and the board chair for the advocacy organization Physicians for Reproductive Health. When a woman’s water breaks far too early, it makes it unlikely a fetus’ lungs will be able to develop enough to survive. It also presents a very high risk of infection and septic shock in the pregnant mother, Brandi said. In such an instance, a doctor’s recommendation to protect the mother’s life would often be to end the pregnancy through an abortion. Other times, if a woman has a heart condition, Brandi said, the increased blood production during a pregnancy may jeopardize her heart’s ability to support her or the fetus. Other examples of complications that could necessitate abortion to save the mother’s life include kidney or liver failure, said Dr. Cindy Duke, an OB-GYN and virologist who is also the founder and medical and laboratory director of the Nevada Fertility Institute. Doctors say it’s misleading to claim that the solution to a life-threatening complication in a pregnancy is delivery rather than abortion. That’s because in medical literature, “abortion” refers to the termination of a pregnancy for any reason, according to Dr. Louise P. King, an OB-GYN and the director of reproductive bioethics at Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics. If a fetus can’t survive outside the womb, ending that pregnancy is considered an abortion. In addition, any delivery before 20 weeks of pregnancy is medically defined as an abortion, according to Brandi. The term “preterm delivery” isn’t typically used until after 20 weeks or even later, at 23 or 24 weeks, when the fetus has a chance of surviving outside the womb, she said. Brandi said some of the laws being enacted to limit abortion access are not written by medical professionals and aren’t clear about when abortions are allowed to protect the health of the mother.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in Seattle contributed this report with additional reporting from Josh Kelety in Phoenix.


U.S. fuel prices are not among the lowest in the world

CLAIM: U.S. gasoline prices are among the lowest in the world.

THE FACTS: While the U.S. is not one of the nations with the highest fuel prices in the world in 2022, it is also not among those with the lowest prices. Dozens of countries report lower fuel prices than the U.S. For months, social media users across the U.S. have bemoaned high fuel prices, blaming President Joe Biden for the hike even as drivers in other countries also have shelled out more money to fill their tanks. This week, one widely shared post misled social media users in the other direction, falsely claiming that the U.S. was among the countries with the lowest fuel prices in the world, and that Biden should be credited with that. The post featured a partial world map highlighting fuel prices in selected parts of the world, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil and several parts of Europe. The listed cost of fuel in the U.S., $4.79, was lower than any other price listed on the map. The image attributed the data to figures that appeared in Kiplinger, a business publication, in early June. “I would like to thank Biden for keeping Gas in this country one of the LOWEST in the world,” read a caption. But the U.S. has nowhere near the lowest gasoline prices in the world, according to databases that track that information. More than 60 countries report lower gas prices than those in the U.S., according to the website GlobalPetrolPrices.com, which Kiplinger cited in its report. Notably, the U.S. doesn’t fall at the highest end of the gas price spectrum, either. While U.S. gas prices hovered around $4.67 per gallon on Monday, according to AAA data, gasoline in some countries such as Iceland and Hong Kong cost double that or more on the same day, according to GlobalPetrolPrices.com. Presidents often face criticism when gas prices climb, but the reality is they don’t have much control over fuel costs rising or falling, according to Carey King, a research scientist at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas. Beyond releasing oil from the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which Biden did, there’s “not much” the president can do to reduce gas prices, King said.

— Ali Swenson


Baseless post ties Shinzo Abe’s assassination to COVID-19 policies

CLAIM: As prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe went against orders from the World Economic Forum and declined to mandate COVID-19 vaccines, rejected 1.6 million doses of the drug and gave citizens ivermectin.

THE FACTS: The assertion contains several inaccuracies: Abe was no longer prime minister when Japan’s COVID-19 vaccinations began in 2021, the country did not authorize ivermectin as a COVID treatment and doses of the Moderna vaccine were recalled because of contamination. But following Abe’s assassination on July 8, social media users began sharing a meme that falsely tied the killing to the country’s vaccine policies. “Assassinated Japanese P.M. didn’t follow WEF orders. Didn’t mandate vaccines, sent 1.6 million doses back and gave citizens ivermectin,” stated one false tweet, using an acronym for the World Economic Forum. While a motive has not yet been disclosed, police and news reports suggest the killing was not political, the AP has reported. And the post contains several other incorrect elements. Japan began offering vaccinations against COVID-19 after the February 2021 approval of Pfizer’s vaccine, months after Abe announced on August 28, 2020, that he was resigning as prime minister over health concerns. Although Japan did not mandate COVID-19 vaccines, it has administered more than 280 million doses as of July. For months social media users have been spreading false claims that Japan pulled COVID-19 vaccines and authorized Ivermectin, a drug used to treat infections of roundworms and other parasites in humans and animals. Ivermectin is not listed by the Japanese government as an approved drug to treat COVID-19, according to the Japan Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency. Last year, more than 1.63 million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine were recalled in Japan because of contamination. According to AP reporting, Moderna and its partner in Japan pulled the doses after tiny particles of stainless steel were found in some vials. An investigation at a Spanish factory that produced those doses concluded that the contamination occurred while placing stops on the vials.


Destroyed Dutch building wasn’t a factory owned by Bill Gates

CLAIM: A “Bill Gates factory that produces lab-grown synthetic meat” burned down in the Netherlands.

THE FACTS: While a distribution center operated by a Dutch online grocery service was destroyed in a fire in the eastern Netherlands, the facility was not a factory that produced meat alternatives, nor was it owned or operated by Gates. As video spread widely online Monday of flames engulfing the building, false claims circulated misrepresenting the use of the facility and its connection to the billionaire philanthropist. “Bill Gates factory that produces lab-grown synthetic meat burns down in the Netherlands,” read the caption on a video of the blaze that had been viewed more than 12,000 times on Facebook. The facility that burned down on Sunday night was a distribution center operated by Picnic, a Dutch online grocery service that allows users to order groceries using a mobile app and have them delivered. The building was not a factory that produced meat alternatives, Martijn Koolhoven, a public relations official representing Picnic, told the AP in an email. The center that caught fire was used to load orders onto electric trucks for delivery. He said there was no production of any kind at the site “let alone of meat.” Picnic in 2021 raised $600 million euros to expand its operations. A large portion of that funding came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, Koolhoven said, adding that the trust was one investor among “many other existing shareholders.” The trust, which invests and manages money, is separate from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic arm. The trust states on its website that its investment decisions are made by an outside team of managers. “Foundation staff have no influence on Trust investment decisions, and no visibility into the Trust’s investment strategies,” according to an email statement from Cascade Investment, which oversees the Foundation Trust. And while the trust acquired a minority stake in Picnic through its investment, it “is not a controlling shareholder,” Koolhoven clarified. The Sunday night fire completely destroyed the building, but no injuries were reported, according to a statement in Dutch from the local fire brigade. The cause of the blaze was not yet known and was still being investigated. The fire service told the AP that there was currently no indication of arson. The false claims about the fire emerged amid ongoing protests among farmers in the Netherlands who are demonstrating against the government’s plans to slash livestock emissions. Some protesters have blocked supermarket distribution centers, including separate ones operated by Picnic. Old, misrepresented photos and video purporting to show such demonstrations have also been shared and debunked in recent days.

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in New York contributed this report.


False 2020 election ruling attributed to the Supreme Court

CLAIM: The U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn the 2020 election results.

THE FACTS: The Supreme Court has not voted to overturn any 2020 election results. The false claims spread widely on several social media platforms in recent days. “BREAKING: SCOTUS has voted to overturn the 2020 election results, Justices have been placed into protective care, according to a recent leaked report,” one Twitter user wrote in a post that was shared more than 2,000 times. But there has been no such ruling issued by the Supreme Court, and there is no evidence of any “leaked report” about this, either. All the court’s rulings from the latest term, which began in October 2021, can be found on its website. The court has rejected previous legal challenges filed by former President Donald Trump and his allies to election results in various states that Biden won, such as Pennsylvania and Arizona, the AP has reported. The Supreme Court began its summer recess on June 30. The justices won’t return to the courtroom until October, although they occasionally issue orders during the summer in response to emergency appeals in death row and other cases. The Supreme Court’s public information office did not respond to the AP’s request for comment. The court last month agreed to hear a case that could reshape future elections for Congress and the presidency by giving more power to state legislatures and blocking state courts from reviewing challenges to procedures and the results, the AP reported. But that case is yet to be argued, and will likely take place in the fall.

— Josh Kelety


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NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week