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openDemocracy’s feminist investigations team shortlisted for European award

Our Tracking the Backlash team was chosen for revealing the global spread of anti-abortion misinformation that targets vulnerable women

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Inge Snip
23 February 2021, 12.01am
Illustration: Inge Snip

openDemocracy’s feminist investigative journalism team has been shortlisted for a prestigious European media award for revealing the worldwide spread of anti-abortion misinformation that deliberately targets vulnerable pregnant women.

The shortlist for the European Centre for Press & Media Freedom’s annual IJ4EU Impact Award, which celebrates impactful cross-border journalism, was announced on Friday 19 February.

openDemocracy’s investigation – perhaps the largest ever into sexual health and reproductive rights – revealed how anti-abortion projects around the world connected to powerful US Christian right groups have been providing women with misinformation about their health and rights.

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Other shortlisted projects include The Daphne Project, continuing the work of the assassinated Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia; and Luanda Leaks, which investigated and exposed the wealth and business ties of Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angola’s former president and Africa’s richest woman.

For its shortlisted project, openDemocracy sent undercover reporters to so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ in eighteen countries. These centres are part of the global network of US Christian right groups that oppose abortion under all circumstances. The team also analysed ten years of these groups’ US financial filings.

At some of the centres visited by reporters, they were given incorrect information: that having an abortion can cause cancer and mental illness, for example, and that women may be 99% more likely to abuse children after terminating a pregnancy.

In Mexico City, a reporter was told, incorrectly, that hospitals will not treat women if they have complications after legal abortions, and that they need written consent from their husband or guardian to have a termination.

Lawmakers across the globe demanded action in response to openDemocracy’s findings. European legislators condemned “deliberate disinformation” of vulnerable pregnant women. A South African lawmaker said the investigated centres “are violating the law and the national guidelines”.

Government health authorities in Ecuador and Costa Rica also said they would open formal investigations following openDemocracy’s reporting.

Founded in 2017, openDemocracy’s Tracking the Backlash project investigates organised opposition to women’s and LGBT rights, including from far right and religious right groups. The team includes editors and reporters based across Europe, Eurasia, Africa and the Americas.

In 2020, the team’s work was also shortlisted for two British Journalism Awards: for the same anti-abortion misinformation investigation, and a second project revealingthat World Health Organization childbirth guidelines had not been followed during the COVID-19 pandemic in at least 45 countries.

Tracking the Backlash was further nominated for the 2020 Latin American Investigative Journalism Award ‘Javier Valdez’ for its investigation into childbirth conditions across Latin America during COVID-19.

The winners of the ECPMF’s Impact Award will be announced on Wednesday 14 April at 18:00 CET (5pm GMT).

Photo credits, top row, left to right: Flickr/Maria Savenko. CC BY-SA 2.0. Some rights reserved, Rafael Rodriguez/NurPhoto/PA Images, Yuri Gripas/DPA/PA Images, openDemocracy. Middle row, left to right: CQ-Roll Call/SIPA USA/PA Images, Lauren Hurley/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved, Isaac Kasamani, Emoke Bebiak/DPA/PA Images. Bottom row left to right: openDemocracy, Isabella Cota, Fransesca Visser, Flickr/ALDE Group. CC BY-ND 2.0. Some rights reserved.

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