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Multiple media sites suggested Thursday that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas pushed a “debunked” conspiracy theory about aborted children being used to develop Covid vaccines.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear a case challenging New York’s vaccine mandate. In 2021, a group of anonymous healthcare workers filed a lawsuit against the state claiming that taking the vaccine would violate their religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court declined to take up the case, but Thomas, along with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito, released a dissenting opinion criticizing the decision for ignoring religious exemptions.
Thomas included a description of the healthcare workers’ belief that some Covid vaccines were developed using aborted fetal cells.
“Petitioners are 16 healthcare workers who served New York communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They object on religious grounds to all available COVID–19 vaccines because they were developed using cell lines derived from aborted children,” Thomas wrote.
However, many outlets, from Politico to NBC, reported that statement as Thomas’ own opinion in their headlines, despite later clarifying that he was referencing the petitioners’ claims. They further misrepresented what he wrote and said it was wrong.
Politico’s report was titled “Clarence Thomas suggests Covid vaccines are developed using cells of ‘aborted children.’” The article was also shared on Politico’s Twitter account.
“Clarence Thomas claimed in a dissenting opinion that Covid vaccines are derived from the cells of ‘aborted children,’” Politico tweeted. “No Covid vaccines in the U.S. contain the cells of aborted fetuses.”
Axios reported with a mostly similar title: “Clarence Thomas suggests COVID vaccines are created with cells from ‘aborted children.’” However, an earlier version of the headline read, “Clarence Thomas suggests COVID vaccines are made with ‘aborted children.'” An editor’s note at the bottom of the article said, “The headline and lead of this story have been updated to note Thomas was referencing cells of ‘aborted children’ in his dissent.”
Despite the headlines, the report acknowledged that some vaccines do use fetal cells in research.
“Some vaccines have used fetal cell lines during the early stages of the vaccine development, but the final products do not contain fetal cells. Additionally, these fetal cells came from elective abortions ‘performed decades ago,’” Axios reported.
MSNBC and NBC; however, insisted that the claim was “discredited,” with MSNBC’s Steve Benen adding that Thomas’ statement further “tarnishes” the court.
“The Supreme Court’s credibility was already suffering. The more justices publish factual errors, the more it further tarnishes the court’s reputation,” Benen wrote in a piece titled, “Clarence Thomas cites discredited claim about Covid vaccines.”
Benen called Thomas’s quote “needlessly inflammatory” and said, “it’s also not true.”
NBC’s headline read, “Justice Thomas cites debunked claim that Covid vaccines are made with cells from ‘aborted children,'” and even wrote that “Justice Clarence Thomas expressed support Thursday for a debunked claim that all Covid vaccines are made with cells from ‘aborted children,’” before later admitting Thomas was “citing the plaintiffs.”
The NBC report also explained that fetal cell lines were used in vaccine trials.
“Pfizer and Moderna used fetal cell lines early in their Covid vaccine development to test the efficacy of their formulas, as other vaccines have in the past. The fetal tissue used in these processes came from elective abortions that happened decades ago. But the cells have since replicated many times, so none of the original tissue is involved in the making of modern vaccines,” NBC reported.
Other journalists also pushed the idea that Thomas himself claimed that vaccines were made from aborted fetal tissue.
USA Today columnist Michael Stern tweeted, “Several GOP members of the Supreme Court have gone full MAGA. They are detached from truth and reality. Clarence Thomas just wrote that Covid vaccines are developed from aborted children.”
“This man needs help,” journalist Katie Couric wrote.
The Daily Beast columnist Wajahat Ali tweeted, “Awesome, we have a QAnon Supreme Court Justice.”
Liberal mainstream media figures have frequently attacked Justice Clarence Thomas for his conservative views since his original appointment in 1991.