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

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:

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Posts misrepresent 2019 ‘satirical’ amendment to Kentucky abortion law

CLAIM: Kentucky is considering legislation that would require women to submit to the state every month a statement from a doctor indicating if they are pregnant — or else face penalties.

THE FACTS: The legislation was an amendment proposed in jest by a Democratic lawmaker in 2019 to express her opposition to a bill banning abortions, and was not seriously considered. The only two abortion clinics in Kentucky halted the procedure on June 24 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Kentucky in 2019 passed a law declaring that abortion would become illegal “effective immediately” if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The measure contains a narrow exception allowing a physician to perform a procedure necessary to prevent the death or permanent injury of a pregnant woman. But online, some are sharing screenshots of a proposed amendment to that 2019 bill that was introduced by Democratic state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian as satire — and never seriously pursued. The amendment called for requiring women who live in Kentucky to receive monthly statements from doctors stating whether they are pregnant. It also required that those records be submitted to the state, or women would face arrest and fines, and went so far as to propose ankle monitors for pregnant women who didn’t comply. Posts circulating on Facebook, Twitter and TikTok in recent days misrepresented the amendment as an active and serious proposal. “They are trying to require ALL girls /women to get monthly physicals to prove you aren’t pregnant. This is the most insane thing I’ve ever seen,” reads one Facebook post. But Marzian reiterated this week that the measure was from 2019 and meant to serve as commentary on the bill banning abortions. “Totally satire,” Marzian told The Associated Press by phone. “It was an amendment, it was never heard in committee, I had no intention of ever moving it.” Marzian, who supports abortion rights, said she has filed several measures over the years that were satirical in nature and designed to make her political opponents look like “morons.” A fixture in the Kentucky House for nearly 30 years, Marzian withdrew from her reelection campaign earlier this year.

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.

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Pentagon statement on SCOTUS abortion ruling mischaracterized

CLAIM: The Pentagon stated that any abortion laws enacted as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will not be recognized.

THE FACTS: This mischaracterizes a June 24 statement on the ruling from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, which did not say the Pentagon would defy the court, nor did it say it would violate any state laws that may be enacted. Misleading posts about the Pentagon’s response spread widely online shortly after the Supreme Court handed down its decision on abortion. While many popular posts did not share a source for the information, some vaguely cited news articles describing Austin’s statement. “Nothing is more important to me or to this Department than the health and well-being of our Service members, the civilian workforce and DOD families,” read the statement, which as of this week was the only official communication from the Pentagon on the matter. “I am committed to taking care of our people and ensuring the readiness and resilience of our Force. The Department is examining this decision closely and evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care as permitted by federal law.” The Twitter account BNN Newsroom on June 25 wrote in a since-deleted post that, “The Pentagon has stated that any abortion laws enacted as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision will not be recognized.” BNN did not respond to a request for comment. Later that day, the Twitter account Occupy Democrats also misinterpreted the content of the Pentagon release, tweeting, “President Biden’s Pentagon defies the extremist Supreme Court, announces that it will not recognize any anti-abortion laws enacted by states as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision.” Occupy Democrats followed up with a tweet on June 26 linking to an article about Austin’s statement with the caption “source.” However, the brief article also did not suggest the statement meant the Pentagon was defying the court. Occupy Democrats did not return requests for comment. Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz told the AP that claims the Pentagon is “ignoring the law are completely false.” He pointed to Austin’s statement, which he said was “the only statement made regarding the court cases,” but declined to comment further. The court’s overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling is likely to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states. Kyndra K. Rotunda, a Chapman University professor who runs the school’s Military and Veterans Law Institute, said the claims circulating online did not appear to be correct, adding that she saw no evidence in the statement, or otherwise, that the military would “refuse to follow state law.” “I read Secretary Lloyd’s statement to mean no more than what he says: they’re going to explore it further,” Rotunda wrote in an email to the AP. TRICARE, the health care program for service members, retirees and their families, covers abortions in cases of rape, incest or if a woman’s life is in danger. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs website states that “Under current regulation, VA doesn’t provide abortion or abortion counseling.” Under existing federal law, a military member can seek an abortion outside of a military facility, in accordance with state law where they are located, but the Pentagon will not fund or perform the procedure except in cases of rape, incest or if a woman’s life is in danger, Rotunda explained.

— Associated Press writers Sophia Tulp in New York and Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.

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Bricks were stored on DC street for pre-scheduled construction

CLAIM: A photo shows pallets of bricks along a Washington, D.C., street that were intentionally placed in the area to encourage violent protesting after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

THE FACTS: The bricks were stored along the road for work on an unrelated construction project that had been planned months in advance. Residents were notified of the project about 10 days prior to June 24, the day the court released its decision. Hours after the Supreme Court removed constitutional protections for abortion, false claims spread online resurfacing an old, misleading narrative that pallets of bricks were being intentionally placed in U.S. streets, with the suggestion that they were planted to incite violence during expected protests. The idea previously circulated widely online during protests against racial injustice throughout the summer of 2020, and again in 2021 linked to protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. On June 24, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican Congresswoman from Colorado, tweeted a photo of the bricks and named the Capitol Police, asking them “why are there 20 pallets of bricks one block from the House Office Buildings?” While Boebert didn’t ascribe a motive to the bricks’ placement, many commenting and sharing her message did. “Meanwhile, someone paid to haul pallets of bricks in and deposited them just 2 blocks from the Capitol offices?” wrote one user. “It’s as if they want violence and riot,” commented another. But the claims are false. The bricks were stored along the 400 block of First Street by an alley paving contractor under a permit issued by the District Department of Transportation for an ongoing construction project. While the beginning of the project coincided with the day the Supreme Court announced the decision on abortion, the work had been scheduled well in advance, according to a spokesperson for DDOT and official notices sent by the agency and reviewed by The Associated Press. Geolocation data accessed through Google Maps confirms the image being shared online was taken along the 400 block of First Street, and a map of ongoing road projects published by DDOT also lists the same stretch as an alley currently under construction. A letter sent to residents and businesses along the construction route dated June 16 explained that DDOT was beginning an alley improvement project “on or about Thursday, June 23, 2022.” The notice specified that the project would “include concrete/brick work.” Reached on the phone Monday, the owner of a business located along the construction site, who did not want to be named, confirmed they received the notice, and said ongoing work was being done on the street. Even so, it was not known exactly when, or if, the Supreme Court would deliver a decision on the abortion case. The court on June 22 added June 24 as an additional decision day. Mariam Nabizad, a public affairs specialist for DDOT, told the AP that stacks of bricks were placed along the block the morning of June 24 “for scheduled and ongoing alley restoration work” by its contractors. “Our teams wrapped the stacks in plastic at the close of that work day, and also removed them from the area Saturday night,” Nabizad wrote in an email. She added that the project work was identified on Sept. 7, 2021, and included in the city’s PaveDC Plan that was distributed in October 2021.

— Sophia Tulp

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Tennessee lab isn’t trying to open a portal to a parallel universe

CLAIM: Scientists at a laboratory in Tennessee are trying to figure out whether parallel universes exist by attempting to open a portal into another dimension.

THE FACTS: Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee conducted an experiment in 2019 to study a type of “exotic” neutron behavior, which some news outlets and social media posts inaccurately referred to as searching for “portals” to “parallel” realities. One such widely-shared post claimed the researchers were conducting an experiment straight out of a science fiction movie. “Scientists in Tennessee working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee, have announced that they’re trying to figure out whether or not parallel universes exist,” claimed the Facebook post, which received more than 130,000 shares. “They revealed that they’re trying to open a portal into another dimension.” But the researchers say that claim really is fiction. “My reaction to reading a headline like that is to say, ‘well, that sounds really cool. I wonder what they’re doing because it really doesn’t sound like my research,’” joked Leah Broussard, the scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory who led the project. Sara Shoemaker, a spokesperson for the lab, added that, while an entertaining idea, the research doesn’t have anything to do with portals or parallel universes the way they’ve been described online. “A ‘portal’ in this case is a figurative concept used in the physics community,” explained Shoemaker. “The team’s experiments were not exploring a literal portal to a parallel universe.” The research actually involved searching for potential interactions between neutrons and a type of theorized dark matter called “mirror matter.” The theorized mirror sector, sometimes called a mirror universe, is thought to be “just another copy of the particles and the interactions we have in our universe,” Broussard explained. She said that it is not the same thing as a parallel universe because it would exist in the same spacetime as, and “very much part of,” our universe. She said her team sought to test a potential hypothesis that neutrons could, in some cases, be transforming into mirror neutrons, the dark-matter twin. Broussard’s team designed an experiment to see if they could “watch neutrons going through a wall” that would normally stop them, she said. The process of the neutrons being sent through the wall has been figuratively described as moving through a “portal,” but that doesn’t mean that the neutrons are being sent to a mysterious other dimension, separate from our own, both she and Shoemaker said. Shoemaker added that past reporting by news outlets “had fun taking liberties with the concept,” comparing the so-called portal to a doorway accessing alternate realities and other Hollywood tropes. Ultimately, the team did not observe any neutrons on the other side of the wall, meaning this particular experiment did not find evidence of such “mirror neutrons.” Those results were outlined in the peer-reviewed, scientific journal Physical Review Letters in May.

— Sophia Tulp

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