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Tim Michels’ parents’ foundation, which he was a trustee of until 2019, gave $20,000 to the Veritas Society, a digital marketing company that tracks the locations of women entering and leaving abortion clinics to send them targeted anti-abortion ads.
But the ad falsely equates the practice with the ankle monitors used by law enforcement to keep track of people in the criminal justice system who are out of jail or prison.
Plenty of companies use location tracking to better target advertisements to the public. It’s controversial and invasive, but it doesn’t mean we’re being treated like criminals.
- In any case, a woman headed into a Planned Parenthood clinic today wouldn’t be at risk of criminal activity — under Wisconsin’s ban, the person obtaining the abortion doesn’t face criminal charges, and the clinics haven’t been performing the procedure since the Supreme Court ruling in June.
Following the loss of Roe v. Wade, Democrats are making abortion access a key part of their strategy to win midterm elections across the country.
At the end of the summer, a New York Times analysis of campaign television ads found that Democrats had spent nearly eight times as much on abortion-related ads as Republicans had since the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the 1973 ruling on June 24.
Such ads are making their way onto airwaves in Wisconsin, where abortions are currently stopped because of an 1849 law and Gov. Tony Evers, the incumbent Democrat, is locked in a tight race with Republican businessman Tim Michels.
The ad starts with an image of an ankle bracelet, and notes bracelets are "a way for police to track dangerous criminals." Then it says: "Tim Michels has the same idea, only his idea is about tracking women."
It goes on to cite a contribution his family foundation made to a digital marketing company that captures cell phone data from women entering and leaving abortion clinics and targets anti-abortion advertisements and content to them.
The ad claims that means Michels "wants to treat women like they’re the criminals."
But the comparison doesn’t quite shake out.
Let’s take a look.
Location tracking is an unpleasant, but common, marketing practice
When asked for evidence of the claim, a Democratic Governors’ Association spokesperson said the ad drew on two points: first, that Michels has said he supports Wisconsin’s abortion ban, and second, the donation to the anti-abortion group mentioned above.
The state abortion ban, which Democrats are challenging in court, criminalizes doctors who perform abortions, not those seeking an abortion.
To this point, the spokesperson argued that because a majority of OB-GYNs are women and some OB-GYNs perform abortions, it’s fair to say Michels supports treating women like criminals. That’s a linguistic reach at best.
The ad with its reference to ankle monitors, is framed around the women coming and going from abortion clinics, not women doctors who are performing the procedure. So, let’s turn to the guts of the claim and that marketing company, the Veritas Society, which is based in Milwaukee.
"Using advanced technology, we identify and capture the cell phone IDs of women coming and going from abortion facilities and similar locations," its website says. "Then, we reach these women on apps and websites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat with positive, pro-life messaging and content."
Michels’ parents’ foundation, which he was a trustee of until 2019, gave $20,000 to the Veritas Society, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Aug. 31.
But the location-tracking the Veritas Society does is for targeted advertising, not to turn over to law enforcement as evidence of a crime. Dozens of companies track people’s locations and share them with other companies for that sort of advertising.
Although there’s little doubt that the practice may be unpleasant and invasive to most people, it’s not the same as treating them like criminals.
To match up to the ankle bracelet imagery, the system would need to be tracking locations nonstop after the people travel near an abortion clinic. But there has been no evidence presented that this is happening.
Michels’ spokesperson Anna Kelly echoed that sentiment, saying, "It’s no more controversial to donate to a group that uses geofencing than it is for someone to support a local business that uses geographic data to advertise."
Also, Wisconsin’s abortion ban does not include criminal penalties for the person obtaining the abortion. So there’d be no criminal activity associated with a woman’s visit to a Planned Parenthood for the woman herself, even if clinics were still doing abortions — which they halted June 24 after the court ruling.
The Alliance for Common Sense ad claimed that Michels "wants to treat women like they’re the criminals."
His support for Wisconsin’s abortion ban does mean women doctors who perform abortions could face criminal penalties — but that wasn’t the ad’s main thrust. And any women whose locations are being tracked by the Veritas Society in or around the state’s Planned Parenthood locations today aren’t committing a crime by being there.
A claim is Mostly False if it contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
That fits here.
The New York Times, "Why abortion has become a venterpiece of Democratic TV ads in 2022," Aug. 14, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Roe decision means an immediate halt to abortion in Wisconsin, setting the stage for the state's 1849 ban to take effect," June 24, 2022
YouTube, Alliance for Common Sense "Ankle Bracelet" ad, accessed Sept. 19, 2022
Democratic Governors’ Association, "WATCH: DGA-backed Alliance for Common Sense launches TV ad hitting Tim Michels for funding radical group that tracks women near abortion clinics," Sept. 8, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin Republican governor candidate Tim Michels uses his personal foundation to fund anti-gay and anti-abortion groups," Aug. 31, 2022
Veritas Society, About Us page, accessed Sept. 19, 2022
The New York Times, "Your apps know where you were last night, and they’re not keeping it secret," Dec. 10, 2018
Wisconsin Watch, "Here’s what to know about abortion access in post-Roe Wisconsin," Sept. 8, 2022
Associated Press, "Wisconsin doctors halt abortions following court ruling," June 24, 2022
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