Politico issues correction after falsely claiming Clarence Thomas promoted COVID vaccine-aborted fetus theory

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Politico issued a correction after critics called out media outlets for erroneously attributing a theory about the COVID vaccine to Justice Clarence Thomas.

On Thursday, 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.

Thomas, along with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito, released a dissenting opinion criticizing the decision for ignoring religious exemptions.

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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.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. (Photo by Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021. (Photo by Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)
(Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)

However, among other outlets, Politico falsely attributed the theory to Thomas rather than the healthcare workers, running the headline, “Clarence Thomas suggests Covid vaccines are developed using cells of ‘aborted children.'”

“Clarence Thomas claimed in a dissenting opinion that Covid vaccines are derived from the cells of ‘aborted children,'” Politico wrote in the now-deleted tweet. “No Covid vaccines in the US contain the cells of aborted fetuses.”

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On Friday, Politico issued a correction reading, “An earlier version of this report misattributed the claim that Covid-19 vaccines were ‘developed using cell lines derived from aborted children’ to Thomas. The headline and article have been updated to directly state that Thomas was referencing petitioners’ claims.”

The headline was also changed to, “Clarence Thomas cites claim that Covid vaccines are ‘developed using cell lines derived from aborted children.'”

FILE - Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivers a keynote speech during a dedication of Georgia new Nathan Deal Judicial Center in Atlanta, Feb.  11, 2020.

FILE – Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivers a keynote speech during a dedication of Georgia new Nathan Deal Judicial Center in Atlanta, Feb. 11, 2020.
(AP Photo/John Amis, File)

In addition to Politico, outlets like Axios and NBC News similarly portrayed Thomas as being a promoter of the theory.

Axios ran the headline, “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.”

The report from Axios does acknowledge, however, that some vaccines do use fetal cells in research.

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Meanwhile, MSNBC and NBC News 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.”

A person holds a sign during the anti-vaccine mandate protest ahead of possible termination of New York City employees due to their vaccination status, Monday, Feb.  7, 2022, in New York.  (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

A person holds a sign during the anti-vaccine mandate protest ahead of possible termination of New York City employees due to their vaccination status, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)
(AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

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.

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“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.

NBC News later scrubbed “debunked” from its headline but did not provide an editor’s note. NBC News did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

Fox News’ Lindsay Kornick contributed to this report.

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