Abortion And The Media
ABORTION BIAS SEEPS INTO NEWS:
A COMPREHENSIVE LOS ANGELES TIMES STUDY FINDS THAT
THE PRESS OFTEN FAVORS ABORTION RIGHTS IN ITS COVERAGE, EVEN THOUGH
JOURNALISTS SAY THEY MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO BE FAIR.
Los Angeles Times, Sunday, July 1-4, 1990, Page 1. This article is part of no violence period.
A four-part study of major newspaper, television
and newsmagazine coverage over 18 months, including more than 100
interviews with journalists and with activists on both sides of the
abortion debate, confirms that this bias often exists.
ABORTION BIAS SEEPS INTO NEWS
ABORTION FOES STEREOTYPED, SOME IN THE MEDIA BELIEVE
'RALLY FOR LIFE' COVERAGE EVOKES AN EDITOR'S ANGER
'ABORTION HYPE' PERVADED MEDIA AFTER WEBSTER CASE
Highlights of the series' findings:
The news media consistently use language and images that frame the entire
abortion debate in terms that implicitly favor abortion-rights advocates.
Abortion-rights advocates are often quoted more frequently and
characterized more favorably than are abortion opponents.
Events and issues favorable to abortion opponents are sometimes ignored
or given minimal attention by the media.
Many news organizations have given more prominent play to stories on
rallies and electoral and legislative victories by abortion-rights advocates
than to stories on rallies and electoral and legislative victories by abortion
Columns of commentary favoring abortion rights outnumber those opposing
abortion by a margin of more than 2 to 1 on the op-ed pages of most of the
nation's major daily newspapers.
Newspaper editorial writers and columnists alike, long sensitive to
violations of First Amendment rights and other civil liberties in cases
involving minority and anti-war protests, have largely ignored these questions
when Operation Rescue and other abortion opponents have raised them.
Most media organizations, including the Associated Press , the world's largest
news agency, use the label "pro-choice", the preferred label of
abortion-rights advocates, but not "pro-life", the preferred label of
those who oppose abortion. During the first nine months of 1989, the
TV networks used "pro-choice" in 74% of their references to
abortion-rights advocates and used "pro-life" in only 6% of their
references to abortion opponents. |
Abortion opponents are often described as "conservatives";
abortion-rights supporters are rarely labeled as "liberals."
Abortion opponents are sometimes identified as Catholics (or
fundamentalist Christians), even when their religion is not
demonstrably relevant to a given story; abortion-rights advocates are
rarely identified by religion. Abortion opponents are often described
as "militant" or "strident"; such characterizations are seldom used to
describe abortion-rights advocates, many of whom can also be militant
or strident -- or both.
When the Supreme Court issued Roe, initial news accounts
emphasized the part of the ruling that said a woman would be allowed
to have an abortion without restriction during the first three months
of pregnancy. Even now, some in the media write about Roe in terms
that suggest it legalized abortion only during that first trimester,
even though it made abortion legal for any reason throughout the first
and second trimesters of pregnancy (and for
broadly-defined "health" reasons even in the third).
The Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York is probably the
single-most widely quoted source for studies and statistics on
abortion, for example, but the media rarely point out that the
institute is special affiliate of Planned Parenthood of America, a
major leader in the battle for abortion rights.
The media is generally careful to include comments from
abortion-rights advocates in stories about abortion protests, but
coverage of abortion-rights activities sometimes fail to include
balancing comments from abortion opponents. |
When Roman Catholic bishops individually spoke out on abortion
or, collectively, hired a public relations firm to aid them in the
battle against abortion, some in the media grumbled about the church's
intrusion into the political arena. Similar media lamentations were
forthcoming when bishops criticized (and raised the specter of
ex-communication for) public officials who refuse to oppose abortion.
But no such criticism was levied at the bishops in earlier years, when
they endorsed a nuclear freeze or opposed Reagan Administration
The major media paid no attention to the discovery by Bob Woodward of the Washington
Post that two justices who had played a major role in the 1973 Roe
v. Wade decision legalizing abortion had conceded, in private memos,
that they knew they were "legislating policy and exceeding (the
court's) authority as the interpreter, not the maker of law," as
Woodward wrote. |
"When pro-choice candidates win, it is perhaps more easily
accepted than it should be that their pro-choice position was the
reason, and when pro-life candidates win, perhaps it is more easily
accepted (than it should be) that that was really irrelevant to the
race," says Douglas Bailey, an abortion-rights supporter who publishes
the nonpartisan "Abortion Report," a daily compendium of news on
abortion and politics. There have been a number of races in which the
media said an abortion-rights advocate's victory showed the political
strength of that movement when, in fact, most of the votes in the race
actually went to anti- abortion candidates.