For Immediate Release: June 15, 2020
Report Exposes Broad Exclusion of Medical Expert and Impacted Voices, Disproportionate Focus on Litigation and Legislation, and Widespread Use of Disinformation-Based Rhetoric Without Context
WASHINGTON: A new media analysis released by NARAL Pro-Choice America found that coverage of abortion in top-tier print outlets excludes the voices of medical experts and pregnant people, overwhelmingly tracks abortion litigation and legislation, and parrots disinformation- based rhetoric, often using medically inaccurate or inflammatory language such as “heartbeat” bill without context or explanation.
The analysis, which was conducted by Global Strategy Group, assessed who writes about abortion, what drives abortion coverage, how disinformation-based, anti-choice rhetoric is often adopted as seemingly neutral or descriptive terminology, and what types of voices are included in coverage. It consisted of a comprehensive review of more than 300 randomly selected articles on abortion in 10 top-tier print media outlets along with social listening to analyze the conversation around abortion on Twitter and the tone of the discussion during a six month time period from January 1 – June 30, 2019.
The report, “Accurate and Unbiased? A deep dive into how the media covers abortion in the US,” was released amid the COVID-19 pandemic in which the anti-choice movement has done everything possible to eliminate abortion access, putting ideology over science at a time when facts need to guide policy more than ever. Multiple anti-choice governors and attorneys general rolled back access to abortion care during COVID-19, declaring abortion a a non-essential health care service despite the fact that independent medical guidance makes clear abortion is time-sensitive care women need. These restrictions ultimately eliminate reproductive freedom for many Americans, particularly people of color, who already face prohibitive barriers to abortion access.
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said:
“Reproductive freedom is under attack in new and unprecedented ways as the anti-choice movement and the Radical Right drives its dangerous ideology at the expense of equality, health and science-based public policy. Media plays a fundamental role in framing and influencing the discussion around abortion – what angles a reporter chooses to cover, how they choose to cover it, and who they choose to include in coverage, matter. This analysis demonstrates how even mainstream coverage around issues of pregnancy and abortion has been affected by right-wing propaganda and disinformation. The bulk of coverage is profoundly disconnected from the realities of people’s lives. We hope this report will serve as a guide for outlets to fill in the gaps in coverage that relegates reproductive freedom to a pawn in the partisan battlefield – not an issue that impacts millions of people every day.”
Topline findings from the report include:
- Abortion is covered as a political issue not a health issue. More than 77 percent of all abortion-related articles were written by political, general assignment, breaking news, or legal reporters. Reporter credentials impact whether abortion is accurately described in a medical context and what voices are included in the coverage, with health care reporters more than three times more likely to include the voice of a physician and four times more likely to reference medical research in their reporting than political reporters.
- Abortion coverage follows legislation and litigation. Coverage of abortion peaked on days when there were major legislative or legal events resulting from political actions involving elected officials or interest groups. Otherwise, coverage of abortion remained relatively flat.
- Political coverage elevates political voices and excludes those most impacted by abortion: doctors and women. While 65 percent of the articles analyzed quoted a politician, only 13.5 percent of articles analyzed included a quote from a physician, 11 percent referenced any medical research, and just 8 percent featured a real woman’s story.
- Coverage obscures or omits majority support for Roe v. Wade. Only 9 percent of articles analyzed mention that a majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade and abortion access generally even though the vast majority of articles referenced the landmark ruling.
- Charged rhetoric from anti-choice advocates are included in coverage, oftentimes with minimal context. Nearly half of all articles analyzed included terms such as “infanticide,” “partial-birth abortion,” and “heartbeat bill,” but only a fraction of those articles provided an independent definition of the term. This trend is exacerbated on Twitter.
The report also provides advice and recommendations for how to improve coverage of abortion, centered around providing more context and explanation around charged rhetoric used to discuss abortion and including more medical experts and people who are impacted by abortion in coverage.
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NARAL Pro-Choice America and its network of state affiliates and chapters are dedicated to protecting and expanding reproductive freedom for all. For more than 50 years, NARAL has worked to guarantee that every woman has the right to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices, including preventing unintended pregnancy, bearing healthy children, and choosing legal abortion. Since 1969, NARAL has made history, grown to over 2 million members, and met the moments that have defined this fight with action, power and freedom. In recognition of its work defending our constitutional right to choose, Fortune Magazine described NARAL as “one of the top 10 advocacy groups in America.”