Why Is It So Hard to Get Abortion Right in the News?

Reproductive health is a multi-beat topic in the daily news cycle, and yet coverage of abortion so often falls short. Why?

WLP communications director Tara Murtha wrote a piece for The Poynter Institute examining a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception that digs into this question. The Poynter Institute is a global leader in exploring journalism-related issues.

The study, “The stakes are so high”: interviews with progressive journalists reporting on abortion,” is a qualitative analysis of the challenges experienced by journalists when covering abortion-related stories.

Key findings:

  • The single most common shared experience of journalists who cover abortion and abortion-related topics is facing anti-choice harassment.
  • Reporting on abortion takes initiative. Journalists covering abortion often have to not only pitch their editors (disproportionately white men) rather than accept assignments, but they often have to also educate them about basic abortion facts.
  • Reporters covering abortion perceive increased pressure from their editors to engage in “both sides-ism,” an outdated framework rooted in the belief that juxtaposing two opposing statements next to each other, even if one statement is 100% false, somehow illuminates an issue for readers.*
  • Despite this increased pressure, two-thirds of the study participants relayed that they instead employ a “merit-based” framework, where they resist publishing false statements simply to satisfy an outdated, ineffective idea of “balance.”

To read the rest of the article including takeaways in how the study’s findings can can improve abortion coverage, and therefore expand readers’ understanding of the issues and what is at stake, click here.

*Ironically, the article is illustrated with a sign making a false medical claim promoted by anti-choice advocates and lawmakers championing 20-week abortion bans.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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