Abortion language and abortion coverage

By Dave Andrusko

wapo-img-02Over the years we’ve learned from and quoted from “Get Religion,” because it addresses how too many journalists use—and misuse—religion and religious labels in policy debates. They also frequently discuss the loaded way pro-lifers and pro-abortionists are described and the descriptors reporters use that signal to the reader how he or she should think about the parties to this life-and-death debate.

Terry Mattingly ran a piece yesterday under the headline, “Covering abortion: Why do so many journalists use labels from only one side of the debate?” There are many, many points worth considering. Here are three from a story that ran in the Washington Post yesterday.

  1. Referring to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the bill is described as having “restrictive language.” What if, as Mattingly suggests, an alternative formulation were used, such as “protecting unborn children” or “expand[ing] legal ‘protection” for the unborn”? We would disagree that these latter formulations are “loaded,” but if a reporter chooses “restrictive language” over the latter, he or she surely is not conveying a “balanced” view of the bill for surely that is not a neutral description.


  1. When discussing abortion—in this case, several congresswomen who raised objections to a reporting component of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act—the use of the word “moderate” to describe them obviously suggests they are to be given a special credence.


  1. Then there is the issue of the Post which prefers the term “abortion opponents” to describe us. But Tim Graham asks,


would they match that by describing the other side as “abortion proponents”? In a Nexis search of the last five years of Post coverage, I found it only once in  a news report: an October 7, 2013 dispatch by Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes.

If you have a chance, another post today touches on similar issues: “Washington Post’s agenda clear in its slanted coverage of March for Life.”