When Reporters Roll Their Eyes at an Abortion Bill

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As expected, the House of Representatives voted today to ban abortions after 22 weeks (the point when a fetus can feel pain). The Senate will probably ignore this bill, and the president will definitely veto it. But the symbolic power of the House kicking against the goads of Roe v. Wade is certainly newsworthy, which is why media outlets are devoting attention to the bill.

Unfortunately, in reading the news stories, one gets the impression that most journalists are rolling their eyes at Republicans for even attempting such a laughable, backwards piece of legislation.

Take a look at The New York Times headline: “In Partisan Vote, House Acts to Limit Abortions.” The title is true, of course, but one wonders why the headline is framed in a way that focuses on partisanship and restriction, rather than compassion and protection. I doubt we’d ever see a title that says, “In Partisan Vote, House Acts to Impose Gun Control.”

The second sentence of the article implies that the House vote can be chalked up to partisan politics:

The measure, which would ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy based on the medically disputed theory that fetuses are capable of feeling pain, passed in a 228 to 196 vote that broke down mostly along party lines.

It’s puzzling why journalists revert to the “abortion is a partisan political issue” when reporting on these kinds of restrictions. And note the “medically disputed” line which casts doubt on the basis of the bill. Who is medically disputing the theory that fetuses at 22 weeks don’t feel the pain of having their limbs torn apart and heads crushed in utero? Is there a heated debate in the medical community on this issue?

The brief New York Times article ends better than it begins. After showing how Democrats see this issue as another part of the “war on women,” a Republican woman is quoted:

“I’m not waging a war on anyone… Regardless of your personal beliefs, I would hope that stopping atrocities against little babies is something we can all agree to put an end to.”

CBS News focuses primarily on the political implications of the bill, as if the symbolic nature of the vote means Republicans are just throwing a bone to social conservatives and are not in any way motivated by compassion for unborn children who face a violent demise in the womb. The first three paragraphs emphasize how the action goes against consultants who are urging Republicans to back away from social issues. The rest of the piece brings up the “rape” exceptions and how this conversation derailed Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock last year.

The subtext: Haven’t these Republicans learned their lesson? Why do they keep coming back to this?

My answer: Perhaps it’s not stupidity and stubbornness, but courage that leads representatives to engage one of the most important human rights issues of our day.

USA Today’s coverage leaves aside the question of fetal pain altogether. Kermit Gosnell gets a mention (and kudos to USA Today for actually reporting on that trial!), but in this article, the reasoning for a 20-week abortion ban (the unborn can feel pain) is nowhere to be found. Instead, the first sentence tells us up front this is all about limiting a woman’s right to choose.

The Republican-led House of Representatives approved a far-reaching bill to ban a woman’s ability to seek an abortion after 20 weeks on a mostly party-line 228-196 vote Tuesday.

Then, in case you’re concerned about women’s freedom, the follow-up:

It stands no chance of becoming law under the Obama administration.

Whew! At least we’ve got Obama as Plan B.

The rest of USA Today’s coverage quotes generously from people on both sides of the issue, but the reporter is quick to explain away Marsha Blackburn’s involvement with the bill (she was put forward as a female face to help with the PR).

As a side note, I wonder what the vast numbers of pro-life women must feel when they find out they’re part of a “war on women.”

  • Was Alice Paul (the original architect of the Equal Rights Amendment) part of the war on women when she described abortion as the “ultimate exploitation of women?”
  • What about Susan B. Anthony? Or Elizabeth Cady Stanton?
  • What about the women who lead pregnancy support centers across the country, run pro-life organizations (Charmaine Yoest), or use their platforms to lobby for life (Patricia Heaton)?

The end of the USA Today article points to research showing that only 1.3% of abortions in 2009 occurred after 20 weeks. That’s comforting. Only 15,600 fetuses felt the pain of dismemberment that year. “Nothing to see here… move along.”

Forgive my frustration, folks. I usually leave it to GetReligion to do the media analysis on biased reporting. But I decided tonight to meet the collective “eye-rolling” by shaking my head.

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