Rewire Explains False Equivalencies In Media Coverage Of Abortion Access
Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN
In a May 23 article, Rewire president and Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson criticized journalists for creating false equivalencies between anti-choice extremists and medical experts to seemingly “represent both sides” of the debate over abortion access.
Jacobson’s criticism centered on a May 18 article from the Associated Press about a bill passed by the South Carolina legislature to ban abortion after 19 weeks based on the false premise that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks post-fertilization. She noted that although AP fairly covered the bill’s political context it failed to accurately represent the most important part: “the medical accuracy of claims underlying such bans.”
Jacobson wrote that the groups supporting 20-week abortion bans include a number of anti-choice organizations such as Americans United for Life, the National Right to Life Committee, and the Susan B. Anthony List -- all of which rely on “false science and unfounded claims of ‘fetal pain’ to pass legislation.” In contrast, “every relevant, respected, and recognized medical body in the world opposes such bans.” Jacobson argued that by reducing coverage of abortion access to a conversation between “supporters versus opponents” it gives false credibility to “a group of people with absolutely no legitimacy making and passing legislation rejected by the weight of the international medical and public health communities.”
She concluded that given the importance of access to abortion and other basic reproductive health care, “The media’s reliance on false equivalencies has to stop. People’s lives are at risk, and we can’t afford it.”
From Rewire’s May 23 article:
Using false equivalencies effectively means giving equal time to those who spread misinformation and, in many cases, outright lies, abrogating the ethical responsibilities of journalists to be accurate and fair. And this is exactly what the Associated Press did last week when it published an article on 20-week abortion bans that epitomized the worst of reporting on abortion.
“Supporters” of 20-week abortion bans (and many other such laws) include groups like Americans United for Life and the National Right to Life Committee (both of which have drafted model legislation for these bans), as well as others such as the Susan B. Anthony List. Each of these groups uses false science and unfounded claims of “fetal pain” to pass legislation that threatens access to critical reproductive health care; the anti-choice movement’s self-important “pro-life” designation elides the fact that women’s health and lives are in grave danger wherever such care is unavailable.
Who are the “opponents” of 20-week abortion bans? These include the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and a range of international bodies such as the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. In other words, every relevant, respected, and recognized medical body in the world opposes such bans.
Is it “fair and accurate” to posit the assertions of anti-choice groups, which base their claims on ideology and contrived “evidence,” as equal to medical and public health experts? Is it in the public interest to suggest that an issue that is fundamental to both human rights and public health be decided by reducing a vast body of evidence to equal that of organizations with an overriding political agenda? Is it good journalism by any standard?
There is only one answer to all of these questions, and it is “no.” AP’s piece was irresponsible, but it also reflects that current state of reporting on reproductive health care by many outlets, including NPR, the Washington Post, and others.
No matter how strong the backlash from the small but loud contingent of people within the anti-choice movement, it is the media’s job to report fairly and responsibly. Making the claims of anti-choice “supporters” of abortion bans equivalent to the consensus of the medical and public health community not only abrogates the public trust, it puts all of us in danger.