Most abortion coverage in top-tier media outlets is “deeply, and problematically, politicized,” according to a joint study from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Global Strategy Group (GSG). The study relied on a random sample of more than 300 abortion-related articles published in 10 major outlets between January and June of 2019.
The study’s findings are consistent with previous research. A 2016 Media Matters study found that men lying about abortion are a staple of abortion reporting, and that the overwhelming majority of abortion coverage includes demonstrably false information about abortion, abortion providers, and abortion clinics.
The study included media outlets traditionally viewed as left-leaning, showing how pervasive anti-abortion rhetoric is. The 10 included publications were:
- The New York Times
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Washington Post
- The Associated Press
- USA Today
- The Houston Chronicle
- CNN Politics
- NBC News
- The Los Angeles Times
Some examples of the type of anti-abortion bias the report uncovered include:
- Abortion is treated as a political issue, not a health issue. More than 77 percent of abortion-related articles were not written by health reporters, but by political, legal, or breaking news journalists.
- Sixty-five percent of abortion articles quoted a politician, but just 13.5 percent quoted a physician.
- Abortion coverage dehumanized and ignored people who seek abortions. Just 8 percent of stories included a real person’s experience.
- Abortion-related stories ignored medical research on the topic. Just 11 percent referenced any research.
- Almost half of articles included morally charged and medically incorrect terms such as infanticide and partial-birth abortion, without defining or explaining these terms.
- Just 9 percent of articles mentioned the overwhelming majority support for Roe v. Wade generally and abortion rights specifically. Previous research has found that even most Republicans oppose abortion bans.
- Abortion coverage often offered no context, using terms like “heartbeat” without explaining what embryonic cardiac activity is.
- In many cases, journalists were actually more likely to use politically charged rhetoric than abortion activists.
- Democrats and pro-choice activists are more frequently characterized than Republicans and anti-choice activists.
Almost 1 in 4 women will have an abortion before the age of 45. Abortion is not something that happens to faceless strangers. It’s not a theoretical conversation. It’s a matter of life and death. We know that being denied an abortion has catastrophic long-term consequences. These are the real headlines about abortion. The potentially lethal consequences of abortion bans are the real tragedy. But the media leaves these stories out, subtly coloring public perceptions and consistently failing to educate.