A surprising poll on the front page of The New York Times on January 16 showed a notable shift from general acceptance" of abortion. I say "surprising" because The New York Times/CBS News poll did something that most polls don't do, breaking down support for abortion into trimesters. While 61 percent favor the choice of abortion in the first trimester (28 percent are opposed), that support collapses to only 15 percent during the second trimester; 66 percent oppose it. And in the third trimester, support evaporates: only seven percent are in favor, while 79 percent are against it.
The news gets even worse for the pro-aborts. Fully 50 percent of the public today label abortion as "murder." And more people believe abortion is more an issue of the "life of a fetus" (the pollster's term) than a matter of "a woman's ability to control her body." So that politically inspired "pro-choice" moniker isn't working either.
To put it mildly, the public didn't get these growing pro-life opinions from watching the liberal media report on the abortion issue. As abortion advocates celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade, here are four ways in which the media have tilted the abortion story against the pro-life position:
1. One side is presented as ideological, the other is not. Abortion advocates are almost never labeled as liberal, and are described in the "abortion rights" argot they prefer, while pro-life groups and spokesmen are regularly given the political warning label "conservative," and never enjoy the "pro-life" language they prefer. A survey of 1,050 news stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today in 1995 and 1996 mentioning any one of four pro-life or four abortion advocacy groups found the pro-life groups were labeled as "conservative" in 47 percent of stories, while abortion advocates were labeled "liberal" less than three percent of the time. If you subtract the National Right to Life Committee from the equation (rarely labeled, perhaps due to the self-explanatory name), the three remaining pro-life groups (Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum) were identified as conservative in 66 percent of news stories.
2. The abortion issue is a divisive matter for only one political party. In the 1996 elections, network reporters harped on the struggle within the Republican Party over platform language on abortion, but not on disagreement among Democrats. In the three months before the 1996 conventions, the GOP struggle drew 60 TV stories, while the Democrats attracted only one. In prime-time convention coverage, the networks brought up the Republican abortion platform fight on 55 occasions in San Diego, but not once did they ever bring up discord in the Democratic Party during prime-time coverage from Chicago.
Yet fully one-third of the federally elected Democratic delegation is pro-life and the Democratic Party platform calls for unrestricted taxpayer funding of abortion on demand - a position opposed by four out of five Americans. So which party is controversial, with "extremist" positions?
3. Reporters have shown little interest in the facts behind partial-birth abortion. In the rare instances of reporting on efforts to ban this gruesome procedure, network reporters have offered inaccurate claims and statistics in almost one-third of their stories. Numerous times, network reporters have claimed that partial-birth abortions are "rare," that only "about 500" are performed annually, and usually on babies with severe birth defects. That's because those journalists swallowed the falsehoods of abortion advocates like Ron Fitzsimmons, who last year admitted he'd "lied through his teeth" about the procedure and guessed that 5,000 partial-birth abortions occur annually.
4. Pro-abortion violence is not news. Television network newscasts have presented more than 500 stories on violence against abortionists and clinic workers since the shooting of Dr. David Gunn in 1993. But what about the violence ital of abortion ital? If 50 percent of the public now considers this procedure to be murder, that's 37 million homicides since 1973. How many network stories do you suppose have addressed this? Right: none. But news outlets like Newsweek find it newsworthy to run an excerpt of a book rehashing Paul Hill's shooting of an abortionist in 1994. And what about the many documented reports of harassment, threats, and outright violence against pro-lifers? I challenge you to find me a single TV news report.
Thank God that the American people are coming to their own conclusion, perhaps sonogram by sonogram, that an unborn baby's a human being, and that abortion is the taking of human life - in spite of the 90-percent pro-abortion press. Still, you have to wonder just how strong the consensus to protect human life might be today were it not for the American news media.