MediaWatch: August 1989

Vol. Three No. 8

Newspeak on Abortion

In its first issue following the Supreme Court's Webster decision, Newsweek took an in-depth look at abortion -- from the pro-abortion side. In framing the issue, focusing the problem, and choosing experts, Newsweek showed its clear preference for the issues and language of legal abortion advocates.

1. Framing the Debate. Reporter Ann McDaniel framed the abortion question as "a woman's right to make one of the larger decisions of her life" and "women who each year choose abortion as the best way to resolve their personal dilemmas."

McDaniel labeled the two sides in the abortion debate "conservatives and opponents of abortion" and "women's rights activists," ignoring the "liberal" label for the pro-abortion side. Chief Justice Rehnquist's opinion "chilled abortion advocates everywhere," but McDaniel left out that those same words cheered pro-life advocates.

Ironically, in its boxed note on home abortions, Newsweek slipped. "Do-it-yourself abortion is hazardous to your health," read the headline. But whose health? "Sadly," the article read, "many home remedies could damage a fetus instead of kill it."

2. Focusing the Problem. Throughout the article, the magazine's reporting matched the statements by "pro-choice" sources. Planned Parenthood's Matty Bloom decried "a two-tiered system where women with means can fly to exercise their freedom of choice, whereas those without means are forced into childbearing." Newsweek echoed those thoughts: "With Webster the court has further limited the access of poor people" to abortion. In other words, state strictures "will have their greatest effect upon the poor, the young, and the uneducated."

The article went on: "poor women will again bear the brunt of such regulation," "pro-choice advocates argue that banning public facilities is tantamount to eliminating abortions for many poor or young women" and "the young and the poor would e affected most adversely." So Newsweek concluded, "the court's rulings could make it all but impossible for poor women or teenagers to get abortions."

3. Use of Sources. Newsweek devoted five pages to state-level restrictions on abortion. Americans United for Life got two quotes; a spokesman for Florida's Right to Life was quoted once, as was a "right-to-life legislator." But those wanting abortion legal were quoted a total of ten times, twice as often as the pro-life side.