Local print media in three states often legitimized anti-choice voices in stories about new abortion restrictions
As Oklahoma, Kentucky and Florida passed new laws severely restricting or prohibiting abortion, local media often treated the fight for abortion rights as “both sides” in their coverage. news, portraying anti-abortion extremism and pro-choice advocacy as equally valid perspectives.
Last week, three states approved some of the toughest abortion restrictions since the historic watershed in 1973 decision enshrined the constitutional right to abortion up to 24 weeks. On April 12, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a law making performing a surgical abortion or prescribing abortion drugs a felony, with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $100,000. The next day, Kentucky’s GOP-led legislature overruled a governor’s veto to pass a law banning abortion at 15 weeks, setting requirements so onerous that the only two remaining abortion clinics in the state had to suspend. their services. Then, on April 14, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks unless a pregnant person’s health is in danger or there are fatal fetal abnormalities. None of these three laws contains exceptions for rape or incest. While the Kentucky law immediately took effect, the restrictions signed in Oklahoma and Florida are expected to go into effect this summer.
Local print coverage of these laws between April 10 and 15 largely framed the issue as a political controversy rather than a human rights issue for pregnant women, depicting extremist anti-choice views as legitimate alongside pro-choice perspectives. Many of the stories included quotes from lawmakers and anti-choice activists who disparaged people seeking abortions — for example, calling abortion “murder” — or described a fetus’ “right to life” as more important than the rights of pregnant women and survivors of abuse. .
- An article about abortion access in the Louisville Courier Journal was widely quoted by anti-choice protesters outside an abortion clinic in Kentucky, including a protester who called abortion a “murder”. The star quote in the story comes from a protester who said nagging patients to change their minds is “worth it”.
- The Lexington Herald-Leader ran an article on the state’s anti-abortion law and other GOP-backed bills under the headline: “Conservatives cheered, liberals groaned as KY legislature checked off this checklist,” framing the issue as a partisan conflict, rather than a human rights issue.
- An Orlando Sun-Sentinel article on Florida’s anti-abortion legislation framed the issue as an equally legitimate two-party debate, with numerous quotes from anti-choice religious voices and a catchy quote from an advocate. anti-choice.
- In an article about the Florida law, the Tallahassee Democrat quoted GOP State House Speaker Chris Sprows referring to a fetus as a “child” who “has a right to life,” and saying that DeSantis is “America’s most pro-life governor”. The newspaper also quoted DeSantis as saying the legislation offers “the most important protections for life” in decades.
- Oklahoman ran an article on the state abortion ban that gave pro-choice and anti-choice voices very similar weight. The story took right-wing arguments about protecting “life” at face value, writing that “Stitt and others present wore red roses as a symbol of the sanctity of human life.”
- An article by local news editor CNHI that appeared in at least half a dozen local newspapers, including the Tahlequah Daily Press, drew a false equivalence between pro-choice and anti-choice perspectives, quoting Stitt saying the most important thing to him and the majority of Oklahomans is to “take a stand and protect the unborn and protect life”.
- The Tulsa World ran an article on Oklahoma’s anti-abortion law titled, “Gov. Stitt signs near-total abortion ban: “We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state.” The article included Stitt claiming that Oklahomans “overwhelmingly support the protection of life”, without providing data to support this claim.
- A Durant Daily Democrat article about a speech given by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) quoted his anti-choice comments verbatim without any backlash or fact-checking. The story adopted Lankford’s paternalistic tone without criticism, implying, for example, that pregnant women cannot think for themselves: “Lankford said the other side of stopping abortion is to have a compassionate side and to be able to engage with women who are considering abortion and to emphasize the value and importance of the child.
- An article in The Oklahoman about religious leaders’ reactions to Oklahoma’s abortion ban included several strong anti-choice quotes from religious leaders, including extremists who want lawmakers to go even further and criminalize all abortions. The story also quotes a pastor calling people who obtain or perform abortions “murderers and conspirators”.
As conservative lawmakers continue to besiege abortion rights across the country, local news has an opportunity to provide abortion patients, clinics and advocates with an appropriate voice — undiluted by incorporation uncritical of anti-choice extremists.
Some local news outlets have highlighted the devastating impact of anti-abortion legislation on pregnant women and survivors of sexual abuse or assault, quoting survivors of abuse and people who have had abortions, and pointing out the consequences life-threatening consequences of anti-abortion legislation.
- In an early article on Kentucky’s anti-abortion law, The Lexington Herald-Leader gave more space to reproductive rights advocates than to anti-choice perspectives. The Herald-Leader also cited several female lawmakers who shared their own experiences as survivors of child sexual abuse or sexual assault to highlight the likely impact of the legislation on other survivors.
- The Tampa Bay Times published an article that cites several advocates for the choice, including a woman whose 23-week abortion likely wouldn’t have been possible under Florida’s new law. The article also cites attorneys who describe how Florida’s new legislation violates federal and state constitutional rights.
- While some of Tulsa World’s coverage of Oklahoma’s attack on abortion access missed the mark, other published stories highlighted the human impact of anti-abortion legislation. One story noted that protesters at the clinic were trying to intimidate patients and quoted lawyers who said they were helping patients navigate the melee with “as little trauma as possible”. Another story on maternal mortality among black women warned that abortion law “could prevent women from taking steps early in a pregnancy to prevent potential adverse effects, including maternal mortality.”