2022-07-30 00:24:50 By : Ms. Helen Yu

In states that have lost or are at risk of losing abortion rights, some articles included crucial perspectives, while others platformed anti-abortion extremists with little pushback

Special Programs Abortion Rights & Reproductive Health

Written by Madeleine Davison & Casey Wexler

After the reversal of Roe v. Wade, some local news outlets in states with trigger bans or other anti-abortion legislation in the works provided practical tips for abortion patients and crucial data on the impact of restricting abortion rights. But others platformed misinformation from anti-abortion extremists with little pushback and parroted right-wing language. 

On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, ruling that the U.S. Constitution does not protect a right to abortion. This decision allows individual states to regulate or ban abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive rights, at least 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion, and 13 have anti-abortion trigger laws that are designed to take effect in the next few months. 

Guttmacher estimates that nearly 6 in 10 women of reproductive age live in states “hostile to abortion rights.” Most Americans support abortion rights — the Pew Research Center found that 57% disapproved of the court’s decision to overturn Roe. Experts say this decision will result in devastating economic and health consequences for people denied abortions. Marginalized groups — including Black, Latino, and Indigenous people; LGBTQ people; low-income and rural people; and survivors of domestic violence — will be the most affected by the decision. Because the court ruled that the Constitution does not include an implied right to privacy, other rights that are based on this principle are also now in jeopardy, including access to birth control, marriage equality, trans health care, and other privacy-related rights.

Media Matters examined a sample of local coverage of abortion rights published between June 24 and July 8 in the 10 largest states by population that have trigger laws or other anti-abortion legislation in the works, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Pennsylvania is not on the institute’s list of states likely to ban abortion, but it was included here because its GOP-controlled state legislature has advanced a constitutional amendment that would deny the right to abortion in the state. 

We found that some local outlets produced strong reporting on abortion rights, including pieces that covered the impact of Dobbs on marginalized communities, doctors’ concerns about their inability to treat patients, and articles on where and how abortion is still accessible to people in their states. However, others failed to include crucial information, gave platforms to anti-abortion extremists, or quoted extremists without correcting their misinformation. Below are examples of both good and harmful coverage from each of the 10 states.

Missouri’s trigger ban, which went into effect the day Roe was overturned, bans all abortions except in cases of vaguely defined medical emergency, with no exceptions for rape or incest. 

Some Missouri outlets published strong coverage of reproductive rights in the state following the enactment of the trigger ban. The Springfield News-Leader published a story on June 24 that offered data on public opinion about abortion and information on how many people might be affected by the ban. On June 25, the publication followed up with another story that quoted people who have had abortions and advocates for disabled people, LGBTQ people, and people of color, noting the disparate impacts abortion bans have on marginalized groups. The News-Leader’s stories, along with reporting by the Missouri Independent, acknowledged that other rights — from birth control to marriage equality — are now in danger. KCUR (an NPR affiliate based in Kansas City) and The Kansas City Star both published practical articles breaking down the trigger ban and its implications for average Missourians. 

On the other hand, some local coverage in Missouri platformed anti-abortion extremists without fact-checking their claims and sensationalized threats against anti-abortion activists without providing context about the history of violence by anti-abortion activists. Some local media are taking cues from larger right-wing media outlets, which have ignored right-wing violence against abortion providers only to fret disingenuously about supposed leftist threats against anti-abortion activists and organizations. 

Since the Dobbs ruling, Texas has been facing a confusing, shifting landscape of abortion laws. The state has banned abortions after six weeks. A trigger law goes into effect soon that will ban all abortions except in medical emergencies, with no exceptions for rape or incest. State courts have also upheld a 1925 statute that allows lawsuits and civil penalties against abortion providers. Reproductive health clinics are no longer providing abortions in the state. 

Some Texas outlets published practical, thorough, and compassionate coverage of abortion rights. The Texas Tribune published extensive rapid-response coverage of abortion rights shortly after the Dobbs decision, which was linked in a central page. This page included practical information about Texans’ reproductive care options and offered data on the laws’ impact on Texans. The Tribune also published sensitive portrayals of how anti-abortion laws have and will specifically harm Black women, domestic violence survivors, and abortion providers. The Tribune’s article on Black women and abortion includes a section on “what advocates and politicians can do” to fight Black maternal mortality and support Black parents. The El Paso Times also published a piece that discussed how anti-abortion laws will impact Texas’ Latino communities. Most of the sources were Mexican-American women.

On the other hand, some Texas outlets allowed sources to promote an expensive, secretive state anti-abortion program without pushback and quoted anti-abortion religious extremists with little to no pushback or context. 

When Dobbs was overturned, Tennessee immediately criminalized most abortions from the first trimester on, making performing an abortion a class-C felony, with possible prison sentences of 15 years. A trigger ban set to go into effect later in the summer will outlaw almost all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The ban allows abortion only in the case of danger to a pregnant person’s life or a major biological function. 

Some Tennessee media produced solid coverage. WREG published an article about another right that could be at stake after Dobbs — IVF treatment. A Tennessean article about Nashville refusing to enforce the trigger ban included comments from a council member who had an abortion, and acknowledged that people of color would be more deeply affected.  

However, other local stories fearmongered about pro-choice violence, promoted crisis pregnancy centers, and platformed anti-abortion extremists.

Florida courts temporarily blocked, and then reinstated, the state’s 15-week trigger ban, signed in April, which includes exceptions only for fatal fetal abnormalities and medical emergencies, with no exceptions for rape or incest. 

Some local media provided helpful, empathetic coverage of abortion rights. The Miami Herald published a story emphasizing how abortion bans impact Jewish religious freedom. The Tampa Bay Times and WUSF published articles that acknowledged the ban’s disproportionate impact on low-income people and other marginalized groups, while a story in the Tallahassee Democrat shared data on abortion in the state and offered links to find an abortion provider.

On the other hand, some Florida media coverage failed to push back on misinformation and platformed anti-abortion extremists. 

Arizona faces a confusing legal landscape as multiple abortion bans, both pre-Roe and more recently enacted trigger laws, are debated in court. Most recently, a federal judge blocked the state’s 2021 fetal “personhood” law. 

Some local stories about abortion rights were helpful and empathetic. For instance, The Arizona Republic published one strong story that included data and context on how the state’s anti-abortion laws impact Black and Latinx people, and the Arizona Mirror published a story that discussed the emotional toll of being denied an abortion.

However, some local coverage failed to quote pro-choice advocates and allowed anti-abortion extremists to spout misinformation without pushback. 

Michigan has an abortion ban from 1931 still on the books that the governor is trying to prevent from being enforced. However, some prosecutors in the state are promising to enforce the old law. In the meantime, advocates are working to get abortion access enshrined in the state constitution via referendum in November.  

Local outlets in Michigan have been mixed when covering the fight for abortion rights in the state. Some coverage, such as this story from The Petoskey News-Review, acknowledged that abortion has broad support among the American public. Michigan Live also published a piece on doctors’ concerns about how enforcing an abortion ban will impact their ability to treat people with nonviable pregnancies. However, some local pieces were not as well done. 

"The thought that one out of three of my generation aren't here because they were aborted breaks my heart … . We could have had the person who solved COVID. We could have had the person who came up with cancer's cure. We could have had the greatest basketball players that we've ever seen since Michigan Jordan. We have this opportunity to right this wrong."

After the Dobbs decision, Ohio’s pre-existing six-week abortion ban went into effect. Already, a pregnant 10-year-old was denied an abortion in the state. Ohio lawmakers are expected to consider a near-total abortion ban in the coming weeks. 

Good local coverage included an article from the Ohio Capital Journal on a lawsuit seeking to block the six-week ban or “heartbeat” bill. The piece clears up numerous pieces of misinformation, including the “heartbeat bill” moniker. Fetuses do not have a heartbeat at six weeks, but they do have electrical activity detectable on ultrasound. Some coverage from Ohio was not as competent at dispelling misinformation. 

Georgia has a six-week abortion ban, known as the LIFE Act, on the books that was blocked in 2019 and has not yet gone into effect. However, in the aftermath of the Dobbs ruling, the state is attempting to get the courts’ approval to enforce the ban. The law doubles as a personhood law, effectively making a fetus a person in a legal sense, meaning that they can be counted as dependents on taxes and as people in population surveys, and that they can allow pregnant mothers to use HOV lanes, among other effects. In the meantime, multiple Georgia district attorneys have refused to prosecute abortion violations. 

The state’s local media has in many cases done an admirable job of reporting on its odd legal situation. The Current, a nonprofit news organization on the Georgia coast, published an in-depth piece about the prosecutors pledging not to enforce the personhood law, laying out the beliefs of major Georgia political figures, expanding on the unpopularity of a total abortion ban, and explaining the nuances of “personhood” under the stalled law. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution put out a piece on the immediate effects of the Dobbs decision on actual abortion providers and patients. The Athens Banner-Herald even published an article on the impact an abortion ban will have on transgender men and nonbinary people, a community often overlooked as needing abortion health care from time to time. 

While a large amount of reporting out of Georgia on this subject has been stellar, some outlets provided subpar content for their readers.

As of July 13, abortions are legal up to 20 weeks post-fertilization with some restrictions in Indiana. But the state’s legislature is scheduled to meet in late July and may consider a total abortion ban. Like in other states, coverage has been mixed. Some articles, like the Indy Star’s piece on abortion medication access, did a decent job of describing how abortion actually works and how it can be accessed in the state without muddying the waters with uncorrected misinformation from anti-abortion sources. However, other coverage fell for that trap. 

Abortion is still legal up to 24 weeks in Pennsylvania, but the state’s Senate has advanced a constitutional amendment referendum that would declare that there is no right to an abortion or to public funding for an abortion. The state’s Democratic governor has said he would veto anti-abortion bills, but there’s a gubernatorial election in 2022 and the Republican candidate, Doug Mastriano, is an anti-abortion extremist who would likely support restrictions on the procedure if elected.

Some Pennsylvania media outlets produced strong coverage of abortion rights after Dobbs. GoErie published a story that shared Pennsylvania public opinion data on abortion and included historical context about reproductive rights and racism. The online platform BillyPenn published a list of Philadelphia-area providers that offer abortions, and The Philadelphia Tribune published an article discussing the devastating economic consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade. 

Meanwhile, other news outlets in Pennsylvania quoted religious anti-abortion extremists and allowed them to spout misinformation without pushback.

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