Words matter, and as the abortion debate continues to intensify, the pro-life community has been expressing its grievances about how it’s being represented – or misrepresented – by mainstream media.
Until this changes, many pro-lifers will continue feeling alienated from the media and find it unreliable. If the media won’t even use the terms the pro-life community uses to describe itself, how will it ever trust the stories it tells, which are promised to be unbiased?
Case in point: If I were to abide by the AP Stylebook used by most American newsrooms for uniformity in conveying ideas, I would have to change “pro-life” in this column to “anti-abortion.”
There’s a problem already, since not all pro-life activity focuses on abortion, and even if it did, “anti-abortion” conjures a judgment too often assumed to be applied to the woman seeking an abortion, making pro-lifers sound unfairly hostile toward the woman herself.
Rather, we advocate for both the mothers and the babies in their wombs. Yes, I said babies. When did you last hear new parents declare, at seeing their ultrasound, “We’re having a blob of tissues!” No, it’s a baby with a future already in their minds; possibly even a name and nursery.
The word “anti-abortion,” except in very specific contexts, is a false usage, and sets a visual in the public’s mind that leads to unfair, divisive, even dangerous conclusions.
Do pro-lifers have a legitimate complaint here by wondering whether the media, if appearing one-sided on this issue, can be trusted with others? As someone who’s part of each group, both trained journalist and pro-life advocate, I do find it a valid concern.
But to be fair to the media, the pro-life community also should know that journalists, when using the misleading words we cringe at reading, are simply following protocol. The abovementioned stylebook is standard. Any reporter looking up the word “abortion” and how to convey it in news stories and headlines will find this under the “A” chapter:
“abortion – Use ‘anti-abortion’ instead of ‘pro-life’ and ‘abortion rights’ instead of ‘pro-abortion’ or ‘pro-choice.’ Avoid ‘abortionist,’ which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions; use a term such as ‘abortion doctor’ or ‘abortion practitioner.’”
So, there you have it. This is journalistic protocol for abortion stories. And yet, fellow journalists, when I pray in front of our state’s only abortion facility on Wednesdays, I do so as someone wanting to offer hope for another, not as a judging “anti-abortion protester.”
Maybe most journalists aren’t being intentionally misleading. Maybe the industry just needs to challenge its worn standards on this topic, considering reality rather than assumption. Until then, a whole segment of media consumers may continue to feel severely misrepresented.
Media, is that really what we want to perpetuate in this nation of freedom? Truth is a big responsibility, after all. All our lives depend on it.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on June 1, 2019.]