Cable And Broadcast News Hide The Economic Benefits Of Reproductive Health


Following Texas State Senator Wendy Davis' June 25, 2013, filibuster of extreme restrictions on reproductive health clinics in Texas, national evening broadcast and cable news programs have provided extensive coverage of issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights. The vast majority of segments, however, failed to identify or discuss the key economic benefits of access to reproductive health care, including its role in reducing economic insecurity.

Economic Benefits Of Reproductive Health Absent From News Coverage

Economic Benefits Mentioned In Only 4 Segments, Less Than 2 Percent Of Total Coverage. Of the total 255 broadcast and evening news segments that focused on reproductive health from June 24 to December 1, only four mentioned the economic benefits this health care provides for women, three on MSNBC and one on Fox News. All four segments focused on the role of contraception and abortion access in reducing economic insecurity for women.

Access To Reproductive Health Services Reduces Economic Insecurity

Center for American Progress: Contraception Is An Economic Issue. In a blog discussing a surge of contraception news gaining mainstream traction, Sally Steenland and Jessica Arons of the Center for American Progress argued that contraception is inextricably linked to women's economic well-being:

It's not just the cost of contraception. Family planning allows women to control the timing of when they have children, which in turn allows them to pursue their education and career. Indeed, women now make up half of the nation's workforce, and 60 percent of women are breadwinners for their family--in large part because of greater access to contraception.


Because family planning enables women to plan their pregnancies, it also leads to healthier mothers and babies. As a result, it reduces costs to individuals and families, to our health care system, and to society.


Bottom line: Pundits and politicians need to realize that contraception is not just a hot-button issue. It and other policies such as paid sick days and equal pay are integral to women's economic security. [Center for American Progress, 4/2/12]

Center For American Progress: "Economic Security And Reproductive Health Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin." On Women's Equality Day, Heidi Williamson of the Center for American Progress detailed the economic impact of safe and legal access to reproductive health care choices:

The increasing availability of family-planning services and supplies resulted in more women delaying marriage, graduating from higher education at higher rates, and entering into more professional occupations. 


With the increased ability to work outside the home for longer periods, there were more opportunities for promotion and upward mobility, as well as increased earning potential for women. In today's economy women make up about half of the workforce and are increasingly the primary or co-breadwinner of a family--all thanks to women's political participation and the reproductive policies that keep them healthy and autonomous. [Center for American Progress, 8/26/13]

Guttmacher Institute: Contraception Access Is Critical For Women's Economic Autonomy. The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization which works to advance reproductive health, identified contraceptive care and birth control access as key components in allowing women to achieve economic autonomy. From ThinkProgress:

The majority of respondents confirmed that being able to use contraception has had a significant impact on the quality of their lives, particularly by giving them the economic autonomy to pursue goals like becoming financially independent or getting a college degree. 63 percent of women said their birth control allowed them to take better care of themselves or their families, 56 percent reported it helped them support themselves financially, 51 percent credited contraception with allowing them to complete their education, and 50 percent said it enabled them to either keep or get a job. [ThinkProgress, 9/25/12]

National Bureau Of Economic Research: Contraception Access Helps Reduce Wage Gap. Mother Jones reported that according to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the use of birth control "accounted for a 10 percent narrowing of the wage gap" between men and women in the 1980s. The researchers argued increased that access and use of birth control was responsible for nearly one-third (31 percent) of the narrowing of the wage gap witnessed in the 1990s. From Mother Jones:

The main reason for this, the researchers conclude, is that, "as the Pill provided younger women the expectation of greater control over childbearing, women invested more in their human capital and careers." [Mother Jones, 3/28/12]

Economist Martha Bailey: Family-Planning Services Benefit Children's Economic Well-Being. According to research from University of Michigan economist Martha Bailey, contraception's role in allowing women to plan their families leads to reduced economic insecurity for children. Women with access to family-planning services are shown to provide their children with better access to education which, in turn, allows children to eventually realize higher wages. From ThinkProgress:

Bailey suggests it's because allowing parents to control family size ensures that they can invest the appropriate amount of time and money into each child that they end up having. Their resources aren't stretched too thin. Plus, without the burden of needing to support additional children that they can't afford, parents are also freed up to get more education and work experience, driving up their earning potential over their lifetimes. [ThinkProgress, 10/15/13]

Access To Safe, Legal Abortion Specifically Linked To Economic Security

NY Times: Women Denied Abortions Are 3 Times More Likely To End Up Below The Federal Poverty Line. The New York Times reported on an ongoing longitudinal study that compared women who wanted to get but were denied an abortion to women who got the procedure. The study found that two years after being denied abortion services, women "were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line":

Adjusting for any previous differences between the two groups, women denied abortion were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line two years later. Having a child is expensive, and many mothers have trouble holding down a job while caring for an infant. Had the turnaways not had access to public assistance for women with newborns, Foster says, they would have experienced greater hardship. [The New York Times, 6/12/13]

The Atlantic: Legal Access To Abortion Decreases Childhood Poverty, Increases Economic Advancement. In a January 2013 interview with Wellesley College Professor Phillip Levine, Atlantic columnist Jordan Weissmann investigated the long-term socio-economic impact of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), which legalized abortion nationwide. From the interview:

WEISMANN: What do we know for sure about how the legalization of abortion impacted the economy?


LEVINE: Living standards of children growing up were very different as a result. Fewer children grew up living in poverty, fewer children grew up in single parent households, fewer children grew up in households headed by welfare recipients. In some sense, you can think about following that cohort's path through life into things like educational attainment, labor market outcomes. You observe increases in college graduation, lower rates of welfare use for the children themselves, reduced likelihood of becoming a single parent themselves. These are outcomes for the children who were born in the early 70s that we observe 20 years later, that we observe for the cohort as a whole. Because it's a different group of children born relative to those who would have been otherwise. [The Atlantic, 1/23/13]

National Abortion Federation: Limited Abortion Access Complicates Procedure, Increases Immediate and Long-Term Costs. According to the National Abortion Federation, a pro-choice women's health care advocate, restricted access to abortion services involves "both real and hidden costs" that are passed on to women, their families, and the taxpaying public at-large:

[M]any of the women who are denied funding for abortion have one anyway, usually at great sacrifice to themselves and their families. They may take on extra work or borrow from their rent or grocery budgets. Sometimes, because it takes time to find the money, the woman has to obtain the abortion at a later stage of pregnancy, when the procedure is more expensive and more complicated.

Some women without money to pay for an abortion attempt to induce one themselves. This usually fails, resulting in delays before seeking surgical abortion. Self-induced abortion attempts are often medically very dangerous, leading to serious complications or death.

Those who oppose public funding for abortion call it an unfair burden on taxpayers. In fact, funding restrictions on abortions cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year, due to the much higher cost of prenatal care and childbirth, and the secondary costs of unplanned births. [National Abortion Federation, accessed 12/16/13]

Guttmacher Institute: 87 Percent Of U.S. Counties Have No Abortion Provider. According to research from the Guttmacher Institute, "Eighty-seven percent of all U.S. counties lacked an abortion provider in 2008; 35% of women live in those counties." [Guttmacher Institute, October 2013]


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from June 24 (the day before Wendy Davis' filibuster) through December 1.  We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: abort! or contracept! or reproduct! or birth or plan b or fetal or fetus or women's health or pill. The Nexis operator "!" functions by searching all permutations of suffixes for the root word (Example: "abort!" would effectively search transcripts for mentions of "aborts," "aborted," "aborting," "abortion," "abortions," etc.).

The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams, CrossFire, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The Kelly File, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Hardball with Chris Matthews, The Ed Show, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs (such as Anderson Cooper 360 and Hardball with Chris Matthews), only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of reproductive health. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or re-broadcasts of programs that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5p.m.-11p.m. window.

We defined segments that mentioned the economic benefits of reproductive rights as those where the role of reproductive rights in reducing economic insecurity was directly addressed.

Posted In
Economy, Reproductive Rights
Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.