RH Reality Check's Eight Questions About Abortion Journalists Have A Responsibility To Ask

Jodi Jacobson: Media Is “Becoming Complicit In The Lies And Stigma Surrounding Abortion Care” By Not Asking Politicians About Abortion

Looking at the lack of in-depth reproductive rights questions asked during presidential debates thus far this election season, RH Reality Check's editor-in-chief, Jodi Jacobson, raised concerns about the role of journalists and debate moderators in “perpetuating both abortion stigma and the mirage of consequence-free abortion restrictions.”

In a February 10 article, Jacobson criticized the media for “becoming complicit in the lies and stigma surrounding abortion care” by not questioning politicians more carefully on their positions about abortion. According to Jacobson, although the “media loves to obsess about -- and stoke controversy around -- abortion and contraception” there has been very little interest in asking politicians, “Exactly what is the evidence for your position?” For example, following the February 6 Republican debate, conservative media hyped Marco Rubio's extreme abortion positions without demanding “specifics about the real-life consequences” or asking how such policies would impact the "real people affected by them," Jacobson wrote (emphasis original).

There is also ample evidence that political rhetoric -- particularly incendiary or misleading rhetoric -- influences the development of legislation that is harmful to women's health. For example, following media circulation of deceptively edited videos from Media Matters' 2015 Misinformer of the Year, the Center for Medical Progress, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown in an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. In reality, a growing number of state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing while one grand jury in Texas has instead indicted CMP founder David Daleiden.

Jacobson said journalists have a “duty to best inform the public” and argued that their failure to do so on reproductive rights issues represents “outright bias.” She concluded that “starting with Thursday's debate, it's time to get real on abortion care and ask all presidential contenders some in-depth questions”:

Question One: Do you trust people to make decisions about pregnancy and childbirth that are best for their families? If not, why not?


Two: Abortion is universally acknowledged by the medical and public health community as a public health issue. If you oppose access to abortion and the right to make decisions about pregnancy and childbirth, why do you believe your judgment should supplant the evidence that exists on abortion worldwide? What is the evidence for your position?

Three: Evidence shows that women who are unable to afford an early abortion spend a lot of time trying to pull together resources, resulting in later abortion. ... Do you believe that an individual's economic status should determine whether or not they are able to make fundamental decisions about their lives, including abortion? 


Four: Do you think religiously affiliated medical centers should be able to deny people essential health care? If you believe abortion is essential health care, why would you allow these groups to deny women access to this care? Do you believe that hospitals and clinics that deny women care should be eligible for government funding?

Five: For candidates who claim to be “pro-life,” do you believe in forced gestation? This, again, must be asked. It is the ugly reality: Denial of abortion care is forced gestation. Plain and simple. Let's dispense with the “pro-life” fig leaf and get real.

Six: If you claim to be “pro-life,” do you support greatly expanded government funding for the care and support of children living in poverty, including universal health care, maternal and infant health care, food assistance, housing assistance, and college tuition for those who were unable to afford a(nother) child? Do you support government funding and lifelong assistance for the families of children born severely disabled?

Seven: For candidates who support access to abortion, what will you do to address the fact that under Obamacare millions of women have lost insurance coverage for abortion care?

Eight: For pro-choice politicians: Do you see abortion as a fundamental issue of human rights or do you see being “pro-choice” as a campaign strategy only to be ignored once you've been elected?