Since Republican Senate candidate for Pennsylvania Mehmet Oz commented that reproductive health decisions should be left to “women, doctors, [and] local political leaders” during a televised debate this week, mainstream media have failed to accurately frame Oz's statement and position on abortion rights.
During a debate with Democratic nominee John Fetterman, Oz asserted that the federal government should be kept out of abortion decisions. Oz continued, “I want women, doctors, [and] local political leaders letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”
Throughout his campaign, Oz has repeatedly spoken out against abortion and has boasted about being “100% pro-life.” Audio obtained by The Daily Beast shows Oz stating, “It’s still murder, if you were to terminate a child whether their heart’s beating or not,” and claiming that “life starts at conception.” Further, Oz was previously endorsed by the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and called an “anti-choice extremist” by the reproductive rights group NARAL. Though claiming to disapprove of federal restrictions on abortion, Oz refused to clarify whether he supports Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) proposed 15-week national abortion ban.
The race in Pennsylvania is pivotal in determining control of the Senate, making high-quality coverage of the only debate between Fetterman and Oz especially important for voters ahead of Election Day. While some outlets — such as Reuters and Axios’ daily podcast — left out Oz’s remark about local politicians’ involvement in abortion decisions, other mainstream publications largely downplayed Oz’s statement.
Mainstream outlets framed Oz’s comments as moderate
- Appearing on the Up First podcast, NPR’s national political correspondent Don Gonyea characterized Oz’s abortion comment as “a moment when you could feel Oz trying to reach into the suburbs to convince moderate and independent voters that he has a moderate position on abortion.”
- An Axios article defined Oz’s remarks as “what is likely his most moderate stance yet on the issue.”
- During the debate, New York Times editor Blake Hounshell wrote that Oz “has taken a far more moderate line than Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, who does not support exceptions for rape or incest.”
Mainstream media uncritically adopted Oz’s abortion framing
- The New York Times generously framed Oz’s comment, saying he “tried awkwardly to come up with a new phrase to describe having state governments determine abortion rights.”
- The Hill brushed off Oz’s abortion comments as a small blip relative to the rest of his debate performance, which it claimed showed Oz “in his element” and “polished and disciplined.”
- Politico took Oz’s comments at face value, saying that even though he avoided questions about supporting a 15-week ban, he “insisted his position was clear” when he claimed that he wants “women, doctors, local political leaders” to make decisions on abortion.
- CNN assessed Oz’s comment about abortion as “a continuation of his argument that states, not the federal government should decide the issue.”