Local print and digital coverage often caved to anti-abortion spin after Roe was overturned
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
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.
- In a June 24 article, NBC affiliate station KOMU of Columbia extensively quoted two anti-abortion politicians, with only one quote from a pro-choice source. The article did not include any pushback after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) likened abortion to slavery by calling anti-abortion activists “modern-day abolitionists,” going on to call Roe v. Wade “one of the most unjust decisions in American history.”
- KYTV 3 of Springfield sensationalized threats against an anti-abortion “pregnancy resource center,” without mentioning that anti-abortion activists have committed thousands of acts of violence against abortion providers. The story, titled “Republic, Mo. Pregnancy Resource Center says it is upping security following Roe v. Wade decision,” fearmongered about vaguely leftist violence without mentioning that in the past 50 years, anti-abortion extremists have committed numerous murders, bombings, arson attacks, and kidnappings, among other crimes.
- Fox affiliate WDAF, of Kansas City, also sensationalized alleged pro-choice mischief in a story titled “Overland Park church vandalized after abortion stance.” The story allowed a local archbishop to fearmonger about the supposed attempt to “intimidate” the Catholic church for its stance against abortion.
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.
- CNHI News and its affiliate the Palestine Herald published a story that allowed anti-choice activists to plug Texas’ coercive and secretive Alternatives to Abortion program. Although the story did quote Planned Parenthood representatives, it gave significant space to proponents of the Alternatives to Abortion program, which Democrats and pro-choice advocates have said guzzled $100 million in tax dollars without publicly disclosing what the money is used for and also failing to meaningfully support parents. One source in the article who is involved in the program described its efforts as providing “compassionate alternatives to women with unplanned pregnancies.”
- The Dallas Morning News published a piece quoting religious leaders on both sides of the abortion debate, giving anti-abortion extremists the same legitimacy as pro-choice advocates. The article included — without pushback — a quote from the president of the Southern Baptist Convention stating that it was going “to stand with and pray for abortion-vulnerable women, to eliminate any perceived need for the horror of abortion and to oppose Planned Parenthood and other predatory organizations or institutions who exploit vulnerable women for profit.”
- Additionally, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a story that extensively quoted anti-choice religious extremists and allowed sources to spout anti-LGBTQ comments with no pushback. One source, known for making racist comments online, mocked trans women athletes and claimed that LGBTQ people were waging a “war on innocence.” In the article, titled “How North Texas evangelicals celebrated Supreme Court abortion ruling as 'Biblical,'” the Star-Telegram also allowed sources to fearmonger about supposed pro-choice violence, without noting the thousands of instances of anti-abortion terrorism in recent decades.
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.
- In a story on a Southern Baptist Convention speech on Roe, Memphis Commercial Appeal mostly quoted anti-choice religious extremists with just one short quote from Planned Parenthood as pushback. The article offered no pushback when Bart Barber, president of the SBC, said, “Women are not deprived of the opportunity to flourish in Texas” because of anti-abortion laws. He added, “Everything we were told would come apart at the seams is not coming apart at the seams in these states that made abortion illegal. The only difference is their children get to live.” The story did not follow up this quote with a correction to account for the devastating economic, emotional, and public health impacts of being denied an abortion.
- The Knoxville News Sentinel allowed crisis pregnancy centers to promote themselves in an article without offering context about their coercive and deceptive practices. These fake medical centers are usually associated with right-wing Christian churches and are known for deceptive and coercive practices. The Sentinel stated that “the health centers have served as an embodiment of the movement in action and will continue to do so as the post-Roe landscape evolves.” The story also quotes right-wing anti-abortion terminology without explanation, writing that the anti-abortion movement has a “sophisticated, multimillion-dollar network of organizations working to ‘rescue preborn children’ from abortion” and that the health clinics use “marketing strategies aimed at diverting the ‘abortion-minded woman.’”
- In addition, the Tennessee Lookout published a full-length Q&A with an anti-abortion extremist named Will Brewer. The story almost never pushed back on Brewer’s statements. Brewer claimed without evidence that anti-choice activists support children after birth, that “crisis pregnancy centers” “are working above and beyond the call of duty to counsel women who are choosing life,” and that adoption is a solution to the lack of abortion rights. He also claimed that anti-abortion laws should not account for rape or incest because “philosophically a life is a life regardless of the situation that led to it’s conception, so let’s … not create a double atrocity by terminating the life that’s inside of her.” He also alleged that Tennessee’s trigger ban will have no impact on health care for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. Health care and legal experts have said banning abortions will hinder care for miscarriage patients and criminalize numerous pregnancy outcomes. The interview included a leading question about how Tennessee Right to Life would “protect” people from being “lured” by out-of-state abortion providers.
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.
- Bay News 9 published an online story extensively quoting an anti-choice extremist who harassed people outside of abortion clinics, who referred to the procedure as “a deliberate act of murder” in the piece. The story did not contextualize her comments with information about the threats and harassment many abortion patients and clinic workers experience.
- West Palm Beach’s WPTV gave anti-abortion extremists the same legitimacy as pro-choice advocates, offering no pushback when one anti-abortion source claimed that “the conclusion that life begins at the instant of sperm-egg fusion is scientifically incontrovertible.” It is not.
- WPTV also published a story on Florida Catholic bishops’ responses to the Dobbs decision, exclusively quoting these anti-abortion religious leaders. The story also did not push back when sources claimed that abortion inherently causes suffering to patients and their families.
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.
- Arizona Central published a lengthy story on a debate over an abortion ban in the state legislature that did not quote any pro-choice voices.
- KTAR published a story that exclusively quoted one GOP state senator, with little pushback against her false statements. The main source, Arizona state Sen. Nancy Barto, lied that Roe “allowed abortion up until birth.” Such abortions did not and do not occur. The article did not fact-check Barto’s claim.
- A story from ABC 15 Arizona did not quote any pro-choice advocates or organizations, only anti-choice voices and neutral legal experts. The story also did not offer data to quantify the harm that the anti-abortion legislation in question would cause.
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.
- On June 23, the Detroit Free Press published an article on a crisis pregnancy center being vandalized that did not explain that such organizations are fake clinics, often masquerading as abortion providers, meant to convince people to not get abortions. Instead, the article described the center only as providing “education, counseling and support at all stages of pregnancy,” adding, “The center supported 97 mothers last month.”
- On June 29, Michigan Live published an article made up of back and forth quotes between pro-choice and anti-abortion individuals. Despite the both-sides framing, it did not mention that polling heavily favors bodily autonomy, and it did not correct some false and misleading claims pushed by anti-abortion interviewees such as this quote:
"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.
- On June 24, The Plain Dealer put out an article on initial reactions to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, titled “What Ohio leaders and organizations are saying about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.” The piece gave equal legitimacy to both the anti-abortion and pro-choice perspectives, despite the American public’s overwhelming support for abortion access.
- In late June and early July, Ohio papers owned by Gannett, including The Cincinnati Enquirer, published a piece that framed a total abortion ban as an inevitability in Ohio, saying the Ohio Democratic Party is too outnumbered to block the GOP push for a ban. The article quoted only two pro-choice advocates and did not mention the popular support for abortion access.
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.
- On July 1, multiple local papers, including The Northeast Georgian, published a piece on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals requesting new briefs in the legal battle over the LIFE Act, while failing to identify the act as a personhood bill. The piece didn’t describe the law in any detail other than this: “The heartbeat law prohibits most abortions in Georgia after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. Passed in 2019, the law never took effect due to a lawsuit filed by reproductive rights organizations.”
- On June 27, The Georgia Recorder published a piece on anti-abortion activists attempting to get the governor of Georgia to call a special session to pass new restrictions. While the piece had some good points, including identifying the LIFE Act as a personhood bill, it focused on the anti-abortion perspective and did not acknowledge that polling shows most Americans favor legal abortion until the final paragraph, which doubles as the only quote from a pro-choice source.
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.
- On July 5, Purdue University-owned public radio station WBAA published a piece on the future of abortion in Indiana that included an uncontested quote from an anti-choice source claiming doctors actually want to kill babies. The piece quoted Indiana-based James Bopp Jr., general counsel to the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion organization with a long history of spreading misinformation in service of ending abortion, saying: “Traditionally physicians were guided by the Hippocratic oath, which says ‘do no harm.’ Do no harm means not to kill your patient. The unborn is a human life and a patient of a physician in a pregnancy.” It added that he said, “But they want to kill them or be allowed to kill them when they think it’s right. That violates the Hippocratic oath.”
- On July 8, the Indy Star put out an article on Bopp’s role drafting an abortion ban bill that the NRLC hopes multiple states, including Indiana, will adopt. The article described the “form bill” and quoted Bopp extensively, but it did not include objections to the bill, which criminalizes assisting in or performing abortions and empowers the attorney general to go around local prosecutors who do not enforce abortion criminalization. It also didn’t mention that total abortion bans are almost universally unpopular.
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.
- Shamokin’s News-Item published a story titled “'An answer to prayer' or 'a disappointment?'” which gave anti-abortion activists the same legitimacy as abortion rights advocates. The story quoted one source who went on an extended rant about how the biblical commandment against killing supposedly prohibits abortion, and another who spoke about the “trauma that abortion brings to many women.” In reality, the majority of abortion patients do not experience trauma and report feeling they made the right choice.
- The Daily Item of Sunbury used right-wing language, describing aborted fetuses or embryos as “children.” It also extensively quoted anti-abortion radicals, including the Catholic bishop of Harrisburg, who stated that “life is to be protected and respected from the moment of conception,” and a source who claimed that abortion has deprived the country of researchers who would have cured cancer and people who would have run for president. The Daily Item did not offer pushback against these misleading right-wing talking points.
- Finally, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a story that implied the city’s Catholics were mostly celebrating the anti-abortion ruling, despite the fact that over half of U.S. Catholics support legal abortion in most or all cases. The article briefly acknowledged that not all Catholics oppose abortion, but then exclusively quoted anti-abortion Catholics. One source, Bishop David Zubik, claimed that “All lives have been protected by the law except the lives of those who are unborn,” and that “this is the moment where the foundation of our government is working as it is intended to work.” The story did not include pushback against this claim.