Cable news outlets effectively silenced the voices of pro-choice leaders by showing only a small part -- if any -- of their speeches at the Democratic National Convention. In doing so, networks fed the stigma around abortion, which is already prevalent in the media, and thereby contributed to anti-choice misinformation, which can manifest itself in dangerous laws closing abortion clinics and even violence.
Fox News ignored Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Cecile Richards’ July 26 speech at the Democratic National Convention entirely, while CNN played a portion of it and MSNBC ran part of the speech in the corner of the screen with commercials over it, so viewers could not hear her words. Fox also ignored NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue’s July 27 speech at the convention, while CNN and MSNBC showed convention scenes while she was speaking during commercials and panel discussions, but included no audio of Hogue’s speech and did not indicate that Hogue was speaking.
Media have pointed out that the speeches were both groundbreaking. Richards was the first speaker to mention the word “abortion” on the convention stage so far this year. Hogue “broke new ground,” according to Yahoo News, by discussing her decision to have an abortion.
Networks’ reluctance to air the speeches feeds into existing abortion stigma, which can be defined as “a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable.” One of the main manifestations of abortion stigma is “personal and cultural silence around abortion.” Silencing those who publicly discuss abortion or share their own abortion stories is a way of feeding that stigma.
Media are no strangers to abortion stigma, which can take many forms in the news, including use of misleading b-roll footage of babies during news segments about abortion. Media figures also reinforce the idea that abortion is a risky and cruel procedure by parroting conservative talking points while discussing anti-choice regulations on abortion clinics. Hollywood is also guilty of feeding stigma about abortion, by not treating it like the “routine medical procedure” that it is.
Abortion stigma’s prevalence in the media can be extremely dangerous because it leaves room for misinformation about the procedure, which is all too common. Lawmakers have adopted abortion myths and misinformation to promote anti-choice legislation and TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws, and these mistaken concepts even made their way to the Supreme Court. Even more dangerously, some anti-choice extremists use misinformation surrounding abortion to justify violence against providers. A series of videos attacking Planned Parenthood by the anti-choice group the Center for Medical Progress precipitated a ninefold increase in anti-choice violence.
Abortion stigma is dangerous to women. By silencing the voices of pro-choice leaders, media are complicit.