Since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade last week, mainstream print media have failed miserably to show how detrimental the loss of access to this essential health care has been and will continue to be. In covering the end of Roe, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times consistently neglected to provide comprehensive reporting about the population's support for abortion rights, the groups most impacted by Roe ending, other rights that might be impacted, the number of people who will be affected, and the trigger laws taking effect following the ruling.
The Supreme Court overturned Roe in a 6-3 decision last week, with Justice Samuel Alito writing the majority opinion. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider” three additional privacy-rooted watershed cases: Griswold v. Connecticut, establishing the right to contraception for married couples; Lawrence v. Texas, protecting same-sex sexual activity; and Obergefell v. Hodges, enshrining the right to same-sex marriage.
Media Matters reviewed 103 articles published between June 24 and 28 from each of the top five print newspapers in the U.S. by circulation. These articles were then coded for the inclusion, or lack thereof, of fundamental context to the fallout of Roe’s end: Roe’s popularity; other rights at risk; trigger laws; disproportionate effects on certain communities; and statistics that show the scope of the decision.
More than three-fourths (77%) of articles failed to mention that abortion access is overwhelmingly popular among Americans. A June 2022 poll showed that a 61% majority of U.S. adults were in favor of legal abortions. This fact has been poorly addressed, particularly in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, which mentioned abortion’s popularity only 17% and 21% of the time, respectively. A previous study by Media Matters on mainstream print coverage of the Roe draft opinion leak between May 2 and 10 found that 67% of articles from the top 5 U.S. newspapers failed to include polling data, meaning there was a 10% decrease, after the decision, in articles highlighting the widespread support for Roe.
Nearly three-fourths (72%) of articles failed to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of the reversal of Roe on certain populations. The impacts of the decision will predominantly be felt by racial minorities as well as low-income communities. The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times especially failed to mention the disproportionate effect of the ruling, acknowledging its effects on vulnerable groups only 7% and 25% of the time, respectively.
More than two-thirds (69%) of articles excluded the fact that other rights are at risk as noted by Justice Thomas. Roe’s precedent, which is rooted in the constitutional right to privacy, shares the same legal reasoning as the cases protecting same-sex sexual activity, same-sex marriage, and contraception. The Los Angeles Times and USA Today especially missed the mark in terms of reporting the potential threat to these rights, mentioning it in only 20% and 25% of their respective coverage of the Supreme Court decision. Despite Thomas’ explicit mention of other privacy precedents the court could reconsider, there was only a 3% increase in the inclusion of these rights in mainstream print articles from June 24-28 when compared to Media Matters’ previous study from May 2-10.
More than two-thirds (69%) of articles left out statistics that quantify the impact of Roe’s reversal. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one in four U.S. women will have an abortion before turning 45. Despite the procedure’s ubiquity, coverage from The Washington Post mentioned statistics on how many people are affected in only 17% of the articles reviewed by Media Matters, the lowest of any of the five papers.
Less than half (49%) of articles included a mention of trigger laws, which 13 states adopted prior to the ruling to severely restrict or end abortion entirely in some cases. Some of these trigger laws have exemptions for sexual assault or medical emergency but may require the pregnant person to report the case to law enforcement which carries even more danger to the individual. The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post referenced trigger laws only 45% of the time while The Wall Street Journal performed the worst, mentioning them only 43% of the time.
What mainstream print is largely ignoring
The backsliding of abortion access didn’t begin with the end of Roe, but for many, it will only become worse from here. Twenty-six states are likely or certain to limit abortion access, including 13 states with “trigger laws” which have gone or will go into effect soon now that Roe has been reversed. The estimated 33 million women of reproductive age living in these states will have to travel an average of 552 miles to their nearest clinic. Since 2017, an approximate three-decade decline in abortions in the United States began to reverse, underscoring the need to protect this commonly used and widely popular procedure.
Additionally, there are myriad important concerns for vulnerable communities with the ending of Roe. Poor people of color will likely suffer as a result of the decision, with inadequate health care access, low literacy rates, and severe financial limitations exacerbating their situations. As hinted by Thomas, several other rights could also be rolled back, such as same-sex marriage and access to contraception. Victims of domestic abuse are also put in danger by the reversal of Roe as pregnancy can sometimes beget intimate partner violence, including homicide, which is the number one cause of death during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Media Matters searched articles in the Factiva database in the top 5 U.S. newspapers by circulation (the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post) for any of the terms “Planned Parenthood,” “abortion,” “women’s health,” “women’s rights,” “Roe,” “Wade,” “Dobbs,” “Jackson,” “reproductive,” “opinion,” “ruling,” “Supreme Court,” or “SCOTUS” or any variation of any of the terms “pro-choice,” “anti-choice,” “pro-life,” or “anti-abortion” in the headline or lead paragraph from June 24, 2022, through June 28, 2022.
We included articles about abortion, Roe v. Wade, reproductive health, or Dobbs v. Jackson, which we defined as instances when an article mentioned those topics in the headline or lead paragraph. We included only news articles, excluding opinion pieces, retrospectives, media reviews, and other non-news content.
We then reviewed the identified articles for whether they included pro-choice voices, included anti-choice voices, identified other rights at risk since Roe was overturned, mentioned trigger laws in states that eliminated or restricted, or would eliminate or restrict, abortion access since Roe was overturned, mentioned populations disproportionately impacted, included statistics on how many people are affected, or included polling data or other statements suggesting that a majority of Americans support abortion rights.