In its coverage of a bombshell report that the Supreme Court is on the cusp of overturning Roe v. Wade, The Washington Post boosted anti-abortion activists, equated anti-choice and pro-abortion positions, and adopted toxic framing on abortion care directly from its adversaries.
According to the May 2 report from Politico, a leaked draft opinion shows the Supreme Court preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade while deciding on the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s direct challenge to Roe’s precedent. While the draft opinion is not final yet, it’s not surprising that the conservative-majority court would move to overturn Roe as abortion providers have long sounded the alarm for this scenario.
The leaked opinion accelerated national conversations about the stakes involved for pregnant people if their constitutional right to an abortion vanishes. The Guttmacher Institute has identified 13 states with trigger laws that would ban or severely restrict abortion access soon after Roe is overturned. Such legislation would inflict economic distress on pregnant people and their families as well as further marginalize low-income communities and people of color. The court’s potential decision also marks a stark unraveling of Americans’ right to bodily autonomy and foreshadows the precarious future of other fundamental rights like same-sex marriage or access to contraception.
The Post’s disappointing coverage of the draft opinion isn’t the first time the legacy newspaper has dropped the ball on abortion and reproductive health stories. In the past, reports, fact checks, and editorials on abortion rights have given a platform to anti-abortion talking points or left out crucial context about the anti-abortion movement. More recently, the Post has used its publications to lionize anti-abortion activists and uncritically amplifed a small anti-choice group’s bad-faith publicity stunt.
In the wake of the Politico report, the Post’s coverage included a considerable amount of anti-abortion rhetoric and treated abortion access as a “both sides” political issue rather than essential health care:
- A May 4 Post article featured anti-abortion activists celebrating the impending demise of Roe. The piece, titled “Antiabortion groups electrified but cautious after draft court ruling,” claimed that “activists worried about a last-minute upheaval to the court, prayed for its members’ protection and hoped the leak would solidify conservative justices’ positions rather than pressure them to back off.” It also copiously quoted notorious anti-choice group figures, including serial misinformers like Lila Rose and Abby Johnson in addition to leaders of national anti-choice organizations like National Right to Life and Students for Life of America. In addition to the article’s almost exclusive focus on anti-abortion groups, the piece buried polling that shows that the majority of Americans support upholding Roe roughly 21 paragraphs in.
- Another May 4 article juxtaposed pro-abortion and anti-abortion views in a piece titled “For women, despair and joy as overturning of Roe appears imminent.” Though the piece quoted many pro-abortion women who said they were horrified by this impending decision, it also featured anti-choice activists, including one who helped push anti-abortion ordinances in her city, and regular individuals who claimed to have “long prayed” for Roe’s downfall. Some of the photographs accompanying the piece displayed signs with classic anti-choice rhetoric “abortion kills children” and “pray to end abortion.”
- In a May 2 piece, titled “The next frontier for the antiabortion movement: A nationwide ban,” the Post uncritically adopted the anti-choice term “heartbeat” legislation that aims to justify six-week limits on abortions due to pseudoscientific claims that an embryo has a heartbeat at that gestational stage despite not having a developed heart. Additionally, it isn’t until the 17th paragraph that the Post conceded most Americans oppose overturning Roe.
- On May 3, the Post gave a platform to both pro-abortion and anti-abortion activists, including one responsible for stripping critical reproductive rights in her state. After previously giving her a splashy profile in the now defunct The Lily, the Post again gave a national audience to Missouri Republican state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, who declared the draft opinion was “beyond anything I dreamed possible.” The Post also seemed to give credence to the right-wing talking point that the leak of the opinion was much more significant than the possibility of Roe’s collapse, a narrative repeated for the Post by anti-choice activist and misinformer Kristan Hawkins.
As one of the most-circulated newspapers in the country, the Post has an obligation to its readers to produce accurate and responsible abortion reporting without caving to the anti-abortion misinformation campaign during this crucial moment.