Over the last few months, as a record number of abortion restrictions took effect across the country, The Washington Post and its now-archived publication for millennial women, The Lily, gave anti-abortion advocates a national platform to tout their success restricting the procedure. Both the Post and the Lily published multiple pieces spotlighting anti-abortion politicians and activists, typically while overlooking the social harms caused by these conservative figures and sidelining the voices of pro-choice advocates and the millions of people losing access to health care.
Over the last year, conservative politicians have used state legislatures to coordinate the largest attack on abortion access in decades. The Guttmacher Institute identified 2021 as the “worst year for abortion rights in almost half a century” due to the rapid reemergence of statewide abortion restrictions. Republican state legislatures are following Texas’ lead, introducing bans inspired by its State Bill 8, the six-week limit on abortions. The landmark Supreme Court ruling that guarantees abortion protections until the 24-week mark, Roe v. Wade, is also under serious threat as the conservative majority on the court mulls whether to overturn Roe’s precedent in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
In the past, mainstream media have often dropped the ball when it came to covering abortion rights by underreporting anti-abortion laws and instead focusing on political theater, at times even broadcasting right-wing misinformation. Other outlets, like The 19th, Jezebel, and NBC News, have used their platforms to helpfully spotlight those impacted by the bans -- a framework the Post could learn from.
While abortion rights in the U.S. are continuously eroded, the Post’s and Lily’s coverage of abortion restrictions has glamorized the conservative figures behind that erosion. As the Lily is now archived and the Post has announced a new gender and identity page, it has a chance to do better reproductive justice coverage to right its wrongs of highlighting bad actors while neglecting its impact, which are laid out here:
- A glowing profile published by the Lily featured the Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who recently argued Dobbs v. Jackson in front of the Supreme Court, and dubbed her “the woman who could bring down Roe v. Wade.” The piece brought Fitch’s claim that “abortion bans empower women” to the forefront by including the line in the article’s subheadline, and it spread Fitch’s outrageous claim that “sweeping policy advances” since Roe was decided have made abortions antiquated.
- The Lily continued its tone-deaf glamorization of female anti-abortion fingures in a profile of the state lawmaker who introduced a Texas-style abortion ban in the Missouri legislature, titled, “The new face of the antiabortion movement is a young mom of 6 who listens to Lizzo.” Mary Elizabeth Coleman is described warmly in the piece as it highlights her affinity for cotton cardigans, cocktails, and “blast[ing] Lizzo and Beyoncé.” The article even included a line from Coleman who quipped that “legislators are constantly trying to ‘out pro-life each other’” with anti-choice legislation.
- Mark Lee Dickson -- a central figure in spreading sanctuary city ordinances outlawing abortion and in passing Texas’ anti-abortion law -- was lionized in a Washington Post profile for his work energizing the anti-choicie movement. The piece portrayed Dickson as an everyman, describing “his signature uniform: backward baseball cap, button-down shirt and Vans sneakers,” as well as a stuffed “heartbeat bear,” which he would use to play audio of ultrasounds to dissuade parents from having abortions.
- Ahead of the 2022 March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., the Post published a piece centered on anti-abortion activists, musing, “Is this the last march under Roe?” The article featured multiple conservative advocates, including the executive director of Ohio Right to Life, the executive director of North Dakota Right to Life, and the executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn. One of the advocates was quoted in the article praising “all the work the pro-life movement has been doing for years.”
- The Washington Post Magazine printed a Q&A with Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the notorious anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. Dannenfelser claimed that abortion is “a human rights question” and that the anti-choice movement has “no desire to control a woman's body.” The Post made light of Dannenfelser’s lifelong commitment to restricting abortions by asking, “Having spent nearly 30 years working on this issue as, at least legally, an underdog, what does it feel like now to be winning?”
- In response to conservative praise of Texas’ abortion ban, the Lily published a puff piece about the protestors who sit outside Planned Parenthoods to intimidate those seeking care. According to the Lily, these protestors see the Texas law as a “triumph that has stopped hundreds of abortions and shined a national spotlight on Texas’s antiabortion stance.” The article called attention to a “crisis pregnancy center” -- a facility with the facade of offering guidance to pregnant people which in fact pressures them to carry their pregnancies to term -- without disclosing the center’s deceptive nature.
By focusing its reporting on the individuals behind the anti-choice movement, the Post continues to minimize the deadly impact of abortion restrictions.