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How media bias affects the public’s perception of abortion

Presently, mass media and communication have become the world’s most prominent tools for global outreach. Unlike traditional forms of media such as newspapers, radio, television, magazines and books, new media has become a weapon for political and personal narratives. New media is primarily created through digital applications using the internet and social media. With new media accessible to most of the world in seconds, millions can quickly receive, share and save information.

However, though new media provides convenience, numerous complications arise due to misinformation, unaccredited news, and, most baffling, cynical, biased news. In the age of technology, it has become much easier for individuals, corporations and organizations to manipulate, distort and withhold information.

One controversial political topic or dilemma is abortion, which has amplified gender inequality, human rights protests and women’s empowerment campaigns nationally. Abortion is a liberty right because liberty rights align with freedom, privacy and core values of bodily integrity, which the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution upholds. Secondly, no state can create or impose laws that deprive citizens of their human rights or affect the equal protection of any citizen unconstitutionally.

Uproar in Ohio over abortion

Currently, in Ohio, there is a political debate over abortion, reproductive rights and relevant laws. Ohio’s Laws and Administrative Rules, Section 2912.12 (A) states, “No person shall perform or induce an abortion without the informed consent of the pregnant woman.” Therefore, abortion is legal as long as the woman seeking the abortion gives verbal or written permission. In addition, with this law or regulation of abortion, Section 2912.12, an abortion procedure in Ohio can be performed from gestation until 22 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy.

On the other hand, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has expressed his desire for abortion to be banned; the state’s “heartbeat law“, enacted in April 2019, prohibits abortion if an infant’s heartbeat is detected and effectively criminalizes abortions. A heartbeat can be found six weeks before a woman knows she is pregnant. Ohio’s law contradicts the ruling in Roe v. Wade, which allows abortion up to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy in many states.

DeWine and Ohio Right to Life’s Mike Gonidakis believe a human being deserves the right to live upon conception, which is the general belief of conservative Republicans.

“Patients are not asking for minor clarifications on rules; they are demanding the repeal of this draconian abortion ban. The abortion safety net must be permanently restored, without restrictions, bans, or political interference,” said executive director of advocacy group Pro-Choice Ohio, Kellie Copeland.

Conservative, pro-life Republicans in GOP-led states are stripping women’s liberties and civil rights and their reasons for banning abortion is not concise; it’s vague and uses loose language.

“The language adopted by the Republican-dominated board refers to ‘unborn child’ instead of ‘fetus,’ the medical term used in the amendment itself. It also refers to prohibiting ‘the citizens of the State of Ohio from directly or indirectly burdening, penalizing or prohibiting abortion before an unborn child is determined to be viable unless the State demonstrates that it is using the least restrictive means.’ That language is different than what is in the amendment,” wrote journalist Jo Ingles for The Statehouse News Bureau.

Terminology such as “unborn child” creates a different connotation to pregnancy and life itself. “Unborn child” refers to the concept of an infant during any stage of a woman’s pregnancy. To express the phrase, without clearly defining, “unborn child,” misleads the public and codifies abortion purposefully to change the audience’s perspective through subtle language and political manipulation.

Aside from the language used by Republicans, pro-life lobbyist Mike Gonidakis states, “We think every woman should have access to a doctor no matter what. We believe if we continue these commonsense approaches at our city, county, and state level, the resources will be there to ensure every woman who finds themselves with an unintended pregnancy will have everything they need to have a healthy baby and raise their child or place their child for adoption.”

Although there are procedures set in place for women who have an unintended pregnancy, Gonidakis does not clarify anything about underage women impregnated through rape or incest. These are all justifiable reasons for a woman to seek an abortion, which makes a ban inhumane. For example, a 10 year-old girl from Ohio had to travel to Indiana for an abortion after being raped when she was only nine. She could not have the right to have an abortion in Ohio due to the state’s “heartbeat law”.

It should also be noted that Ohio’s Laws and Administrative Rules Section 1912.12 (b) states: “If a woman who is pregnant, unmarried, under eighteen years of age, and unemancipated desires notification as to a person’s intention to perform or induce an abortion on the woman to be given to a specified brother or sister of the woman who is twenty-one years of age or older or to a specified stepparent or grandparent of the woman instead of to one of her parents, her guardian, or her custodian, the person who intends to perform or induce the abortion shall notify the specified brother, sister, stepparent, or grandparent instead of the parent, guardian, or custodian for purposes of division.”

The requirements applicable to the law are that the individual requesting an abortion on behalf of the minor is an immediate relative, has given verbal or written consent for the abortion, has documentation of the person who will perform or induce the abortion and has the approval of the physician for the surgical procedure.

This incident in Ohio epitomizes how the new abortion laws impact the most vulnerable women nationwide. Consequently, these types of occurrences explicitly express that abortion laws exemplify no moral or ethical compass to any woman, regardless of age, education and reasoning for abortion. Lastly, a state law that doesn’t allow a 10 year-old rape victim to receive an abortion and a governor, Mike DeWine, who addresses the incident and not the law that denied her the ethical right to an abortion, shows personal beliefs have trumped sound public policy on the issue in some states.

Political & cultural divide

Another note on the abortion war in America is Republicans control the pro-life narrative, whereas Democrats dominate the pro-choice side. In addition, individuals, minor political factions and lobbyists will push their party’s narrative on social media by advocating a stance through propaganda, personal beliefs and emotional connection to their desired narrative.

Depending on whether a politician is pro-life or pro-choice will impact the media content, coverage and language they use when expressing their opinions and beliefs on the issue. In the pro-choice community, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, social media users began to post online about how to have an abortion not performed by medical professionals.

“I started seeing things on social media, things like TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, people saying ‘oh, if Roe v. Wade does get overturned, here are some secret, sneaky ways that you can drink some tea and have an abortion,’” said Dr. Joshua Trebach.

However, the most pivotal aspect or question regarding abortion is where life starts. Does life begin at conception or when a baby is born and aware of the natural world? Though the belief of where life starts varies, it is essential to understand how the media will portray a particular view about pro-choice or pro-life stances. In a critical sense, news media are framed in numerous ways for each party to persuade and control individuals’ beliefs and perspectives. Biased media can often lead individuals to need clarification, clarity and uneasiness about political topics and dilemmas.

How can the media improve its coverage?

The first approach to improving media coverage of abortion is to accept the complexity of the issue from moral, ethical and religious scopes. This approach does not simplify abortion, nor does it intensify particular debates regarding abortion.

Secondly, and most importantly, the media ought to circumvent language that degrades women and creates false stereotypes of abortion. Using positive or neutral language can help amplify the voices of individuals impacted the most by this ethical dilemma.

Lastly, media organizations can diversify journalists and reporters who cover abortion to ensure that different perspectives on the issue express the complexity and impede bias regarding abortion. However, ethically and morally, a woman’s temple gives her, by default, the right to choose.

Featured image: Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Edited by: James Sutton & Steven London

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