Abortion may be framed in the media according to the beliefs of individual journalists, editors, and outlets, but journalists also use industry guides in deciding everything from the angle of their story to their words. On abortion, these resources are not objective at all.
The 2020-2022 Associated Press stylebook, which advises on language use in the profession, tells journalists, “Use the modifiers anti-abortion or abortion-rights; don’t use pro-life, pro-choice or pro-abortion unless they are in quotes or proper names.”
The Poynter Institute, which provides resources and training to journalists, published an article by Doris Truong the day the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade telling journalists that “pregnant people is more inclusive language than pregnant women.” The article continued, “If reporting on an individual, ask the source what gender identity to use. The gender might not be relevant to your story. If it is, respect how your source self-identifies.”
Truong cited an NPR article by Kelly McBride that said, “Not everyone who is pregnant identifies as a woman. … For NPR, the term ‘pregnant people’ is used to be more accurate and inclusive.”
Beyond the individual words used in covering abortion, Poynter published articles telling journalists from what perspective they should cover Politico’s publication of a leaked draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade. One Poynter article, also by Kelly McBride, acknowledged the leak left “lingering ethics questions” about Politico’s failure to sufficiently assure skeptical readers of the leaked draft opinion’s authenticity.
“Editors at Politico would help dubious readers if they explained why they are so confident the document is real and how they made the decision to publish it,” the article said. “When confronted with an unprecedented leak like this, news consumers are understandably skeptical in this era of mis- and disinformation.”
Authenticity and credibility were Poynter’s cited ethical concerns, not the publication of a draft opinion obtained through an unprecedented leak that risked justices’ lives and family members and led to an assassination attempt.
“Should the document’s authenticity come into question,” the article said, “Politico’s failure to be more transparent will damage its credibility.”
The article did not present the leak itself as unethical, much less suggest that journalists do so. “As long as the document holds up as authentic … Politico seems to be on solid ethical ground,” the article said.
Another Poynter article, by Tom Jones, told journalists that the opinion, not the leak, was the “dominant story.”
“There’s no question that the most significant part of this story is the potential ramifications this could have on abortion,” the article says. “Let me repeat that part: What this means for abortion in this country remains the dominant story here.”