Media coverage of Texas’ restrictive anti-abortion legislation often presents a false equivalence between arguments from proponents of the legislation and women’s health advocates, despite medical experts agreement that such measures are dangerous to women.
The Supreme Court temporarily blocked implementation of two provisions of Texas’ extreme efforts to restrict abortion through a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law. The provisions in question required all clinics providing abortions “in the state to meet the standards for ‘ambulatory surgical centers,’ including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing,” The New York Times explained, and required doctors who performed the procedure “to have admitting privileges at nearby hospital[s].”
Media coverage of Texas’ anti-abortion laws often provides equal coverage to both sides of the debate, at the expense of fact-checking anti-abortion proponents who claim, against the advice of medical experts, that the legislation helps women, as Amanda Marcotte noted in a July 2 post for RH Reality Check. Pointing to a recent article from NPR on the Supreme Court’s move to temporarily block the state’s restrictions, Marcotte explained that although the piece’s efforts to quote both sides “is not, in itself, an issue,” a statement from a representative from Texas Right to Life, which claimed the law was simply meant to protect women’s health, went unquestioned. “What is frustrating is that there is not a whiff of an effort to provide actual real-world facts to give the audience context,” wrote Marcotte. She went on:
NPR framed the story like it was two parties making value claims, with no way to measure their statements against evidence. The problem here is that the debate is not about values. Both sides claim to have the same goal–protecting women’s health–and the fight is over who has a better strategy to get there.
Similarly, in their reporting on the Supreme Court’s block, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal each included statements from both sides of the debate arguing that they were protecting women’s health while failing to note that medical experts don’t support the legislation.
Health experts have roundly backed abortion access advocates in their assertion that laws of this nature are both medically unnecessary and dangerous to women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Health Association condemned such measures in a joint amicus brief, writing that the measure to be implemented in Texas “jeopardize[s] the health of women” and “denies them access” to safe abortions. Yet despite the health community’s denouncement of the provisions, the media often fails to interrogate anti-abortion proponents’ false claims on the law.