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Abortion in the News

News has unique power to shape public understanding of abortion and government’s role in restricting or protecting it. Decades of media effects research has shown that new drives public opinion and policymakers’ agendas on key issues, including who is responsible for causing and solving social problems.

Abortion has long been an abstraction in US news coverage. Prior research on coverage of abortion in U.S. newspapers found:

  • Abortion was usually only mentioned in news coverage rather than covered substantively.
  • Abortion was framed as a symbolic/political issue more than a health or policy issue. 
  • News rarely included pregnant people’s stories (4% of coverage) or basic facts on abortion (1-5% of coverage). 

ANSIRH’s current Abortion in the News Study aims to update prior research to explore how news coverage of abortion has changed since the 2022 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Heath.

What research questions will the Abortion in the News Study answer?

Evidence: How does evidence on abortion safety and the harms of abortion denial appear in news coverage? To what extent are basic facts about abortion and pregnancy, including medication abortion and self-managed abortion, included in coverage, if at all?
Policies: What types of abortion policies are covered? What arguments or assertions are made about these policies?
Perspectives: Whose perspectives are most often quoted in news coverage of abortion, e.g., health professionals, politicians, advocates, patients, others? How are pregnant peoples’ stories of decision-making or abortion-seeking portrayed?
Equity: To what extent are issues of equity, such as economic and geographic barriers to abortion, addressed? How are racial/ethnic disparities in birth outcomes and the impact of abortion criminalization addressed?

Study Design: Analyzing U.S. newspaper articles on abortion

Using online databases of news content, we collect articles from major U.S. newspapers that include the word “abortion” and conduct rigorous analyses to answer our research questions. Our current study examines abortion content from 5 newspapers (Associated Press, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post) printed between January 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023. We are conducting both Natural Language Processing analysis and in-depth Ethnographic Content analysis to understand how coverage changed after the Dobbs leak and decision.

  • Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF) analysis: a Natural Language Processing tool for text analysis; identifies frequent terms that are “distinguishing” in a corpus.
  • Ethnographic content analysis of 5% random sample, proportional by source and month. Team of 4 codes for story depth (substantive vs. mention), personal stories, type of speakers quoted, and basic facts included.

Implications: How does news media portray abortion?

  • Our findings suggest that abortion is highly newsworthy Post-Dobbs, and usually covered as a serious policy issue. While research on harms of abortion restrictions is sometimes included in simplified forms, basic pregnancy and abortion facts are still relatively rare.
  • Pregnant people’s stories are still uncommon in news coverage, and highlight atypical cases. This suggests that efforts to support and elevate abortion storytellers are critical. Journalists should be encouraged to diversify the abortion stories they include.
  • News could be doing more to help the public understand abortion as a safe, common, vital form of reproductive health care. 

Additional Resources