Women are virtually absent from newspaper coverage of abortion

News coverage of reproductive health matters because the news can help set policy agendas and shape public debate on important issues. While abortion is common and state-level restrictions on abortion access continue to be passed, little is known about how the news is covering this topic. New ANSIRH research analyzed stories from leading newspaper sources to better understand how news outlets discuss abortion.

This analysis examined 783 news and opinion pieces on abortion published in the Associated Press, New York Times, and Washington Post in 2013 and 2016. They found that abortion is covered as a political issue much more than as a health issue, commonly discussing abortion in the context of candidates’ positions or statements.

The personal experiences of people who get abortions are rarely represented, included in only 4% of the sample. Language that personifies the fetus, such as quoting anti-abortion activists discussing “pre-born children,” appears much more often than women’s abortion stories. Basic facts on how common and safe abortion is are virtually absent.

This study suggests that news does not support public understanding of abortion as a routine, safe part of reproductive health care. This framing may undermine public support for policies that protect abortion access.