|Last month, The Interim reported that a news story with a strong bias against pro-life had led the Los Angeles Times to examine the way it covers abortion. In late June, another American newspaper announced that it would set new guidelines for stories about partial-birth abortion.
Reacting to concerns raised by Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, Boston Globe chief editor Martin Baron, national editor Kenneth Cooper and Washington bureau chief Peter Canellos accepted the suggestions of ombudsman Christine Chinlund, who expressed concern for the way the paper covered the issue in a March 14 story following Johnson’s complaint.
The new guidelines call for the use of the phrase “partial-birth abortion” to explain the procedure. Guidelines also ask reporters to admit that partial-birth abortion is used in cases where it is not medically necessary and make note of the exemption in the bill for the life of the mother.
Pro-abortion advocates are upset with the changes. Majorie Signer, spokeswoman for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, responded to the new guidelines by calling them “surprising” and “unfortunate.” The term “partial-birth abortion” is accepted by pro-life advocates, but is strongly opposed by abortion supporters. Signer said the changes will only “confuse” the public over the issue of PBA.
Earlier this year, Johnson took to task five news organizations including the San Francisco Chronicle, Gannett News Service, the Miami Herald and The Guardian, a British daily, for the misinformation they reported during congressional debates over partial-birth abortion. At issue is whether partial-birth abortions are performed for medical reasons or as an elective choice. Johnson opposed the Globe’s characterization of PBA as an unnamed “late-term abortion” usually committed in cases of “fetal abnormalities” or “medical conditions threatening a woman.”
Chinlund agreed with Johnson on how the procedure should be labelled. In an e-mail to Johnson in early June, she said, “I do believe the Globe should use the phrase “partial-birth abortion” because that is how the legislation is known.” She added that no reference will be made to so-called medically necessary abortions. Under the new guidelines, she wrote, “the Globe would not say or imply that the procedure known as partial-birth abortion is used only when medically necessary – thus recognizing that it is also used by healthy women who carry a healthy fetus.”The guidelines are not official requirements, but Baron said most editors will follow them nonetheless. Johnson praised the decision to correct the paper’s errors.