Two comprehensive studies recently commissioned by The U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops demonstrate both media bias on the abortion issue and the continuing strength of the pro-life constituency south of the border.

One of the studies’ findings shows that the pro-life movement is “unfairly disadvantaged in the court of public opinion,” says Helen Alvare, director of planning and information for the NCCB;s secretariat for pro-life activities.

“Taken together, current media coverage often tends to give the impressi9on that the pro-life position is extreme and politically dangerous for the politicians who hold it,” she says. “It also contributes to the notion that pro-life supporters are mostly conservative extremists on the edge of violence. Such portrayals bear no relation to the diverse pro-life movement in America.”

Alvare says the first of the two studies, conducted by the Media Research Centre, looked at three national newspapers, three national news magazines and television news and issue programs on ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC to examine: the way media label politicians in connection with their positions on abortion; coverage of crisis pregnancy centres; and reporting of violent incidents by both abortion and anti-abortion advocates.

“Our study verified a pattern according those who advocate legal abortion decidedly more favourable labels than pro-life politicians,” she says.

The study also found a paucity of stories covering crisis pregnancy work—only 16 over four years.

“When these centres were covered, they were covered negatively,” says Alvare. Allegations were made that thousands of ‘bogus’ crisis pregnancy centres were being run by the pro-life movement, but these claims were never substantiated.”

She says the study also found a massive imbalance between coverage of violence committed by pro-life and abortion advocates; incidents in which abortionists killed or seriously disfigured women prompted only 53 newspaper stories, while incidents of anti-abortion violence drew 1,154 newspaper stories and 500 network television stories.

“Shootings of abortionists and clinic employees by self-described pro-life activists received extensive, indeed overwhelming, coverage. So it is hard to explain why violence committed by abortion advocates received almost no attention.”

Alvare says the second study by the Tarrance Group polling firm surveyed 1,000 Americans’ opinions on abortion. The survey, said to be accurate within three percentage points, found that only 13 per cent of Americans believe abortion should be legal at any time during a woman’s pregnancy and that 71 per cent favour a law prohibiting partial-birth abortion, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.

“Over half (52 per cent) of the electorate take up generally accepted pro-life positions which range from a desire to prohibit abortion in all cases to allowing abortion only to save the life of the mother to allowing abortion in cases of rape incest or to save the mother.” Said the Tarrance Group.

“In contrast, the generally accepted pro-choice….constitute 43 per cent of the electorate’s positions on the issue.”

Alvare says the results show that Americans who support making abortion illegal in most circumstances actually a constitute a majority, although a slim one.

“Americans who support the actual abortion agendas of Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League and the National Organization for Women, and the politicians they support, constitute a mere 13 per cent of the population.”

At a press conference after the studies were released, Alvare urged the media to exercise greater fairness toward the pro-life point of view. “I am here to call to your attention some trends that journalists themselves may not have noticed and to ask for more careful coverage in the future,” she said.