CyberAlert -- 01/19/1998 -- ABC's Multi-Media Pro-Abortion Drive

ABC's Multi-Media Pro-Abortion Drive: Net Plus Web

1) ABC's World News Tonight devoted half of Friday's show to abortion 25 years after Roe v. Wade -- as seen by pro-choice activists.

2) For its Web site look at abortion ABC made even less effort at balance with a series of reports on the issue highlighting abortion advocates' hope for easier abortions and a Republican woman battling to keep partial birth abortions legal.

With the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaching this week, on Friday ABC's World News Tonight devoted about half the newscast to abortion. But ABC News producers are either extremely biased or just plain incompetent as the package of stories matched liberal "pro-choice" concerns to the exclusion of conservative "pro-life" assessments.

First, ABC highlighted how Friday was the one year anniversary of the Atlanta abortion bombing.

Second, anchor Peter Jennings used that as the context to attribute the fall in the abortion rate to fear of anti-abortion violence, not a realization of life as technology improves.

Third, ABC's first full report highlighted, as a pernicious trend, the inability to get an abortion in places like Idaho because so few doctors are willing to perform them.

Fourth, Jennings turned to Cokie Roberts to explain how partial-birth abortion has created turmoil within the Republican Party, but cut her off as soon as she mentioned how it's also a problem for Democrats.

Fifth, a story on a Catholic group that helps Catholic women who have had an abortion reconcile with their faith and find acceptance in the church.

We'll start at the beginning with Jennings' introduction to the January 16 "A Closer Look" series of stories.

-- Peter Jennings: "We're going to take a closer look at abortion tonight. It makes some people cringe, it makes some fighting mad. And ever since the Supreme Court guaranteed women a

constitutional right to abortion twenty five years ago in the Roe versus Wade case, it has been as divisive as any social issue the country has ever had cause to debate.

"And in recent years the places where a woman might go to have an abortion have often been under siege. [over video of Atlanta bombing] It's a year ago today that two bombs went off at an abortion clinic in Atlanta. Today, security at all of Atlanta's abortion clinics is very tight. There has been intimidation, some of it violent, at clinics all over the country and the effect has been apparent. When the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, the number of abortions went up, until in 1988 more than a million and a half woman had legal abortions. But with all this pressure on the clinics [video of bodies being covered by blankets and put onto stretchers], five people have been killed and others wounded during these campaigns to close the clinics down, it has made a difference."

Jennings continued, leading into the first field report: "While it is still the law and woman do have a constitutional right to have an abortion, still in some places it is almost as difficult to get an abortion today as it was before Roe versus Wade. Here's ABC's Cynthia McFadden."

Cynthia McFadden didn't even try to be balanced as other than one soundbite her whole story tilted toward portraying the lack of abortion access as a very ominous development:

McFadden began: "Ketchum, Idaho, is a small town with most of the amenities of a big city -- from the best wine to the best medical care. But there is one thing you cannot get in Ketchum: an abortion."

Julie Caldwell: "You can have anything you want, except the simple abortion procedure is not available here to the public."

McFadden: "Julie Caldwell runs the local abortion rights group, and while few people in Ketchum want to discuss abortion at all, she says if you need an abortion you must travel eight hours to Salt Lake City, or three hours to Boise."

McFadden: "Doctor Ed Boas performs abortions in Boise. At 59, he's younger than most providers. Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. providers are 65 years old or older."

Ed Boas: "Lately, we've seen a turn-off of physicians coming into this field."

McFadden: "Which is part of the reason why there are fewer places to get an abortion today in Idaho than there were 15 years ago. Then there were 25; today there are four."

Boas: "I've been picketed at home, I've been threatened over the phone, my family's been threatened some."

McFadden: "Doctor Boas' first clinic was fire-bombed three times. He moved out of his next clinic because his landlord no longer wanted an abortion provider as a tenant. He asked us to not give out his newest address. What's happening in Idaho is happening all across the country. Forty-five states have fewer providers today than they did 10 years ago. In fact, fewer doctors are being trained to perform them. Of all the ob-gyn training programs in the country, only 12 percent offer the training routinely. In part that's because doctors are trained in hospitals and only seven percent of abortions are now performed there. State restrictions are making it more difficult to get an abortion. Last year alone, 31 states enacted laws to limit access to abortions in some way. Currently: 12 states have a mandatory waiting period, 29 states require parental notification or consent and 33 states prohibit using Medicaid funds for abortions. Idaho is one of 30 states with two or more of these restrictions. If state Senator Sam Hawkins gets his way, there will be even more."

Sam Hawkins: "If we did the right thing in Idaho, what we would do is we would focus on adoption services and counseling and other things and we'd make it very difficult for one abortionist to make a living in Idaho."

McFadden: "Mary McColl, director of Planned Parenthood in Boise."

Mary McColl: "We are already way below the national average with regard to access, with four docs in a state of 1.2 million people, that's roughly what one doc per 300,000 citizens."

McFadden: "While the abortion rate is actually declining, it is still estimated that as many as 43 percent of American women will have had an abortion before age 45. The latest trends suggest that in the future women who want an abortion may have to travel further, pay more, and wait longer to get one -- quite different from what was predicted when Roe v. Wade became law 25 years ago."

-- Jennings then noted the change in public opinion in response to the same poll question: "Do you support a woman's right to have an abortion, whatever the reason." The favorable response is now 50 percent, up from 40 percent in 1981, but down from the high of 64 percent in 1994.

-- Back after an ad break, without suggesting it my contradict his earlier thesis that pro-life violence has driven down the abortion rate, Jennings noted that new technology may be making people in general more wary of abortion. By way of illustration he showed video from a traditional sonogram of a fetus at 16 weeks. Then, as viewers saw video of the same fetus via a new 3-D view, Jennings reassuringly insisted:

"This, by the way, is at a time when very, very few women ever, ever have an abortion. But it is partly because of such technology that people are having such an intense debate about late term abortion, which is after six months..."

-- Jennings turned to Cokie Roberts brought in by satellite from Washington: "The Republican Party has tied itself in knots over this question of late term abortion. What's happening?"

Roberts explained that a Republican Party meeting would soon vote on a proposal to deny funds to Republican candidates opposed to banning partial birth abortions, noting that pro-life Congressman Henry Hyde flew to the meeting because he opposes the "litmus test." She continued: "But it's already a problem for the party. There was a primary election in California this week where the candidate who opposed partial birth abortion won over the establishment candidate of the Republican Party. So this is a tough one and Democrats are thrilled the Republicans are fighting because it's even a tougher one for them."

At that point, just as Roberts broached the Democratic Party's disunity and very unpopular stand on the issue by party leaders, Jennings jumped in: "Okay, Cokie, you've covered all the ground I wanted to, thank you very much."

(No less an authority than the liberal Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal realizes what ABC refused to elaborate for its viewers. On Saturday's Capital Gang on CNN Hunt asserted: "Ithink as long as partial birth is an issue, it's going to hurt Democrats a lot more than it's going to hurt Republicans.")

-- Another ad break followed and the show ended with a piece from religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer. In itself her story brought to light an interesting group within the Catholic Church which reflected positively on the church, but within the context of the show her piece fit the pro-choice side's view of the world: even if you have an abortion it's okay because you can be welcomed back.

Specifically, Wehmeyer focused on Catholic women who had an abortion and think God "will never forgive" them, but "through an unusual program called Project Rachel, the very church that condemns abortion as sin is now reaching out to provide comfort and healing..."

Bottom line: Ten minutes of airtime and not one story reflecting how a pro-lifer sees abortion 25 years after Roe v. Wade. Instead of or in addition to the story on the inability to get an abortion, ABC could have examined how that's encouraging women to look for alternatives, thus meaning babies that would have been aborted are now adopted. Instead of or in addition to the look at Republican disunity, ABC could have highlighted how liberal support for partial birth abortions is considered extreme by most Americans. Instead of or in addition to showcasing women who through faith have come to reconcile their decision, ABC could have profiled some women who after finding God realized that having an abortion was morally wrong and/or regretted their choice.But that would require an interest in balance and fairness.

Actually, ABC's Friday night on-air look at abortion delivered a less biased take than does the Web site.

It may have moved by the time you read this, but over the weekend it was highlighted on the main page (

And this was the direct address for the Roe v. Wade package:

Here's what you'll find: -- The main page features a historical overview of abortion. Though it includes quotes from the National Right to Life Committee, I think you'll find it's hardly balanced with a timeline highlighting anti-abortion violence. The two pictures: protestors on both sides and a photo of Norma McCorvey, aka "Jane Roe."

This page highlights links to five other "Related Stories." They are, in list order: a) '"Better' Abortions Ahead." The subhead on this page: "Doctors Must Catch Up With Technology." To give you a flavor of the story, these are the two "bridge" or highlighted statements in big lettering next to the text:"My hope is that we will see (RU-486) on the market soon, but my greater hope is that physicians and the public will better understand what options are out there." -- Dr. David Grimes.

The latest surgical abortion procedure can be performed within two weeks of conception and is simpler, faster and has less potential for injury.

b) "The Pro-Choice Web Site." Subhead: "Abortion Clinics Gain Internet Foothold." The big quote featured a comment from the subject of the story: "Here is a very direct way for us to tell the world exactly what we do. We're not going away." -- Ann Rose, founder of Abortion Clinics Online.

c) "Fewer Places for Abortions," a report from Cynthia McFadden slightly different than how her story appeared on World News Tonight.

d) "Ban Evokes Bitter Words." Subhead: "The Abortion Debate's Unusual Warriors." With a few counter-comments from GOP Congressman Charles Canady at the end, the story promotes the views of Maureen Britell, a Republican woman opposed to outlawing partial birth abortions. The Web story opened:

"As a teenager, Maureen Mary Britell picketed outside of abortion clinics. Now the 30-year-old mother of two marches on Capitol Hill, registering her opposition to a controversial bill that would ban so-called partial-birth abortions.

"The reason: Britell says the procedure-medically known as intact dilation and evacuation or 'IDX'-once saved her life.

"'I am the Republicans' worst nightmare, because I'm one of them,' she said. 'I am a Republican. I am Irish and I am Catholic.' And now she's also an abortion-rights advocate, urging

Congress not to pass the partial birth abortion ban..."

e) "Abortion and the Law," a story which includes comment from the National Right to Life Committee, but which features only one wav audio clip: Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation.

This presentation of a controversial issue demonstrates why, if the Web is to serve as an alternative source of information, alternative sources must be able to freely disseminate their views. Otherwise, we'll just get more of the same old network and newspaper bias.

-- Brent Baker

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