Media Two-Faced on Brain-Dead Pregnant Mothers

‘Fetus’ vs. ‘Baby’ again.

An unborn baby’s value depends on whether he or she is wanted, according to recent media reports on two cases of brain-dead pregnant women. 

Doctors delivered 32-week-old Angel in April after keeping his brain-dead mother, 22-year-old Karla Perez, on life support for 54 days. Last November, 33-year-old Marlise Muñoz became brain-dead while 14 weeks pregnant and was taken off life support at the urging of her family while still pregnant – at 23 weeks. Pro-abortion media like Cosmo, that had supported Muñoz, celebrated Perez. AP and NBC reflected whether the baby was wanted or not in language – referring to Perez’s unborn child as a “baby” and Muñoz’s as a “fetus.” 

On May 4, Cosmo’s Tess Koman recognized Karla Perez, the “22-Year-Old Mom Kept Alive for 54 Days to Save Her Baby's Life.” 

“Her family and doctors decided to keep her on life support,” Komen explained, “until they could safely deliver Angel.” 

But that story contrasted sharply with stories by the same magazine on Muñoz.

Rebecca Rose’s piece, “‘Marlise's Law’ Would Give Pregnant Women More Rights in Texas,” stressed Muñoz’s decision – her choice. 

“[T]he hospital she was taken to kept her alive, against her wishes and her family's pleas, in order to keep her fetus (which was not able to survive on its own) alive,” she wrote. 

“It took two months of legal wrangling,” she added, before Muñoz was “allowed to die.”

“Hospital Keeps Pregnant Woman Alive Against Family's Wishes” read Emma Barker’s headline for Cosmo, while Laura Beck’s announced, “Judge Orders End to Life Support for Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman.”

The two stories collided as Beck cited Barker’s logic.

“The issues with that, as Emma Barker pointed out earlier, are threefold,” reiterated Beck. “1. at 14 weeks, Munoz's fetus can not survive on its own; 2. it's still within the legal time limit for abortion; and 3. because Munoz stopped breathing for up to an hour before her husband found her, could have severe mental deficits.” 

In another Cosmo story entitled “Hospital Removes Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman From Life Support,” Beck announced that Muñoz was “finally” off her ventilator. 

Other outlets that covered both stories showed a media-common discrepancy (the media frequently use “fetus” to denote death) in language: “baby” versus “fetus.”

When NBC’s Hasani Gittens reported on pregnant Muñoz, he only used the word “fetus” in his story “Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman Taken Off of Life Support.” 

When NBC’s Alexander Smith reported, “Brain-Dead Nebraska Mom Karla Perez Kept Alive to Deliver Baby,” he used the word “baby.” 

AP reports published by The Washington Post followed suit. 

In a report on Perez, “Doctors keep mom’s body functioning so baby could survive,” AP used “baby” four times and “fetus” one time. 

For Muñoz, the AP told a different story.

In “Texas woman disconnected from life support,” AP used “fetus” twice while in “Texas hospital considers life-support ruling,” the outlet used “fetus” three times. “Texas judge orders hospital to remove life support for pregnant brain-dead woman” incorporated “fetus” once. 

The word “baby” didn’t appear at all.

— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.