Roe Warriors: The Media's Pro-Abortion Bias

Updated and Revised

3. Reporters have shown little interest in the facts behind partial-birth abortion.

The debate over the partial-birth abortion procedure began in 1995, when the National Right to Life Committee began to publicize the procedure and the new Republican majorities in Congress first passed legislation to ban it. Reporters made no real effort to investigate how many partial-birth abortions occur in America each year. The numbers have ranged from "100 to 400" in a November 13, 1995 U.S. News & World Report article to "13,000" in an ABC World News Now segment by Dick Schaap.

In a Media Research Center study of network stories from November 1, 1995 through the end of 1996, the networks ran 97 stories (22 full stories and 75 anchor briefs) on the partial-birth debate, usually in relation to its rotation from congressional passage to presidential veto and back to Congress. Almost one-third of these network stories (28) contained disinformation, including the abortion advocates' claims that the procedure was "rare" and only done in medical emergencies.

The deceit started the morning before the first partial-birth abortion ban passed the House. Matt Lauer said on the November 1, 1995 Today it would ban one "rare abortion procedure." That night, Tom Brokaw claimed it would make the "little-used late term procedure" a felony. Lauer claimed the procedure was "rare" or "little-used" five times in thirteen stories between November 1 and December 8, 1995.

"In an article for the March 3 edition of American Medical News, Fitzsimmons says in the vast majority of cases, the partial-birth procedure is performed with a healthy fetus that is 20 or more weeks along. 'The abortion-rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it, and so, probably, does everyone else.'" - The New York Times, February 26, 1997.

textbox5_722Dan Rather first touched on the issue on November 1, 1995: "On Capitol Hill, abortion is re-emerging as a national election issue. The House voted overwhelmingly today to make a rarely used type of late-term abortion a felony." On CBS This Morning, reporter Sharyl Attkisson filed an entire report without explaining the procedure. When Bill Clinton vetoed the ban, Rather still described it as "rarely used, so-called partial-birth abortions."

On March 28, 1996 the day after House passage, CBS This Morning anchor Troy Roberts stated "about 500" were done annually, twice claiming it was "often chosen by mothers who discover serious birth defects in the fetus." On the September 26, 1996 CBS This Morning, Family Research Council leader Gary Bauer cited a Bergen Record report on how 1,500 such abortions were performed annually in New Jersey alone, host Jane Robelot retorted: "The statistics we hear from both sides of the issue is more like 600 a year, nationwide. Where are your statistics coming from?"

Dr. Martin Haskell told the American Medical News in 1993 that 80 percent of partial birth abortions he performed were "purely elective." But only Ed Bradley (on the June 2, 1996 60 Minutes) mentioned Haskell's comment, and only ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson (on the September 19, 1996 World News Tonight) pointed out "no one knows how many...are done each year...Nor does anyone know how many are done on healthy fetuses versus those with severe birth defects."

That led to network embarrassment on February 26, 1997, when The New York Times reported on Page A11 that Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, "recalled the night in November 1995 when he appeared on Nightline on ABC and 'lied through my teeth' when he said the procedure was used rarely and only on women whose lives were in danger or whose fetuses were damaged." (Those remarks in a taped interview were not aired on Nightline). The Times noted Fitzsimmons also estimated up to 5,000 partial-birth procedures a year are done, many when baby and mother are healthy. That night, NBC's Tom Brokaw still claimed: "What anti-abortionists call partial-birth abortions - that's a provocative and mostly inaccurate statement." On CBS, Dan Rather noted the "deceitful twist" and said in politics, "truth can be the first casualty." The same could be said for TV reports.