Abortion Rights Campaign to media: Stick to these bullet points, or else

The most extraordinary thing about this story is not that the Abortion Rights Campaign has produced a booklet telling journalists how they must talk about stories about abortion; it’s that they apparently feel that there’s a problem for their side in the media that requires correction. Is there?

The decision to produce a whole booklet called “How to Report on Abortion: A guide for Journalists and Citizen Communicators in Ireland” would suggest that there is, indeed, a problem from the pro-choice perspective. But reading the booklet itself, it’s hard to understand what that problem might be. Most of these instructions are dutifully followed, to the letter, by the Irish media.

For example, the booklet states:

“When speaking about abortion advocates, try using abortion rights advocates, safe abortion advocates or pro-choice advocates rather than the term pro-abortion. This important distinction moves the focus from abortion itself to allowing pregnant people to make choices. Similarly, when speaking about activists on the opposite side of the issue, avoid using pro-life or pro-family, and opt for anti-choice, or anti-abortion for those who believe abortion should be illegal. This ensures that one side does not “own” allegiance to life or families.”

What media outlet in Ireland doesn’t do this already? And that’s not even the funniest thing. The funniest thing is the first line.

“When speaking about abortion advocates”

Imagine if the Irish Times started calling them “abortion advocates” in the morning. There would be howls of outrage – because they don’t advocate abortion, they would say, they advocate choice. Except that when talking about themselves, they use the phrase “abortion advocates”. A freudian slip, if ever there was one.

Most of the booklet, though, is simply an appeal to embrace the pro-choice view of the world. Another example:

“Choose stories carefully. Personal stories and testimonies are powerful and help to connect the audience with the issue. When choosing a story to highlight, make sure that the story is helping to outline the reality of the situation and is not contributing to the stigma which surrounds abortion. To accomplish this, frame abortion as a legitimate choice and credit pregnant people’s decision-making as rational and based on what they believe is best for their own lives”

In other words, “make sure you are only ever portraying abortion as a positive choice, and in a positive light”. This is extraordinary stuff. Cigarette companies should issue similar guidelines: “When choosing a story about smoking, make sure that the story is helping to outline the reality of the situation and is not contributing to the stigma that surrounds smoking”. The media would be receptive, would they not?

Look at these language “dos and don’ts” that they have included, and ask yourself a question: How many of these instructions have the Irish media not fully embraced already?

The problem here is not that the ARC has issued a booklet telling everyone how they would like to talk about abortion. It’s a free country. There is no law preventing them from seeking to boss journalists around. And if they can get away with it, why shouldn’t they do it? No, the problem is entirely different.

The problem is that the media has entirely embraced this framing of the issue already. All that this booklet really accomplishes is to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the language the supposedly impartial media uses when it covers abortion is, almost exclusively, the preferred language of the, ahem, abortion advocates.

And, as a general rule, if your reporting on a controversial issue is aligned completely and totally with how one side of the argument on that controversial issue wants you to talk about it, that’s a good sign that your reporting might not be objective. On abortion, the Irish media is literally using the Abortion Rights Campaign’s playbook.

Speaking of the Abortion Rights Campaign, here’s something else that’s interesting:

That would be the exact same logo and branding as that used in the Irish referendum a year ago. That cannot be a coincidence. Do we, by any chance, have a bunch of Irish abortion activists selling their services to those who wish to change the law in Malta as well?

They’d never be so mercenary, would they?

Let’s hope they’re at least getting paid well.

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