Facts are our friends (amen)

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Gaurdian reporter Chris McGreal has written a subtle and finely nuanced piece headlined "Religious right launches fresh assault on US abortion rights." OK, maybe it's not so subtle. Here is how it begins:

Catholic bishops and Protestant evangelists in the US have unleashed an intense lobbying campaign to force fresh limitations on access to abortion into healthcare legislation under debate in the Senate this week.

You know the reporter is going to have a great command of the facts when he confuses evangelicals with evangelists. Or maybe he's trying to come up with an equivalent for Protestant leaders and landed on "evangelist." Anyway, while the proposed increase of federal involvement in the insurance marketplace does require reporters to deftly explain how it and the ban on taxpayer funding of abortion will play out, check out how McGreal butchers the explanation here:

Pro-choice groups have described the attack on proposed health reforms mounted by the religious right -- which last month pressured the House of Representatives to effectively block women from using medical insurance to pay for abortions -- as one of the most serious threats to abortion rights in recent years.

What does "religious right" even mean in this context? Any religious adherent who opposes abortion? But if you're the Washington correspondent for a newspaper and you don't even understand anything about the legislation being discussed, you should pick another beat. Here the Associated Press explains the significance of the Stupak Amendment, that bars taxpayer funding of abortions:

The measure would prohibit the proposed new government-run insurance plan from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life, and bars any health plan receiving federal subsidies in a new insurance marketplace from offering abortion coverage. If women wanted to purchase abortion coverage through such plans, they'd have to buy it separately, as a so-called rider on their policy.

So, contrary to what the Guardian says, women would not be blocked from using insurance to pay for abortions. However, pro-choice groups are right when they say it's a serious threat. There's a way to convey that without inventing facts.

Anyway, the rest of the story is a train wreck, too. It portrays all religious leaders as a single group that (a) opposes President Barack Obama and (b) believe he is part of a "culture of death." It's in quotes, so I guess that all religious leaders said it in unison one day (as opposed to it being a reference from the late Pope John Paul II). I think the reporter may just have trouble composing sentences, though:

Ten days ago more than 150 bishops and other religious leaders issued a declaration denouncing Obama's position on abortion and threatening civil disobedience against new laws affecting that and other social issues, such as gay marriage.

It's technically permissible to write it this way but it makes it sound like there were 150 bishops and an untold number of other religious leaders. In fact, the original signatures numbered around 150 total -- it was up to over 220,000 last time I checked.

The reporter also says that everyone thought that abortion had lost its political potency with the election of Obama . . . until the amendment passed the House last month. Of course, if this were, as he writes, "widely regarded" as true, it wouldn't explain (for instance) the huge March for Life last January following his election. Or the May Gallup showing more Americans identify as pro-life as opposed to pro-choice -- for the first time since the question was asked. Instead the reporter quotes a Naral employee referring to "America's pro-choice majority" without mentioning any other perspectives.

Hopefully readers of the Guardian are able to get some more fact-based stories from other outlets.

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