NPR takes sides on abortion terms

Earlier this week, we discussed whether there are any neutral abortion terms to describe people on both sides of the debate.

After NPR's Ombudsman Alicia Shepard wrote a blog post objecting to the broadcasting organization's "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice" use, top editors decided to change its policy to reflect most news organizations' policy.

This updated policy is aimed at ensuring the words we speak and write are as clear, consistent and neutral as possible. This is important given that written text is such an integral part of our work.

On the air, we should use "abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)" and "abortion rights opponent(s)" or derivations thereof (for example: "advocates of abortion rights"). It is acceptable to use the phrase "anti-abortion", but do not use the term "pro-abortion rights".

I wish Shepard had weighed in on why the organization opposes using "pro-abortion rights." Anyone want to weigh in here?

I don't know how NPR assumes "advocates of abortion rights" is neutral, since it assumes a Roe v. Wade approach. NPR could argue that since it's the law of the land, framing it as rights is the best description, but it's not neutral. In the comments section of my earlier post, some readers like Shaun complained that "abortion rights advocate" starts with the assumption that we're debating over whether abortion is a right (instead of the other side, which would say we're debating over whether a fetus should be considered a life).

I think the term "supporter of legal abortion" is one that neither side is likely to object to as an attempt at neutral language to describe those who describe themselves as pro-choice.

Unlike terms like "abortion supporter" and "pro-abortion," it frames their position as in support of a law, rather than in support of a procedure.

And unlike "abortion rights supporter," it avoids the contentious "rights" language.

I like the idea of focusing the descriptions on the law instead of choosing whether we're debating over a right or a life. Religion reporter Julia Duin also weighed in the earlier post, suggesting it's not really so neutral.

I wish Alicia Shepard had called across town to us at the Washington Times. She would have then found a news organization that uses 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice.' Or did she not want to know? It is not fair to give one side an ideological label (ie pro-choice) and the other side an issues label (anti-abortion) yet that's what some media organizations do. If these folks are so bent on attaching "rights" to the word 'abortion,' then why not say "fetal-rights' in terms of describing the other side?

Another religion reporting pro Ann Rodgers says she's gone back and forth in the past, but suggests the larger problem revolves around better reporting.

Although I understand the arguments of language nuance by both sides, I don't think that most readers are affected by modifiers such as "anti-" or "rights." What I'd like to see is much better reporting on this issue. Too many stories are currently couched in euphemisms and stereotypes. If the reporting is solid, it won't matter what the labels are.

I suggested that choosing certain terms might hurt a publication's credibility if its even perceived as being biased, even if it isn't. But solid reporting is more crucial than picking the best descriptors. Like other media outlets, NPR has ramped up its coverage because of the health care debates, but who knows if that will continue. Sometimes fairness is better indicated by the amount of coverage the issue receives.

Please respect our Commenting Policy