Wanted: Critical distance in the mainstream press on overseas abortion stories

About six weeks ago, the story broke of the Nigerian army finding and freeing about 677 women and girls who’d been enslaved by Boko Haram in the Sambisa Forest in the northeastern part of the country. About 214 of them were pregnant. However, none of them were the girls from Chibok who had been kidnapped a year ago.

Last Thursday, a coalition of liberal religious groups seized the moment to demand that the Obama administration fund abortions for these women. A press conference at St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Park from the White House featured groups ranging from Catholics for Choice to Muslims for Progressive Values and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

I will start with how the New York Times framed it:

WASHINGTON -- A starkly worded ad began appearing this week at bus stops near the White House. Next to a silhouette of President Obama’s back reads the words: “Don’t walk away from women and girls raped in conflict. Act now.”
A coalition of religious and human rights leaders on Thursday followed up the advertisement with demands that Mr. Obama support the financing of abortions for women raped during violent conflicts overseas by members of terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram.
The leaders of several Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups accused the president of talk rather than action in addressing the grim fate of women and girls by refusing to direct the United States government to help pay for abortions in cases of rape in foreign countries.
“President Obama has spoken compassionately about women and girls raped in war and conflict, but has failed to act on that compassion,” the coalition said.
Federal law prohibits the United States government from using foreign assistance funds for the “performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” The law, known as the Helms Amendment -- originally sponsored by Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina -- has banned the use of federal funds for overseas abortions since 1973.
But the religious groups said Thursday that the Helms Amendment mentions only abortions used as a method of family planning and should not be viewed as restricting the use of federal funds to make abortions available in cases of rape or incest. They called on Mr. Obama to issue an executive order making government funds available for that purpose.

Cosmopolitan magazine gives some ink to a Kenyan woman at the presser.

Jaqueline Mutere described her own experience after she was raped in 2007 during post-election violence in Kenya. "I was raped mid-January, and by the following month, I discovered I was pregnant. I tried three times unsuccessfully to have an abortion," Mutere said.
After safely delivering in a hospital and recovering, she later founded Grace Agenda, a Nairobi-based organization that helps victims access post-rape care. She said many of the women she now helps suffer from infections and other health-related issues that would not be the case if they had had access to safe abortion following their trauma.
"By access I mean that there be a choice — they are able to access the information, they are able to access the service," Mutere said.

There are so many assumptions in these stories, it’s hard to know where to start.

Since when has it fallen to the United States to be responsible for funding such abortions? Why not the world's top abortive countries such as Russia? Or China? And if Congress allowed abortion funding for Nigeria, where would it stop?

The Kenyan apparently wasn’t raped by Islamists but by some other party. There are enslaved populations worldwide where this is happening. There are women in prisons and refugee camps being raped, too. The list doesn’t end. 

Even if the Obama administration acquiesced to this particular demand re the Boko Haram rapes, wouldn’t there be questions as to why one Democratic administration (Clinton) would not fund abortions for white Bosnian women in the 1990s while the Obama administration is all too glad to help abort black babies in Africa in 2015?

You can understand why the current administration doesn’t want to go there. And Africans haven’t been overwhelmingly accepting of the Obama administration’s pro-gay policies so why would they accept money for abortions, which many of them abhor for reasons both cultural and religious?

These are questions reporters should be asking rather than simply repeating quotes from a staged event. This is a familiar GetReligion question: Where are the other voices? Neither the Times nor the Cosmo pieces quoted anyone who disagreed.

The team at Religion News Service at least quoted Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League.

“I would urge these particular religious leaders who are calling for overseas abortions to be paid for by the American taxpayers to donate their own money,” said Scheidler, who further urged them “not to look to abortion as an answer to the problem of rape.”
“That child doesn’t lose their human identity just because of who their father is,” he said.

But then it quoted Ani Zonneveld, founder of the Los Angeles-based Muslims for Progressive Values, with this paraphrase:

First, there is the twisting of Islam to justify rape, she said. Then there is the anti-choice theology espoused by the amendment and still embraced by the U.S. government in withholding foreign aid for abortion from even the most brutalized rape victims.

Anti-choice? The only place that loaded adjective belongs is in a quote.

Whoever was editing this piece was asleep at the switch. And since when has the Helms Amendment become theology? One shakes one's head. One even has to look to World magazine to get some reactions from actual Nigerians.

Nigerian church leaders are speaking out in opposition. Rt. Rev James Olusola Odedeji, the bishop of the Lagos West diocese in Nigeria, condemned the suggestion of abortions for the victims, noting the Anglican Church opposes abortion in all cases.

One can’t blame this coalition for wanting to make a point and using every means it has to drive it home. But the media-media professionals who show up need to be more than simply stenographers at the event. They need to be professional journalists.

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