Pope Francis, tricky abortion language and Associated Press style

There are few issues that your GetReligionistas deal with on a regular basis that are more emotional than the language used in news coverage about abortion. It's the whole pro-life equals anti-abortion and pro-choice equals pro-abortion (or pro-abortion rights) debate.

Some people claim that all of this is strictly a matter of political speech and they see no religious content in the debate at all.

Right. Forget centuries of tradition, the history of American debates on abortion and, well, that whole Psalm 139 thing.

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mothers womb. … Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.

So people paid attention when Pope Francis visited that highly symbolic cemetery in South Korea the other day. The Associated Press noted, in advance:

While martyrs, missionaries and peace on the Korean peninsula are the main themes of Francis' trip, he'll have a few occasions to issue other messages. During his Aug. 15 Mass, Francis is expected to console survivors of South Korea's April ferry sinking, which left more than 300 people, most of them students, dead or missing. A day later, he is to pray at a garden for aborted fetuses and meet with a pro-life activist. ...

Wait, that was a "garden" and it was in memory of "aborted fetuses"?

The National Catholic Register, of course, saw that differently and noted the actual name of this "garden," and some of its more symbolic features. Clearly there was content in this quiet visit by the media-friendly pope:

During the solemn visit ... the Holy Father and his entourage stopped for a moment and prayed in silence in front of hundreds of small white crosses representing victims of abortion. ...
The moment of prayer today came after the Pope visited Kkottongnae ("Village of Flowers"), a Catholic center about 60 miles south of Seoul which seeks to provide care and rehabilitation to the severely disabled, homeless and those afflicted by addictions. The Pope's visit to the memorial was especially appropriate given the stigma of disability in Korea and that genetic deformities are often used to justify abortions.
The "Cemetery for Aborted Children" is located behind the home and includes a statue of the Holy Family surrounded by a cross representing the unborn.
Some news agencies insisted on referring to it as a garden memorial for "aborted foetuses" rather than children or babies, despite the official name for the symbolic cemetery.

You can see the same issue come up once again at the top of this Agent France-Presse report, which ran in many media outlets, especially online:

KKOTTONGNAE, South Korea -- Pope Francis prayed at a garden memorial for aborted fetuses on Saturday ... as he toured a South Korean hilltop community for the sick and disabled that has been tainted by unproven allegations of financial misdealings.
The decision to include Kkottongnae ("Village of Flowers") in the papal tour had been criticized by some rights groups who believe the sprawling facility, about 90 kilometers south of Seoul, seeks to isolate and "ghettoize" the severely disabled. But its supporters see it as a shining model of the Catholic Church's concern for the marginalized and downtrodden in a country where disability still carries a stigma.

So what is the style argument here? Were any journalistic sins committed?

I can make several journalistic observations, but there is no way to settle this oh so typical dispute in a way that makes people on both sides happy. Period.

Would it have been wrong for AP or APF to alter the actual name of the site visited by the pope? Of course it would have been wrong. But note that these organizations did not alter the actual name -- they simply ignored it.

Was it strange to omit the name of the site? I would say "yes."

Was it, perhaps, a sign of media bias to ignore the actual name and to substitute a paraphrased description instead? To be frank, I think it is easy to see things that way. At least, in the AFP report, the site was called a "garden memorial."

So, a style "error"? No. Another sign that some, not all, mainstream journalists struggle when it comes time to cover stories connected to this life-and-death issue? Yes.

If you saw other interesting mainstream coverage of this gesture by the pope, please share the links in our comments pages.

Thumbnail photo found at The Eponymous Flower.

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