Stop reporting about abortion bills like this!

I get that it’s a big deal that states keep on passing laws basically outlawing abortion.  But mainstream news outlets simply need to stop reporting this stories as if the laws have actually outlawed abortion.  We have three branches of government and until the Supreme Court decides otherwise, courts basically have no choice but to throw these laws out.  They are not going to go into effect.  But, we keep getting reports like this, from NPR:

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill on Friday that criminalizes abortions in the state after eight weeks of pregnancy, the latest in a series of sweeping restrictions passed by Republican-controlled legislatures that now threaten nearly 50 years of federal protections for abortion.

Under the law, any person who performs an abortion after eight weeks — which is often before many women are aware they are pregnant — could be charged with a Class B felony punishable by five to 15 years in prison.

The final version of the legislation does not have exceptions for victims of rape or incest. It does have a carve-out for cases of medical emergencies…

Supporters of the Missouri legislation say it is distinctive from the Alabama law in one significant way: It was not written to topple Roe v. Wade. Rather, its backers say, it’s aimed at curbing abortions within the bounds of the law.

“We do not want to run through the courts and try to overturn Roe v. Wade like some of the legislators in other states, like Alabama. We just want to save as many lives as we can while withstanding judicial challenges,” Missouri Rep. Nick Schroer, a Republican sponsor of the bill, told NPR. “We want to get as close to the line as possible on what previous judges have thrown out.” [emphasis mine]

Other states, including Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi, have recently passed bills that forbid abortions when heartbeat activity is detected.

Let’s be clear– that’s balderdash.  And NPR should not be reporting it unquestioned.  The simple fact is that an 8 week ban is completely inconsistent with both Roe and Casey.  Until the Supreme Court clearly overturns those precedents, there will not be any 8-week abortion bans in effect.  And, yet, nowhere does the article make this simple fact clear.  Ugh.

Meanwhile, conservatives can go on believing that NPR is somehow just liberal propaganda.  In reality, this is a great example that the huge problems with political journalism are so not any sort of ideological bias, but an over-emphasis on “the game” and a “both sides” approach that often obscures the truth as much as it illuminates it.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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