If a news outlet gets you to click, their social media is doing its job.
It’s easy enough to scroll past a Tweet that gives you all the information you need to know in 140 characters: “Pope announces retirement;” “Bill ‘X’ passes in the Senate;” “Argo wins Best Picture.” Unless you are truly invested in knowing more about any of these occurrences, you’ve got all the knowledge you need to be reasonably up-to-date on current events.
It’s the Tweets that read, “Singer said WHAT makes teenagers slutty?!” that make your sheep-like reflexes go, “Ooh, Hollywood drama! Did my favorite actor/actress say that? Do I need to Tweet a response they will never read, but will make me feel like I’ve made a difference?!” You only feel cheated once you click and read that it’s some B-list actress from a late 80′s TV show, and even that doesn’t stop you from clicking the next time you scroll through your newsfeed and read, “Major storm will affect these portions of the U.S.” Will it close school/make my commute to work hell? CLICK.
So when I read a Tweet from the Associated Press stating, “Philadelphia abortion doctor goes on trial in deaths of woman, 7 babies at ‘house of horrors,’” of course I click. Not only am I invested in this issue central to feminism, I just have to know what the description “house of horrors” means.
After reading, I really wish I didn’t.
The news story read as any other crime report might: Man accused of specific acts, pleads guilty/not guilty, could face sentence of jail time/monetary fine/death. The “house of horror” descriptions, while I read of my own volition, I kind of wish I had skipped.
While I’m sure this will spark a fiery debate on the morality of abortion and a woman’s right to control her own reproductive system, I’m not going to focus on that aspect of the news story… much.
Despite my squeamish reaction to this story, I spent some time after my initial reading looking for other news outlets’ coverage of the same events. Similar tidbits from the, let’s say, detailed police report were standard, as were the dates for the legal proceedings. As I read, I became more and more frustrated. And not just based on my personal beliefs on abortion.
What astounded and infuriated me instead was the lingering question left untouched in every story: Why were these women seeking illegal late-term abortions?
It isn’t as if journalists aren’t expected to conduct background research and investigate the stories they’re reporting. In almost any article, context has to be provided in some form. Should a story break that a gas leak in a business resulted in the deaths of several employees, the immediate question that comes to mind is, “What caused the gas leak?” If a mayor suddenly resigns from office, a newspaper doesn’t just print a one-sentence story. Why did they resign? What does that mean for the city? Who will take their place, and how will that process work?
The same goes for less hard-hitting pieces: Should someone organize a marathon to support a charity, why did they choose that charity? Why wasn’t a celebrity offered the same role in a movie’s sequel? What was the challenge that decided the winner of The Apprentice?
As if I were a reporter covering this story, I began my investigation. Pennsylvania has 17 state-recognized abortion providers, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Only 13 of these clinics can provide surgical abortions; the others can only use the abortion pill. More than 90 percent of abortions in Pennsylvania are in the first-trimester. A new law has restricted anesthesia use in some abortions. Around this time last year, the Pennsylvania pushed to pass a bill that would mandate trans-vaginal, or invasive, ultrasounds before abortion, a controversial portion of the bill which eventually was removed before passing.
After a positive pregnancy test, a patient must wait 24 hours before an abortion procedure, according to Planned Parenthood. Girls under 18 need parental consent. Before undergoing an abortion, the woman must receive a lecture on “outdated and exaggerated information … as an attempt to convince women not to go forward with the procedure. There is no other medical procedure in existence which includes similar protocol.” Girls under 18 need a parent to be with them during the lecture.
Accumulating these facts took all of 10 minutes. Why such prominent news outlets as the AP and CNN did not include them is baffling.
What was included in these stories was the amount women seeking these abortions paid for the illegal procedure: $325 for first-trimester abortions, and $1,600 to $3,000 for abortions up to 30 weeks, according to The Huffington Post.
But wait – according to my background research, 90 percent of Pennsylvania abortions occur in the first trimester. These abortions are legal. In the Huffington Post story, the most detailed in terms of this background information, the reader is told abortions after 24 weeks are illegal. The illegal abortions performed “catered to poor, immigrant and minority women in the city’s impoverished West Philadelphia section.”
“What needs to be done is regulators, whether on the local or state or federal level, need to properly regulate, inspect and do their jobs,” government spokesman Harley said. “The safety of our citizens should be first and foremost.”
But wait — If many of these women were immigrants, were they technically “citizens?” Can illegal immigrants receive abortions at clinics? We’re told how some of these women died due to unsafe medical practices, but if first-trimester abortions are legal, why not go to a clinic with licensed professionals? Was it cheaper illegally? How much does an abortion cost? These impoverished women more than likely didn’t have healthcare, but if they did, would their abortion have been covered? Many of the women killed were over 18, so they wouldn’t have to tell a parent, so no one would have to find out if they had an abortion, so why not go where a procedure is safe?
These questions have to do with women’s rights and access to their health. But personal and political beliefs aside, there is something everyone should be able to agree on: Why isn’t the media presenting their audiences with a comprehensive picture of events and issues in order to create a more informed society and impact political and social change? Wouldn’t having more information impact government officials and active citizens to rethink their reasoning behind restrictive abortion laws?
For Arkansas senators attempting to create legislation that would outlaw abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy: Doesn’t it matter that women are willing to risk their lives to have abortions regardless of the law?
For South Dakota senators passing a law that mandates a 72-hour waiting period between a positive pregnancy test and an abortion at the one and only non-emergency abortion provider in the state: Doesn’t it matter that women who survive illegal and unsafe abortions can suffer medical repercussions for the rest of their lives that could be avoided if abortion was safe and legal for those who choose to terminate a pregnancy?
For New York doctors who warn that legislation to allow abortion after 24 weeks should not be passed: Doesn’t it matter that absolutely no scientific evidence has altered the fact that women have found ways to have unsafe illegal abortions for longer than the United States has been a country? That there is evidence that women have had abortions since 1,500 years B.C.? That’s 1,500 years before the coming of the religious savior that enforces the pro-life doctrine.
As this story is so new, I can only hope journalists will follow up the breaking information with in-depth analysis of the important context and what impact trying this illegal abortion practitioner could have on the national, if not worldwide, abortion debate. Because if our free press isn’t providing the facts to make sure we are informed to a level that influences rational decision making, who is?
Written by Lauren Slavin