Photo: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times (Getty Images)
Abortion providers have a rather simple request for members of the media: “Stop giving air-time to anti-abortion activists.” In a letter published Monday exclusively on Jezebel, 600 doctors, nurses, social workers, nonprofit organizations and abortion support staffers demanded media get wise to how damaging “both sides” coverage actually is.
“We are asking for a commitment from the community of media outlets reporting on abortion to keep in mind the true danger that you present when interviewing anti-abortion extremists,” reads the letter, which was facilitated by organized by Physicians for Reproductive Health (PRH). “You are giving the opportunity for dangerous lies to spread. You are, by way of asking them questions, legitimizing their answers. You are allowing hateful, dangerous harassers to build a base that encourages protesting at clinics, stalking and harming clinic staff and abortion providers, and online and in-person abuse of people who have abortions and those who support them in getting that care.”
Dr. Christina Bourne, a family medicine physician and abortion provider in Oklahoma and Kansas, said normalizing abortion care is, to her, an integral part of her job. “Being a public facing abortion provider is important to me. What we face on a day-to-day basis is truly terrorism,” Bourne told Jezebel by phone. “How we can counter this terrorism is very aggressive normalization of abortion.”
However, when Bourne’s work to provide quality medical care is given equal weight as anti-abortion activists or politicians—who often know next to nothing about how pregnancy and abortion actually work—that’s when she has a problem. “I think it’s important to tell a full story,” she said. “But what we know about abortion is it’s one of the safest things we do in healthcare. It’s one of the safest medical procedures we do. All evidence points to its safety. Yet day to day we experience terrorism. We experience terrorism at the hands of anti-choice protesters. Centering these people who propagate fear, propagate lies, propagate racist theories is…lending credibility to off-the-wall narratives.”
This is something I’ve noticed in my own reporting and reading on the subject. A recent Washington Post feature about an anti-abortion activist planning to open a massive anti-abortion pregnancy “care” center in South Texas quoted one forced-birth activist as saying, “I’ve seen a lot of 13-year-olds do phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal” as mothers. “It doesn’t have to be a negative thing.” The reporters did not push back against the belief that a 13-year-old child could even consent to the sex required to get pregnant, nor did they ask follow-up questions to the activist’s subsequent statements that the 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio should not have been allowed to get an abortion. The doctor who provided necessary abortion care to that child, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, is a signatory to this letter.
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Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an abortion provider in Texas and Oklahoma, PHR board member and founder of Pegasus Health Justice Center, has started largely turning down media requests if their interview will be included alongside anti-abortion voices. “My job is not engage or debate, quite literally, white supremacists,” Moayedi told Jezebel by phone. “These are not just people with a difference of opinion. These are people that are connected to violent hate groups, and they are a political arm of violent hate groups.”
This massive show of solidarity comes on the heels of latest increase in violence against abortion clinics. In 2021, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) reported that clinics experienced a 600 percent increase of in-person stalking events and 450 percent increase in physical blockades of the facilities, compared to 2020.
Online danger has skyrocketed as well. In 2021, clinics reported more than 25,000 incidents of hate email and online harassment. Bernard, the 10-year-old rape victim’s provider, was targeted by right-wing media as well as supposedly objective media like the Post after she publicly confirmed her patient’s story.
The signatories demand that media treat abortion providers like the abortion experts and field experts they are. “If you believe in the evidence-based reasoning of medical care, if you believe in keeping communities safe…then we ask that you interview and center the real experts of this area of medicine,” the letter concludes.
The full text of the letter is below, and the full list of signatories can be found on here.
Dear reporters, journalists, editorial teams, and producers,
We are writing today with a big request: stop giving air-time to anti-abortion activists. As providers of abortion care, people who have had abortions and will have abortions, abortion advocates, and individuals who work with the media regularly, we could not be more concerned for the safety and well-being of our communities, in part because of the misinformation, disinformation, and inflammatory threats shared and encouraged by anti-abortion activists in the media.
We know your reporting standards are to cover “both sides” of any debate. Allow us to be clear: Medicine and science are not up for debate. Health care is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact. And the fact is, abortion is not in the realm of theory or belief. Abortion belongs in health care, social services, and public health reporting.
With this in mind, we are asking for a commitment from the community of media outlets reporting on abortion to keep in mind the true danger that you present when interviewing anti-abortion extremists. You are giving the opportunity for dangerous lies to spread. You are, by way of asking them questions, legitimizing their answers. You are allowing hateful, dangerous harassers to build a base that encourages protesting at clinics, stalking and harming clinic staff and abortion providers, and online and in-person abuse of people who have abortions and those who support them in getting that care.
We are concerned for our safety when we and our colleagues are quoted alongside the leaders of anti-abortion extremist groups. And given the makeup of their supporter base, the makeup of the Supreme Court, and the makeup of our state legislators, we believe we have legitimate reason for concern.
If you believe in the evidence-based reasoning of medical care, if you believe in keeping communities safe, and if you believe in centering the needs of experts of an issue, in this case people who have and provide abortions, then we ask that you interview and center the real experts of this area of medicine.
The way we talk about abortion matters. We are offering up our time and expertise to editorial boards, producers, researchers, and reporters for closed-room discussions on how to better your editorial and coverage strategies in service of communities.