When Journalism Comes Up Short, Maternal Health Suffers

Written by FASPE Journalism Fellows: Ian KullgrenChristine Rushton and Dustin Volz

News outlets covering the highly-political issue of abortion rights struggled to hit the mark while reporting on the new legislation in Alabama this May. A piece by Alexandria Neason in the Columbia Journalism Review criticized the coverage as short-sighted and damaging to related coverage on maternal health. Both local and national journalists who report on maternal health spoke out on how the national outlets sensationalized the signing, making it seem as if the law crept from nowhere despite significant work by both proponents and opponents leading up to its passage. National coverage also caused confusion, with many outlets failing to explain that the law won't go into effect for another year. Women who misunderstand might not seek treatment they can still receive for that time.

“News publications can make it seem like a doomsday,” writer Clarissa Brooks said in the CJR piece. She added that it appeared the media didn't pick the story up until the final votes.

This spotlighting of abortion rights can leave reporting on other issues in women's and reproductive health in the shadows, as reported by journalists like Anne Claire Vollers. Writing for Alabama Media Group, Vollers is spending the next year covering the consequences of inadequate access to maternal health care in the state, an issue related to but not connected to the new abortion ban. When writing about politically charged news, journalists need to seek an understanding of not only the story of the moment, but also the larger implications that otherwise might go unreported. This is especially concerning when the topic involves critical issues today like maternal health.

Read the original article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

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