Papers Soft-Pedal, Bury Details of Partial-Birth; NYTimes Says Term is 'Provocative'

As a followup to NB editor Brent Baker's examination of network coverage of the Supreme Court ruling upholding the ban on partial-birth abortions, I thought I'd take a look at how four major newspapers, USA Today, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times reported the story in today's papers.

All four papers included descriptions of the gruesome abortion procedure, although none described the suctioning of the unborn child's brain from the skull as the manner of ending the fetus's life, and the NY Times failed to mention the brain suction at all. While all four papers also put "partial-birth abortion" in quotes or chalked the label up to pro-life rhetoric, the NY Times's

Linda* Greenhouse piled on, calling the label "provocative" and describing the ruling as a shift from a focus on the "rights" of women to the "fate of fetuses."

Among the four papers, Greenhouse gave readers this earliest description of the outlawed abortion method, noting in the fourth paragraph of her article: "The banned procedure, known medically as 'intact dilation and extraction,' involves removing the fetus in an intact condition rather than dismembering it in the uterus."

"Intact condition" almost sounds "better" than "dismembering" until you remember that it's an unborn child that is killed either way. Of course Greenhouse, like her colleagues at other newspapers, avoids the point that abortion does end the life of the fetus killed.

In fact, Greenhouse found time to take a swipe at pro-life groups a few paragraphs later, saying that the term "partial-birth abortion" is a "provocative label" that pro-lifers invented to shift "the public focus of the abortion debate from the rights of women to the fate of fetuses."

Fate of fetuses? These are unborn human beings, not puppies at the local pound. A Court reporter could at least note this is a conflict between a woman's right under Roe to choose an abortion versus the right of the state to safeguard human life.

Like Greenhouse's description of the banned abortion procedure, USA Today's Joan Biskupic detailed the procedure early enough in her story to appear on the paper's front page.

Unlike Greenhouse, Biskupic mentioned that an abortionist "suctions out the fetus' brain to collapse the head and allow delivery." Even so, the reporter failed to explicitly describe the brain suctioning as the cause of fetal death in the procedure.

The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times similarly explain the D&X procedure but bury the description deep in their articles, paragraph 20 out of the 31-paragraph Post story and paragraph 19 out of the 20-paragraph LA Times write-up.

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*corrected from an earlier version that attributed the story to Janet Greenhouse. Maybe I'll just blame this Greenhouse effect on global warming.
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.