'Abortion Rights Advocates' Worry Abortion Ruling 'Seems to Put the Debate Back Years'

Matching the spin delivered Wednesday night, CBS and NBC on Thursday night again framed the Supreme Court's decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Act through the prism of those on the losing side -- painting it as a loss of “abortion rights,” the imposition of “restrictions,” instead of as an expansion of protections for the unborn, all while distancing themselves from the “partial-birth” term.

Wyatt Andrews framed his CBS Evening News story around the upset of those in favor of partial-birth abortions, starting his piece: “To abortion rights supporters, the Supreme Court ruling was a legal and medical disaster for women.” Andrews also warned: “Both sides in the abortion debate agree that yesterday's ruling will unleash new state restrictions on abortion.” NBC's Dawn Fratangelo cited state bills to regulate abortion, calling it action which “pro-abortion rights groups worry chips away at the right to choose.” Fratangelo zeroed in on how “abortion rights advocates are worried about” the language in the decision that “seems to put the debate back years. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy describes the surgical procedure in detail and suggests some women may not be aware of what happens to the fetus, writing: 'The knowledge it conveys will be to encourage some women to carry the infant to full term.' This led Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to write for the minority: 'This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution.' Lesley Rotenberg, a clinic director, finds it paternalistic...”

My April 19 NewsBusters item, “Nets Separate from 'Partial-Birth' Term, Frame Story Around Loss of 'Abortion Rights,'” detailed the Wednesday night coverage on ABC, CBS and NBC of the SCOTUS ruling.

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for the April 19 CBS and NBC stories. ABC's World News did not air a follow-up story.

CBS Evening News:
Katie Couric: "The battle over abortion is heating up again tonight after the Supreme Court ruling upholding the ban on a procedure opponents call 'partial-birth abortion.' Here's Wyatt Andrews."

Wyatt Andrews: "To abortion rights supporters, the Supreme Court ruling was a legal and medical disaster for women. Their argument is, if women cannot have the so-called 'partial-birth abortion,' where the fetus is removed mostly intact, the result will be thousands more abortions requiring the dismemberment of the fetus inside the womb."

Nancy Northrup, Center for Reproductive Rights: "So the doctor is going to either be doing things that are less safe or is going to be having additional steps that could pose more risk to their patient."

Andrews: "Both sides in the abortion debate agree that yesterday's ruling will unleash new state restrictions on abortion. In the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy virtually invited the states to have women seeking abortions learn more about the way in which the fetus will be killed. Anti-abortion rights groups, which believe more graphic information will discourage abortion, hailed that part of the ruling."

Jay Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice: "Telling the states they have a legitimate interest in making sure these women also know what they're engaging in and what's at stake is going to have just huge ramifications."

Andrews: "The court's decision also showed the importance of Justice Samuel Alito in abortion cases. Alito, who replaced Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, was for the partial-birth ban. O'Connor voted seven years ago to strike the ban down."

Andrew Cohen, CBS News legal analyst: "This ruling makes clear that Justice Alito is more conservative and more in favor of stronger restrictions on abortions than was his predecessor, Sandra Day O'Connor."

Andrews: "Then there's the big question: Will this decision impact the basic right to an abortion established in Roe versus Wade? The answer is 'not yet' because yesterday's swing vote, Justice Kennedy, has been a supporter of Roe. Wyatt Andrews, CBS News, at the Supreme Court."

NBC Nightly News:
Brian Williams: "We're back now with NBC News 'In Depth' tonight: What could be the domino effect from yesterday's landmark Supreme Court ruling on abortion. By a 5-4 vote the justices upheld a ban on a method that opponents have branded 'partial-birth abortion.' And tonight, on both sides of this abortion debate, there is agreement it could well be a game changer on a state-by-state basis. Here is NBC's Dawn Fratangelo."

Dawn Fratangelo: "The high court ruling is already creating waves, upsetting women's groups, emboldening those who oppose abortion who've been successful in getting some states to restrict it. The most recent, just Wednesday in Missouri, lawmakers approved more restrictions on clinics."

State Rep. Cynthia Davis (R-MO): "I feel much more confident because we have a lot of good logic on our side. The other side doesn't have the facts and the intelligent reasons why we should be killing our offspring."

Fratangelo: "In Mississippi a new bill calls for outlawing abortion if Roe versus Wade is overturned. And in South Carolina, a bill is pending that doctors must inform women they can see an ultrasound before an abortion -- all action, pro-abortion rights groups worry, chips away at the right to choose."

Kelli Conlin, National Abortion Rights Action League: "There is no doubt that Roe will not withstand another anti-choice President. People have to take this issue into context when they vote in 2008."

Fratangelo: "Staff at this clinic in New York, along with other abortion rights advocates, are worried about something else in this decision, the language that seems to put the debate back years. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy describes the surgical procedure in detail and suggests some women may not be aware of what happens to the fetus, writing: 'The knowledge it conveys will be to encourage some women to carry the infant to full term.' This led Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to write for the minority: 'This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution.' Lesley Rotenberg, a clinic director, finds it paternalistic."

Lesley Rotenberg, abortion clinic director: "It really is saying that, you know, some group of men know best, and they'll, don't worry, dear, we'll make the decision for you.' And I'm very concerned about that."

Fratangelo: "Renewed debate about the Supreme Court and one of the most divisive issues in the country. Dawn Fratangelo, NBC News, New York."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center