How Not To Report on Reproductive Choice Issues

Reproductive choice is an emotionally and politically charged issue. Most people hold strong opinions on topics like abortion, either pro-choice or anti-choice. When the media breaks a reproductive choice story that has the potential to cause moral panic, they have three choices. They can wait, dig deeper, find out the full story, and report on the facts. They can quickly release a story with just enough information to make people angry and sad, but not enough detail to form an informed opinion on the topic. Or they can opt not to report on the story at all. The latter is unlikely and perhaps undesirable for a lot of reasons, so that leaves us with the first two options.

This week, news media around the world opted for the second choice. In Melbourne, Australia, doctors were scheduled to perform a selective reduction procedure in order to terminate a twin fetus with a congenital heart defect. The heart defect was expected to require years of complex and difficult operations, if the baby survived at all. On the advice of their doctors, the parents decided to terminate the fetus with the heart defect 32 weeks into the pregnancy. Unfortunately, something went very wrong during the operation and the healthy fetus was terminated by mistake. After the mistake was realized, the fetus with the heart defect was terminated as well. An investigation into the situation is planned.

The problem with most of the articles on this issue, is that they used emotionally charged language to describe the scenario, but didn’t provide readers with enough information to truly understand what happened. The CBC article quoted State Premier Ted Baillieu saying: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for anybody to draw any conclusions other than this is a horrible tragedy.” But that hasn’t stopped people from drawing conclusions. On twitter, when the story broke, numerous people commented that this type of story, or this type of reporting, is what makes them question their commitment to a pro-choice stance. Was that the intent of the media? Were they trying to make a statement about reproductive choice and rally people around a particular political view or were they simply looking for as many page views as possible, as fast as possible?

Baillieu is right. So little is known at this point. Either the information isn’t available or it simply wasn’t included in the articles that were released.

  • Why was this procedure taking place so late in the pregnancy? Was the heart defect not detected earlier? Was this, medically, the best time to do it? Had the parents not made up their mind until this point in time?
  • What type of heart defect is it? What are the chances of survival?
  • Did the doctors provide the parents with truly objective information on the risks of the procedure and on the prospects for the fetus with the heart defects? Or did they provide the information they thought would lead to the parents making the decision they wanted them to make?
  • Would the healthcare system cover the cost of any operations the baby needed or would the parents need to find the money to cover these operations, possibly at the cost of losing their home and not being able to provide for their other child?
  • Was the other fetus or the mother at any risk from carrying both fetuses to term?
  • Was there a hospital near where the parents lived that would have been able to treat the child with the heart defect or would the parents have faced the prospect of having to split up the family so that, for example, one parent could be in one city at the hospital with the sick child while the other stayed hundreds of miles away at home with the healthy child?
  • What procedure was used to terminate the second fetus once the mistake was discovered? The articles reported in detail about what happened to the healthy twin, but some simply reported that the “woman underwent an emergency caesarean section to terminate the unhealthy fetus” making it like a c-section is actually a method of termination and leaving people wondering if a live baby was actually delivered.

All of these questions and more should be answered before forming an opinion on the reproductive choice issues surrounding this story. The real story here is the fact that the Melbourne hospital made a horrible error, but their error has made this story about so much more than it was ever intended to be about.

We read a news article, full of shocking language describing a tragic event, and we sit in judgment. We judge the doctors who gave this advice. We judge the parents who made that decision. We judge the legal system that allows parents to make choices like this. We judge, without truly understanding.

Why didn’t the reporters ask for more information? Or if they hospital wasn’t willing or able to provide more information at this point in time, why didn’t they at least mention the many unanswered questions?

Related stories

Canadian Doctor Speaks Out About Anti-Choice Violence

Fetus to “Testify” in Ohio Abortion Bill Hearing

Nun Excommunicated Over Giving Life-Saving Abortion Given Honors

Photo credit: nikitab on flickr

109 comments

Henry Schrieber
Hank Schrieber7 years ago

If a comment has no real research to back it up, then it is only opinion, and can be very missleading.

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David Anderson
David Anderson7 years ago

Annie Urban deserves much appreciation. Although quality of journalism is the primary thrust, it is very rare to find the topic of abortion approached with an exposition of the events which happened as opposed to a political position sprinkled with selected facts to add a little flavor. Although I have my views on the issue, I respect those who can address the fact of the matter without gratuitous insult and descriptions, particularly of the opposition, which are engineered to encourage a negative response. Generally, if the issue has substance, the facts will speak for themselves without adding spin--an ailment from which those on both sides of the aisle frequently suffer. The news should be factual and informative, not inflammatory. Unfortunately, this is a rare quality in contemporary reporting.

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Kirsten Taufer
Kirsten Taufer7 years ago

Can I make the obvious point that none of this information is the business of anyone but the parents and the doctor? The whole premise of Role v. Wade is respect for the "right to privacy", and that is central to all reproductive choice. I would rather ask the media why it's ok to violate the medical privacy of this couple and report this story in the first place.

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Nicole P.
Nicole Sedkowski7 years ago

So many valid points! Is there a pettion letter thing for this? So we can all urge the involved media parties to act these very relevant suggestions?

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Danuta Watola
Danuta W7 years ago

Thank you for this article.

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Shannon R.
Shannon R7 years ago

I wish there was a way to send a condolence letter to the family. I can't even *begin* to imagine what they are going through.

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Shannon R.
Shannon R7 years ago

I wish there was a way to send a condolence letter to the family. I can't even *begin* to imagine what they are going through.

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Tatjana Chodura
Tatjana C7 years ago

I think we have to learn a little more modesty again. Some things are just up to God and not any of us. But still, such a decision is just the parent's business and noone has the right to judge them.

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Fred H.
Fred H7 years ago

I hate carelessly researched, emotionally charged news reports...like the ones I so often find at Care2.

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Aimee Polekoff
Aimee Polekoff7 years ago

I think all news stories should be carefully researched and written to help people understand. You know, give them news? But instead, articles are all too often written without all the facts and sometimes are very misleading. It's very unfortunate.

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