Photo Imagery in Abortion Coverage

By September 24, 2021No Comments

Recently, we have seen a drastic increase in media coverage about abortion and reproductive freedom following Texas’s unprecedented ban on abortion and the impending U.S. Supreme Court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which directly challenges Roe v. Wade

Bias and disinformation about reproductive freedom can be present not only in the text, but the accompanying images in articles. These images vary from near-fully developed fetuses with human features to pregnant individuals that inaccurately describe the content of the article. Some photos have extreme, inflammatory connotations, such as imagery depicting ropes and knives situated near the stomach. These images are misleading and further perpetuate an inaccurate idea of what an abortion entails.

NARAL Pro-Choice America and its partners at GSG have conducted a media analysis to examine the types of images reporters and editors use when covering reproductive freedom. An analysis of 142 articles from regional and national news outlets published from mid-May through early September, 2021 found that:

  • Only 4% of articles (6) featured images depicting impacted people, including people seeking abortion care or people who have had an abortion.
  • 15% of articles (22) used images of medical facilities, equipment, or personnel
  • 5% of articles (7) used images of visibly pregnant people or babies

Often, media use images in coverage that fails to center those most impacted, and use images that present reproductive freedom as a divisive issue—despite the fact that 8 in 10 Americans support the legal right to abortion.




Center impacted communities

Abortion coverage often neglects to include the voices or images of those who are most impacted by anti-choice legislation: people seeking abortion care or people who have had an abortion. Including images of the people most acutely impacted by policies and legislation centers their critical perspective and depicts the wide range of people who will be harmed by abortion restrictions. When doing so, it may be important to withhold or conceal certain identifying information in order to protect them from potential attacks, especially as states enact laws empowering and encouraging bounty hunters, such as Texas’ SB 8. 


Avoid raising the profile of politicians who spread disinformation

Articles covering anti-choice legislation may feature images depicting the elected officials or legislature responsible for the restrictions. These images fail to center those who are most affected by these restrictions on abortion access and shine a spotlight on legislators who are spreading disinformation that endangers public health and safety. We suggest avoiding the usage of images of anti-choice elected officials in favor of images centering those most affected by restrictions on reproductive freedom. 


Avoid misleading images of pregnant people

When reporting on bills restricting abortion care early in pregnancy, it is medically inaccurate and highly misleading to use imagery of visibly pregnant people as many of these bills restrict access to abortion care before a person even knows they are pregnant, and before there are any visible signs of pregnancy. We discourage the use of imagery depicting pregnant people or infants when discussing early-stage pregnancy restrictions. 


You can find more resources on how to accurately and inclusively cover abortion and attacks on abortion access at NARAL’s Tell the Whole Story initiative website.