In the weeks leading up to and following September 1, 2021—the day in which Texas’ six-week abortion ban (SB 8) took effect—NARAL Pro-Choice America’s partners at Global Strategy Group conducted a media analysis of related national and local news coverage of the ban.
The insights echo a trend of biased, inaccurate reporting we found in our analysis of news coverage in 2019. Harmful practices persist in reporting, including usage of the medically inaccurate term “heartbeat bill” without context, or the omission of the public’s overwhelming support for Roe v. Wade.
An analysis of 86 local and national news outlets from August 24 through September 8, 2021 in which the main topic was Texas’ SB 8 and found:
- Only 5 of 86 articles included the perspective of a pregnant or impacted person, accounting for under 6% of all articles analyzed. This reflects a similar omission of impacted voices in our original analysis, which found only 8% of articles quoted those directly harmed by attacks on reproductive freedom.
- 24—or slightly over 25%—of the 86 articles, used the medically inaccurate, inflammatory term “heartbeat bill.” Texas’ SB 8 includes the term “fetal heartbeat” in its title, which makes this term slightly more difficult to avoid. However, only 2 of the 24 articles that used “heartbeat bill” provided context about the term. Cardiac activity detected at this point is electric activity among cells that will eventually become the heart, but is not the same as a heartbeat that pumps blood.
- Of the 86 articles examined, 60 articles—or around 70%—mentioned Roe v. Wade. However, only five of the articles mentioned widespread public support for abortion access. Americans overwhelmingly support Roe (77% in NPR/PBS/Marist poll). The number of articles, though small, is an improvement from similar media analyses in South Carolina and Pennsylvania, when we found zero articles that mentioned widespread support of the landmark decision. However, this pales in comparison to our initial media analysis in 2019, where we found about 10% of articles mentioned widespread support in the United States.
- 32—or roughly 37%—of the 86 articles mentioned the upcoming Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. SB 8 is part of a national attack on abortion access and each bill must be contextualized in the fight to protect reproductive freedom. Since SB 8 passed the Texas state legislature, lawmakers in at least 11 states have indicated their intent to pursue similar legislation.
The insights uncovered in this media analysis are troubling and reflect continuing trends of inaccurate and biased language within news coverage on abortion. As reproductive freedom faces unprecedented attacks, it is more important now than ever to ensure reporting is accurate, inclusive, and actively dispels disinformation.