The two GOP presidential debates continued to put abortion center-stage for candidates and voters. It’s clear that, just as in the last two presidential elections and last year’s midterms, it will be a top issue during the primary and general elections.
The divisive nature of abortion makes coverage challenging because it’s a journalist’s job to give voters the information they need without the spin seen on opinion shows and Twitter. Even harder is covering such a sensitive issue in a compassionate way toward the one in four women — and their partners — who have experienced abortion.
Our political discourse often hides the reality that abortion is a human issue. Candidates and activists frequently seek to horrify and shock instead of educate and persuade, treating abortion as another political issue. But the effects on those who have experienced abortion are real, including the one-third of women who told Support After Abortion they suffered loneliness, grief and other adverse effects from abortion — sometimes for years.
Journalists have the unique privilege and responsibility to rehumanize this part of our national political and cultural conversation. Here are four ways to provide the most impactful, high-quality coverage while leading with empathy, recognizing the human elements in articles, and shielding vulnerable individuals from experiencing further trauma and harm.
First, treat abortion like sensitive issues that deserve trigger and content warnings. Journalists and others have long shown respect for domestic abuse survivors, children and other vulnerable populations when covering sensitive topics. They also prioritize protecting audiences from reading or watching unwanted graphic or traumatizing material.
Second, use language that is sensitive to consumers. When 63 percent of women and 83 percent of men say they want some therapy or counseling following abortion experiences, we know this topic is fraught with grief and pain. Journalists responsibly avoid graphic details in a story about murder or assault unless those details are absolutely essential.
Third, take the same compassionate approach to interviewing those who have experienced abortion as you would to drowning victims’ families. No journalist would treat a grieving parent, spouse or sibling like a fact-delivering vending machine: “So, Joe drowned. Tell me about that.” No, on a professional and a basic human level, journalists do their jobs properly by leaving the victim’s space empty then allowing the victim the opportunity to fill it with what she’s ready to reveal.
Fourth, remember the universality of after-abortion suffering. Just like covering a mass shooting or an assault story, there’s a much larger circle of suffering to keep in mind. Support After Abortion’s groundbreaking research shows that nearly 75 percent of men suffer adverse effects from a partner’s abortion, and we regularly receive calls from the parents and siblings of those who experience abortions. They struggle with the harmful effects of abortion and how to help the person directly involved.
These considerations add human compassion to the article while delivering compelling information and the most relevant facts. And for those struggling after abortion, it will show them that you believe in journalism that puts human beings first. Perhaps best of all, framing abortion-related stories with empathy will reduce the temperature on our national conversation.
Abortion politics has always been impassioned, but post-Dobbs, it has become even angrier and louder. The coming presidential election will fuel this unfortunate trend. Leading with empathy when covering abortion is a huge step toward elevating the human side of an issue that has too often dehumanized everyone involved.