Coverage of Abortion in Select U.S. Newspapers

Womens Health Issues. 2019 Jan-Feb;29(1):80-86. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2018.08.008. Epub 2018 Oct 9.


Background and objectives: News coverage can shape public understanding of policy issues in important ways. In the last decade, many new state-level abortion restrictions have been passed, often based on claims about the safety of abortion care, yet little is known about recent news coverage of abortion. This study analyzes a sample of news on abortion in the United States and explores the implications for reproductive health policymakers, practitioners, and advocates.

Methods: We analyzed a sample of news and opinion articles containing the term "abortion" published in three major U.S. newspaper sources in 2013 and 2016. The total sample was 783 unique pieces. We coded for story topics, references to fetal personhood, women's stories, and basic abortion facts. Three trained coders conducted the coding, with intercoder reliability rates ranging from 0.777 to 1.0.

Findings: Most of the time abortion appears in the news, it is merely mentioned, rather than discussed substantively. Abortion is covered as a political issue more than a health issue. The personal experiences of people who get abortions are present in only 4% of the sample, and language personifying the fetus appears more often than women's abortion stories. State abortion restrictions are newsworthy, yet basic facts on the commonality and safety of abortion are virtually absent.

Conclusions: This study suggests that the news does not support public understanding of abortion as a common, safe part of reproductive health care. Such framing may undermine public support for policies that protect access to this common health care service.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / statistics & numerical data*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Newspapers as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pregnancy
  • United States