In a “guidance reminder” issued amid the national firestorm over state abortion laws, NPR has provided a reminder for journalists about how to report on abortion in a way that counters the pro-life stance at every rhetorical turn.
In a “Guidance Reminder: On Abortion Procedures, Terminology & Rights,” NPR Supervising Senior Editor of Standards and Practices Mark Memmott makes painfully clear on which side of the argument NPR stands. Memmott begins by warning journalists not to use the phrase “fetal heartbeat” because it can give an embryo too much developmental credit (and because it is “their term”):
One thing to keep in mind about this law and others like it: Proponents refer to it as a “fetal heartbeat” law. That is their term. It needs to be attributed to them if used and put in quotation marks if printed. We should not simply say the laws are about when a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. As we’ve reported, heartbeat activity can be detected “about six weeks into a pregnancy.” That’s at least a few weeks before an embryo is a fetus.
This terminology problem addressed, Memmott them moves on to instructing journalists not to ever use the “opponent”-preferred phrase “partial-birth abortion,” or to refer to the procedure as “rare”:
Use the term intact dilation and extraction to describe the procedure, or a procedure known medically as intact dilation and extraction; opponents call it partial-birth abortion. On the latter, it is necessary to point out that the term partial-birth is used by those opposed to the procedure; simply using the phrase so-called partial birth abortion is not sufficient without explaining who’s calling it that. Partial-birth is not a medical term and has no exact parallel in medical terminology; intact dilation and extraction is the closest description. Also, it is not correct to call these procedures RARE — it is not known how often they are performed.
Likewise, it’s forbidden to use the term “late term abortion” because it “conveys the sense that the fetus is viable when the abortion is performed.” Instead, Memmott explains, journalists should say “a certain procedure performed after the first trimester”:
Nor is it accurate to use the phrase LATE TERM ABORTION. Though we initially believed this term carried less ideological baggage when compared with partial-birth, it still conveys the sense that the fetus is viable when the abortion is performed. It gives the impression that the abortion takes place in the 8th or 9th month. In fact, the procedure called intact dilation and extraction is performed most often in the 5th or 6th month — the second trimester — and the second trimester is not considered “late” pregnancy. Thus “late term” is not appropriate. As an alternative, call it a certain procedure performed after the first trimester of pregnancy and, subsequently, the procedure.
Also forbidden: “abortion clinic,” which Memmott explains NPR never uses. “We say instead, ‘medical or health clinics that perform abortions.’ The point is to not to use abortion before the word clinic. The clinics perform other procedures and not just abortions.”
Another term that must not be used: “abortion doctor,” for example when referencing late term abortion doctor Dr. George Tiller, who was shot by an anti-abortion extremist: “Do not refer to murdered Dr George Tiller as an ‘Abortion Doctor.’ Instead we should say Tiller operated a clinic where abortions are performed. We can also make reference to the fact that Tiller was a doctor who performed late abortions.”
Memmott then turns to Joe Neel for some more “guidance” on two of the most important terms: “unborn” and “baby,” words frequently uttered by “antiabortion groups.”
The term “unborn” implies that there is a baby inside a pregnant woman, not a fetus. Babies are not babies until they are born. They’re fetuses. Incorrectly calling a fetus a “baby” or “the unborn” is part of the strategy used by antiabortion groups to shift language/legality/public opinion.
The memo closes with notes reminding all journalists never to use the term “pro-life” — which contains two positive terms and thus must not be associated with those who want to protect the unborn. Instead, we’re told, we should call pro-lifers “abortion rights opponents,” successfully casting them as those who “oppose” “rights.” We can also describe their views as “anti-abortion rights,” again casting them as “anti-rights.” Journalists should also not use the descriptor “pro-choice,” NPR reminds us. Instead, they should be described with the more positively framed terms “abortion rights supporters” or “advocates of abortion rights.”
On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion rights,” but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”. … Do not use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” in copy except when used in the name of a group.