Fear among potential sources and the decline of local reporters, including health reporters, help explain why political reporting has been more abundant.
In early 2022, months before Dobbs The verdict, Pew Research surveyed nearly 12,000 journalists across the country. Of the surveyed local suppliers, 12 percent covered healthcare. Almost three times as many covered government and politics most commonly among local journalists.
In Tennessee, where the original six-week ban made abortion a crime, the newspapers included in the analysis have a total of two health care reporters and 11 government and politics reporters.
“You could have one reporter who was 100 percent in reproductive health care in Tennessee, and that’s their whole time, and you could have endless stories,” said Elizabeth Fite, health editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
POLITICO’s review of local newspaper articles shows that the abortion manifesto is not only shared among health reporters, but also among political reporters, education reporters and sports reporters, reflecting how many facets of American life intersect with abortion politics.
However, reporters new to the topic may not be as well versed in the nuances of abortion, said Katie Woodruff, a public health scientist at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine who studies national media coverage of abortion.
He said any story about public health legislation needs to include a few basic facts.
Of course, abortion was not the exclusive domain of health care providers in the past Dobbs, either. The Chattanooga Times Free Press’s abortion coverage had largely fallen into the hands of its Nashville-based politics editor and its faith and religion editor, Fite said. Fite previously focused on Covid-19, the opioid epidemic and the business of healthcare in the Chattanooga community, one of the region’s largest industries. Otherwise, there aren’t many newspapers in Tennessee that have health care reporters, he said.
Fite, who has shared more about her abortion reporting over the past year, says it’s especially difficult to get people seeking abortions to talk on the record. The stigma surrounding abortion, especially in states where it is banned or restricted, can affect the kinds of stories journalists can report.
I have the hardest time getting patients who have traveled to get an abortion, she said. It’s really hard to get them on record because Chattanooga is a small town. Abortion is politically very unpopular here.
In 2021, medical facilities in Tennessee provided nearly 12,200 abortions, according to the CDC. Today, abortion is prohibited in the state with limited exceptions.
In Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban that has yet to take effect due to an ongoing state Supreme Court challenge to states’ 15-week bans, abortion is a familiar news topic. Florida newspapers published more articles about abortion than any state in the analysis: nearly 4,400 stories from 14 local papers.
Cindy Goodman, a health reporter for the South Florida Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, said abortion providers have asked her not to name them in stories because they are concerned about their safety and their business.
Earlier this year, Goodman reported that abortion clinics in his state were overwhelmed with patients trying to get the procedure before the state’s current 15-week limit and meet the state’s 24-hour waiting period. State clinics can be fined thousands of dollars if this 24-hour period is not properly documented for patients.
These are small abortion clinics that operate on a shoestring, so they cannot afford these large fines. So they are very afraid. They are afraid to talk to me, Goodman said. They are afraid to draw attention to themselves.
Among the thousands of articles published by Florida newspapers, politics came up about four times as often as health care in stories mentioning abortion, the most of any state.
Take, for example, a week when 50 years would have passed Roe v Wade. Of the 68 stories published over seven days about the abortion in Florida, only two covered the soon-to-be national flashpoint: Florida agency warns pharmacies not to dispense abortion pills, read one headline.
Most other news outlets were preoccupied with political updates, including Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the state capitol to mark the anniversary. Roe coverage that often focused on presidential politics between Harris and Republican hopeful DeSantis.
It matters who wins the White House for many reasons, said Michael Wagner, director of graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who has published research on how abortion became a partisan issue. news. But for those who have become pregnant and don’t want to become pregnant, the election will not come in time to offer them a cure.
KFF found that in states with abortion bans, more than half of voters surveyed said they were unsure about the abortion pill in their state.
In swing states, where votes in the 2024 election will have the most impact, political coverage of abortion is often even more dominant. Of the top five states where coverage favored politics over health care, four are expected to be competitive in the 2024 election.
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