Spinning the Sotomayor Abortion Debate in the NYT

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Spinning the Sotomayor Abortion Debate in the NYT

Julie Hollar

In her reader diary, Julie Hollar writes, The New York Times demonstrates how not to report on reproductive rights groups' reaction to the Sotomayor nomination: by going to anti-choice activists to frame the story.

Charlie Savage did some good reporting on the Bush signing statements, but his front-page story in today’s New York Times on
reproductive rights groups’ reaction to Sotomayor is way off course.
His lead explains that abortion rights advocates are worried about
Sotomayor, because "when she has written opinions that touched
tangentially on abortion disputes, she has reached outcomes in some
cases that were favorable to abortion opponents."

OK, so what are those opinions? Here’s what he names: She ruled in
favor of the Bush administration’s reinstatement of the global gag
rule; she ruled that anti-abortion protesters could take police to
court for allegedly using excessive force to break up one of their
demonstrations; and she’s ruled in a few cases in favor of Chinese
refugees seeking asylum because of China’s forced abortion policies.

Now, who’s uneasy about these? I’ve looked around, and the only one
cited by any reproductive rights groups I’ve seen is the first–it was
a case brought by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (now the
Center for Reproductive Rights)–though I’ve also seen other
reproductive rights advocates say
it was a narrow ruling based pretty clearly on precedent and not
something that would threaten Roe. The second one I haven’t seen
mentioned –it would seem to be about abusive police conduct rather
than reproductive rights, anyway, so it’s not really clear why it
should be included here.

But the third category is just absurd. Those are pro-reproductive rights
rulings that no reproductive rights group I’ve heard of is protesting
(and it would be frankly bizarre and troubling if they were). He even
quotes an anti-choice activist saying basically as much, though in a
much more pejorative way: "even ‘the most radical feminist’ would
object to forcing women to abort wanted pregnancies."

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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So why were those seemingly unrelated cases included in the piece?
It seems Savage got most of the material for this article–an article
about reproductive rights groups’ reactions to Sotomayor,
remember–from a religious anti-choice group’s website.
And as far as one can tell from reading the article, the only people he
actually spoke to were two anti-choice advocates. That’s a mighty odd
way to write about reproductive rights backers’ feelings on the
subject. Since part of the way the anti-choice movement works to chip
away support of reproductive rights is to falsely frame advocates as
"pro-abortion," Savage plays right into their hands, making that
association for them on the front page of the New York Times.

It does seem that some reproductive rights groups are concerned about Sotomayor’s position on Roe v. Wade, since that hasn’t been spelled out yet. If you’re going to write about that, here’s
a much more logical (and responsible) way to do it–talking to
reproductive rights groups in order to frame your story about what
their concerns are, rather than using their opponents’ talking points
to conjure up false arguments.

This post originally appeared on FAIR’s blog.