The following statement was released by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), which is the nationwide federation of state right-to-life organizations. Aside from the direct quotes from National Right to Life President Carol Tobias, any part of the statement may be attributed to NRLC as an organization.
WASHINGTON — "The mainstream news media is once again demonstrating its eagerness to use any excuse to portray a Republican presidential ticket as out of the mainstream on abortion, while ignoring the truly extreme positions taken by the pro-abortion candidate -- this year, President Obama," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).
The mainstream news media is again busy ginning up stories exploring the outer parameters of the abortion-related policy positions of pro-life Republican candidates, even where this involves remote, theoretical scenarios -- while demonstrating a near-total disinterest in putting the spotlight on the outer parameters of the "abortion rights" positions embraced by President Obama, even on matters under current legislative consideration.
The current media focus is on the position of the Romney-Ryan ticket on prohibiting abortion in cases of rape or incest. Governor Romney has been quite clear that he supports rape and incest exceptions to a law providing general protection for unborn children. This is the same position taken by pro-life President George W. Bush, who did much to advance federal policies to move towards a society in which all were "welcomed in life and protected in law."
According to a 2005 study published by the Guttmacher Institute, "Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions," one percent of the women who were surveyed while seeking abortions reported having an abortion because they were victims of rape. Legislation to prohibit early abortion in cases of rape and incest is not under consideration in Congress. Indeed, since 1993, Congress provided federal funding for abortion in cases of rape and incest. Starting that year, those exceptions were added to the Hyde Amendment (the law which generally prohibits federal Medicaid funding for abortion), in addition to the original life-of-mother exception. When the rape/incest exceptions were added to the law, the Clinton Administration estimated that it would result in federal funding of abortion "nationally to about 1,000 women," despite the huge size of the federal Medicaid program (over 33 million persons covered in 1995, and over 50 million today). (Letter from President Clinton to Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania, February 2
2, 1994). Subsequent reports issued by HHS showed that the actual number of federally funded abortions nationwide, even with the rape-incest exceptions, ranged between 112 and 458 nationwide between FY 1994 and FY 2007.
Much has been made of Congressman Paul Ryan's cosponsorship of the "Sanctity of Human Life Act" (H.R. 212). This resolution-like bill affirms the general principle that every individual member of the species homo sapiens should be recognized as a human being. It does not contain any prohibition of anything, or any penalty for anything. The details of implementing such a principle, including the type and definition of exceptions to any enacted law protecting unborn children, would have to be contained in language enacted by elected legislators -- generally reflecting, presumably, the majority views of their constituents.
When covering such legislation, many reporters show themselves willing to embrace even extravagant extrapolations as factual, or to adopt tendentious, advocacy phraseology as their own. For example, Stephanie Condon, identified as "a political reporter for CBSNews.com," wrote in a "news" story on August 15, concerning Ryan and the "Sanctity of Human Life Act" [italics added for emphasis]: "Supporters of reproductive rights have loudly pointed out that this type of legislation would not only outlaw abortion but potentially some forms of contraception or even in vitro fertilization. Personhood initiatives are so extreme that even card-carrying conservatives like former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour have expressed concerns that they go too far . . ."
Despite the remoteness of these matters from any legislation currently under consideration in Congress or likely to be considered by the next Congress, the mainstream news media finds them worthy of sustained attention. Yet there is little interest by these journalists in performing a symmetrical exploration of the outer parameters of President Obama's policy positions on abortion -- even with respect to bills that are under active consideration in Congress.
For example, recently NRLC brought it to the attention of Congress that currently, in the District of Columbia -- a federal jurisdiction -- abortion is legal for any reason, until the moment of birth. (This is because the "District Council," utilizing delegated congressional authority, repealed the entire abortion law.) On July 31, 2012, by a solid majority of 66 votes (220-154), the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a bill (H.R. 3803) to overturn this policy, and replace it with a ban on abortion after 20 weeks fetal age (the beginning of the sixth month), except to save the life of the mother. At the same time, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) filed the same measure as an amendment to cybersecurity legislation (S. 3414) -- a White House priority -- that was pending in the Senate when the August recess began.
So, what is President Obama's position on the pending legislation that has already commanded a substantial majority in the U.S. House, and that is at least technically still pending in the U.S. Senate? Good question -- but the mainstream media has been almost entirely uninterested in asking it. At the July 31 White House press briefing, one desultory question was posed to Jay Carney about the bill, to which Carney responded that he had not spoken to the President about this particular bill (although it had 223 cosponsors, and was to be voted on later that day in the House). There was no follow up.
Another example: On May 31, 2012, the U.S. House took up the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 3541), a bill to prohibit the use of abortion for purposes of sex selection in the United States. Only one organ of the mainstream news media showed any interest in ascertaining what President Obama's position was on the bill: ABC News' Jake Tapper pressed for an answer, and obtained it the night before the House vote -- President Obama opposed the bill. His reason? "The government should not intrude in medical decisions or private family matters in this way.” But aside from one-time, low-profile coverage on the ABC News blog, Obama's position on this legislation has gone virtually unmentioned in the news media -- although the bill commanded a substantial bipartisan majority (246-168) in the U.S. House on May 31. A recent poll found that 77 percent of the public (80 percent of women, 74 percent of men) favors banning the use of abortion for sex selection.
Thus, while consumers of the mainstream news media are likely to view and read countless stories that affirm that Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan have expressed opposition to abortion "even in cases of [fill in the blank]," they are likely to see far fewer reports that President Obama supports allowing legal abortion "even when used for sex selection," or exploring President Obama's position on whether abortion should be allowed "even up to the point of birth" in the nation's capital. For the mainstream news media, the "even in cases of . . ." knife only cuts in one direction.
"For the most part, the mainstream news media prefer to characterize President Obama's position in terms of hazy generalizations, avoiding specifics such as his actions to allow unrestricted abortion for sex selection and late abortions," said NRLC President Carol Tobias.