Reporter Jeremy Peters chose a novel angle in Friday’s New York Times -- how conservatives are actually winning the PR war on abortion of late. It’s an unusual topic for the paper, which is reluctant to dwell on issues that favor conservatives. Still, a predictable tone of lament and clear disappointment prevails, salted with accusations that social conservatives are distorting the debate and misinforming the public, a slant captured in the headline, Democrats Are Caught Off-Guard on Abortion -- Forceful Messages and Misinformation By Opponents Are Defining the Debate.”
The text box was label-dense: “Polling shows the right’s campaign is penetrating beyond conservatives.” Peters piled on the right-wing ideological labels. Including the text box, there were nine “conservative” labels, plus four references to the “right.”
By contrast, the pro-abortions side got off with two of the relatively flattering “progressive” label:
With grisly claims that Democrats promote “birth day abortions” and are “the party of death,” the Republican Party and its conservative allies have aggressively reset the terms of one of the country’s most divisive and emotionally fraught debates, forcing Democrats to reassess how they should respond to attacks and distortions that portray the entire party as extremist on abortion.
The unusually forceful, carefully coordinated campaign has created challenges that Democrats did not expect as they struggle to combat misinformation and thwart further efforts to undercut access to abortion. And advocates of abortion rights fear it is succeeding in pressuring lawmakers in more conservative states to pass severe new restrictions, as Alabama did this week by approving a bill that would essentially outlaw the procedure.
This section also demonstrated the labeling disparity (click “expand”):
Much to the distress of abortion rights supporters, their own polling is showing that the right’s message is penetrating beyond the social conservatives who make up a large part of the Republican base. Surveys conducted for progressive groups in recent weeks found that more than half of Americans were aware of the “infanticide” claims that President Trump and his party have started making when describing abortions that occur later in pregnancy.
Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has caught on in Congress and state legislatures, and with candidates running for office in states like North Carolina and Wisconsin, and it is drawing Democrats into a difficult debate over abortions that occur in the second and third trimesters, which make even some self-described pro-choice Americans uncomfortable.
What is new about Republican attacks is that they have presented the extremely rare circumstance of ending a far-along pregnancy -- terminations after 24 weeks make up less than 1 percent of all abortions -- in a way that abortion rights groups say leaves a false but evocative impression: that women who are about to deliver a healthy baby are asking for and receiving abortions, and that Democrats support that.
As abortion rights supporters assess their current situation, many say they made an initial mistake by trying to answer questions based on implausible and often outright false premises.
A more persuasive way to talk about the issue, said Dr. Wen of Planned Parenthood, is to explain that abortions that occur far into pregnancy are not done on healthy mothers but because of serious medical complications discovered late in the pregnancy.
“These are families that have assembled a crib, picked out little clothes and put them into little drawers and had baby showers when they’ve received the most devastating news of their lives,” she said.
Peters tamped down the extremism of New York State’s new abortion law, which legalizes abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy in some cases:
As some states have moved to liberalize their abortion laws while also setting limits, Republicans have homed in on the provisions that regulate the procedure later in pregnancy. New York, for example, passed a law that allows for termination after 24 weeks but only if the life or health of the mother is at risk or there is an absence of fetal viability. In his State of the Union address in February, Mr. Trump glossed over those limits, saying it would allow a baby to be “ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth.”
Then Peters complained that liberal pro-choice “nuance” was being lost:
The debate is still very much an open one. But it may come down to what Americans find more persuasive: the kind of nuanced explanation and argument abortion rights supporters are making, or a searing, one-word label like “infanticide.”