Last summer, The New York Times ran a story that claimed the term “pro-choice” had fallen out of favor among abortion rights advocates. Instead, the article explained, because younger people eschew political labels, movement leaders had taken to using different language—talking about “women’s health” beyond just abortion, talking about how “economic security” is impacted by access to reproductive health care—to discuss issues like access to abortion and contraception.
But there was a problem. The movement leaders and elected officials the reporter spoke to were all white women. In a story that posited that millennials—the most racially diverse generation the United States has seen—were upending how we talk about abortion, there was no analysis of whether race may play a role in changing political tastes. There was no mention, for example, of messaging black women developed to combat race-baiting, anti-choice billboards that cropped up nationwide a few years back, or of how young women of color in Albuquerque had successfully convinced voters to reject a proposed twenty-week abortion ban. These oversights amplified an idea that has long plagued the abortion rights movement—that the contributions and leadership of women of color are ignored or co-opted—and kicked off a vibrant conversation within the movement about whose work gets attention and why. The episode got some reproductive justice organizations—groups that could have offered the race and class analysis the Times article lacked—thinking about how to avoid being left out of the story next time. Part of the problem, they figured, was that the reporter had relied on a homogenous list of sources they just weren’t on.
So a group of reproductive justice organizations, including Forward Together, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, set to work on a guide for media reporting on abortion—released recently in advance of today’s forty-second anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling—that they hope will have ripple effects. If journalists start to understand what the reproductive justice movement is fighting for and why, then the public’s understanding of what’s truly at stake and who’s offering solutions will start to shift as well.
Kalpana Krishnamurthy, the primary researcher on the guide and policy director at Forward Together, said it’s a way for the movement to get out ahead of stories, so the groups she works with can get out of the habit of doing damage control after an incomplete or inaccurate story—any that relies on traditional experts to the exclusion of people disproportionately impacted by policies, for example—comes out. “This is a proactive way to say to media, ‘there’s a story here and we think you can do an amazing job of covering it and we’ve got some tips and tricks for you,’” she said.