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Drop the Scare Quotes – Call It Partial-Birth Abortion

The next time you hear a reporter use the term “so-called 'partial birth abortion,'” or “the procedure that opponents call 'partial birth abortion,' keep in mind that he's making an editorial comment in the midst of his “news” report.


The law that Congress passed, the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003” (18 U.S. Code 1531) identifies the banned action as: partial-birth abortion.  Not “so-called.”


In other words, partial-birth abortion is a term enshrined in law.  The phrase should no longer be placed in “scare quotes” or cited as a term used only by pro-life advocates. But liberal media are so biased in favor of abortion (see Kristen Fyfe's piece on the overall coverage) that they are attempting to delegitimize a phrase that is part of the law itself.  


Here are just a few network examples in the coverage following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Wednesday in Gonzales vs. Carhart.


Bill Mears, CNN:

“Doctors call this type of late-term abortion an 'intact dilation and evacuation.' Abortion foes term it a 'partial-birth abortion.'”


ABC's Charlie Gibson:

In the opening teaser, “Abortion ban: The Supreme Court upholds a ban on the procedure known as 'partial-birth abortion,' its most sweeping decision since Roe v. Wade.”


On screen: “5-4 ruling upholds federal ban on so-called 'partial-birth abortion.'”


“In a 5-4 landmark decision, the court's new conservative majority today upheld a nationwide ban on a controversial procedure, one that critics call 'partial-birth abortion.'”


 CBS' Katie Couric:

“The justices, sharply divided, today upheld the new federal ban on a controversial late-term abortion procedure, a procedure opponents and the law itself refer to as 'partial-birth abortion.'”


CBS' Wyatt Andrews:

“The ban on what Congress called 'partial-birth abortions' applies to any abortion where a fetus is delivered mostly intact.”


NBC's Chip Reid:

“The court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure that opponents call 'partial-birth abortion.'”


Not to be outdone, print sources took the same tack on Thursday:


Shailagh Murray and Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post:   

“… turning the political focus back to the legality of a controversial late-term procedure that opponents call 'partial birth' abortion.”


David Savage, Los Angeles Times:  

“The ban on what opponents call 'partial-birth' abortions….”


Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times:

“…a federal ban on a procedure critics call 'partial-birth abortion.'”


Judy Peres, Chicago Tribune:

“… a medical procedure that opponents call 'partial-birth abortion.'”


Putting partial birth abortion in quote marks is a little like referring to break-in thefts as “the activity that opponents call 'burglary.'”  Or how about “driving while exceeding the legal alcohol limit, which opponents call 'driving under the influence,' or 'drunk driving.'”


It's time for the media to drop the ideological agenda and start using the perfectly clear, descriptive term, partial-birth abortion.



Robert Knight is the director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center. CMI Senior Writer Kristen Fyfe and CMI Research Assistant Colleen Raezler assisted with this article.