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1 year ago
Why Are Men Running the Conversation Around Women's Reproductive Rights?

The debate around whether the constitutional right to decide whether or not to have children will remain inalienable primarily affects women—since we’re physically unable to walk away from an unintended pregnancy in the same way that men can. But according to new research, it’s men—not women—who are dominating the conversation around reproductive rights in the U.S.

The study, which was conducted by the Women’s Media Center (WMC), looked at 1,385 articles published by the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and nine other major media outlets between Aug. 1, 2014, and July 31, 2015, and found that “male voices dominate reproductive issues coverage as journalists and as sources.”

The study found that male journalists wrote 52 percent of articles about reproductive issues, while female journalists wrote just 37 percent (another 11 percent didn’t have bylines).

An infographic about coverage of reproductive rights
Image courtesy of The Women's Media Center

The study also revealed that male journalists are more likely to rely on male sources in their articles about reproductive rights, whereas female journalists are more likely to use female sources. As a result, quotes from men account for 41 percent of all quotes in articles about reproductive issues, while quotes from women account for just 33 percent.

"When it comes to stories about abortion and contraception, women's voices are systematically stifled—as writers and as sources," Women's Media Center president Julie Burton said in a press release.

WMC co-founder and longtime feminist activist Gloria Steinem added, “The American public—and especially women—deserve accurate, informed, and experienced media coverage on reproductive health, state and federal legislation, abortion and contraception. This research is offered in the hope of increasing public information about reproductive justice—which means the right to have or not to have children—as a basic human right.”

An infographic about coverage of reproductive rights
Image courtesy of The Women's Media Center

A majority of the publications the study looked at had more men writing stories about reproductive rights than women, and a few, including The New York Times, had male writers covering reproductive rights stories nearly twice as often as women. The Associated Press featured male bylines more than twice as often as female ones.

Steinem pointed out that “since women play a greater role in reproduction, it would make sense for women to be the majority of the sources and authorities in its coverage.”

Media coverage around these issues is especially meaningful when it comes to reporting on where political candidates stand on reproductive rights, since those rights are being increasingly chipped away at—nearly 400 anti-abortion bills were introduced in the States in 2015, and 89 percent of U.S. counties already lack abortion care resources. But the WMC study revealed that the bias in reporting is even worse for stories related to the 2016 election.

“In articles about elections and reproductive issues, men’s voices prevail,” Burton pointed out, “especially in coverage of presidential campaigns, with male reporters telling 67 percent of all presidential election stories related to abortion and contraception.”

The study’s authors also noted that “Nearly all the articles examined portrayed women’s rights advocates on the defensive, fighting against encroachments on reproductive freedoms; there was very little coverage of more proactive moves, such as proposed legislation to expand reproductive rights and access, or efforts to reduce the stigma around abortion and to share women’s stories." They also noted that "many journalists who covered reproductive issues only did so once or twice within the period studied, which may contribute to a lack of expertise and a simplistic understanding of complicated issues.”

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