Your Firing Lines: No one is “pro-abortion”

Editor’s Note: On Monday, this newspaper published a news article that, because of an editorial error, incorrectly used the term “pro-abortion” instead of “pro-abortion rights” to refer to both a rally and a group of protesters. Readers rightfully reacted with anger and frustration, both to this error and to what some perceived as journalistic bias in the article itself. Your reactions are crucial to the success of the student journalists at the Texan, and so we have collected several of the letters received from readers in a special “Firing Lines” section. Future firing lines on this article or any other can be sent to [email protected] 

What is going on with your front page? Is there any editorial oversight? And, do your reporters research, or even Google, their topic before churning out their copy? Kinda sorta? First, someone who supports reproductive rights and access to abortion is not “pro-abortion.” Read an AP Style Guide. Second, the event was the Texas Rally for Life. Texas pro-life supporters (those who do not support reproductive rights and access) demonstrate at the Capitol EVERY YEAR the weekend following the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision. They were not there “to protest Texas Judge R.H. Wallace Jr.’s order to take pregnant and brain-dead Marlise Munoz off life support, terminating the pregnancy.” This is a standing event. Texas Project Counter was a counter-protest, quickly-organized over Twitter and FaceBook in a matter of weeks, in response to that annual demonstration. So, your reporter was covering a counter-protest and failed to mention that. And finally, the copy under the front page photo reads “Anti-abortion supports lined the gates of the Capitol to protest an anti-abortion rally Saturday afternoon.” Does that make sense to you? “Anti-abortion supporters” protest “an anti-abortion” rally. Do you even read over your copy before publishing the paper?

— Liz Garlow, junior, American Studies, submitted via e-mail

I am appalled at the misleading language used in Christina Breitbeil’s article, “Pro-abortion rally draws support from political candidates”.  The “pro-abortion” label is completely inaccurate – as many people who commented on the piece stated, one can be personally opposed to abortion for themselves while still being comfortable supporting another person to make that choice for her own body (and/or uncomfortable with giving the state power to make that decision for her).  On that same token, using phrases such “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are problematic because they are too politically charged and entrenched to reflect neutral language. More appropriate, and less politically-charged (and misleading) descriptions of people who support a woman’s right to obtain an abortion is “abortion-rights advocate/supporter”.  Likewise, a person who wants to limit a woman’s access to abortion would appropriately be described as an “opponent of abortion rights.” I ask that you update the online version of the article to replace the inaccurate and inflammatory language with more accurate language that describes behavior, not political stances. 

 — Kristine Hopkins, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, submitted via e-mail 

I am a student at UT. I just saw our paper’s “news” article about the pro-choice rally that was held on Saturday. Christina Breitbeil’s article “Pro-abortion rally draws support from political candidates” is an embarrassment to journalistic integrity and the university. No one at that rally was pro abortion. Please put out an apology for this article.  

— Melissa Seal, student, Geological Sciences, submitted via e-mail 

 I have never seen the pro-choice position represented as “pro-abortion” in a supposedly non-biased news source before.  This seems like an oversight (or lack of oversight!)  Yes, it’s fun to stir the pot on the opinion page, but this is not an opinion piece.  I feel the wording should be changed for this piece.

— Jeff Newberry, staff, University of Texas libraries, submitted via e-mail

This message is in response to today’s article by Ms. Christina Breitbeil.  I have never written to a newspaper, but I found that the title “Pro-abortion rally draws support…” to be inappropriate.  I am a pro-choice person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am pro-abortion.  Those phrases are not interchangeable or congruent.  I believe women should have the choice to make decisions based on their own situations, including adoption, raising the child, or in some cases abortion.  I do not feel that the predominantly male government employees and conservative institutes should make that choice for me.  By using the loaded terminology “pro-abortion,” I immediately dismissed this article as skewed and disregarded it as a credible article.  It cheapens the integrity of The Daily Texan, which I find very disappointing.  

— Leah Fenley Adrian, staff, Institute for Computational Engineering and Science, submitted via e-mail

As I walked to my job this morning on campus I was horrified to see today’s headline at the top of The Daily Texan:  “Pro-abortion rally draws support from political candidates.”  I have been a member of the UT community for nearly ten years now and have been reading your paper ever since I started here as a graduate student, and I find this headline to be insulting and embarrassing, not just to your paper but to those of us on campus who call ourselves pro-choice. To be clear, there is no such thing as a “pro-abortion” group.  No one is pro-abortion.  To characterize the pro-choice movement in such a way is to demonize those involved who have been fighting tirelessly since June (many for much longer) for access to safe healthcare for ALL women in Texas.  Many of those people involved in the fight last summer against HB2 and in the ongoing fight for access to abortion are members of the UT community…Do you really want an opinion piece as your front page headline, Daily Texan? Additionally, please keep the Marlise Munoz case out of the discussion.  Her family has been very clear in their wishes to keep her situation free of politics from either the pro-choice or pro-life side. Her family is going through a horrible tragedy that has absolutely nothing to do with access to safe, legal abortion.

— Megan Reilly, staff, College of Natural Sciences, submitted via e-mail 

As a participant in last weekend’s Texas Rally for Life march and rally, I found your article inaccurate, biased, and, frankly, insulting. The Texas Rally for Life made it very clear that is was a group of peaceful, prayerful citizens seeking to exercise their constitutional right of public demonstration. The purpose of the march was to advocate rights for all stages of life- from conception to natural death- not to protest a recent ruling made on a singular case with extenuating circumstances (i.e. that of Marlise Munoz). How this report was meant to give a well-rounded and unbiased overview of the event is beyond me when there were such obvious connections and connotations being implied to one side of the issue.  Choosing the words “abortion rights group” for one side of the argument’s group and “anti-choice” for the opposing group is a glaring bias- why switch terminology halfway through the article instead of using consistent terminology and naming the first group “anti-life”? If the “anti-life” angle was still going to be published in this paper, it should have been found in the “opinion” section, and not given as “news” which implies that the complete truth is being presented.

— Claire Anderson, sophomore, College of Communication, submitted via e-mail 

I am extremely disappointed in the Daily Texan’s coverage of the events that took place on Saturday, January 25 in front of the Capital. While there were indeed a few hundred abortion rights advocates there protesting, there were also several thousand people there for the Texas Rally for Life, an event that is held annually in commemoration of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand in America 41 years ago. Since then, legalized abortion has killed over 55 million unborn Americans. While the Daily Texan has the right to focus a story on whichever angle it chooses, the publication does not enjoy the right to completely ignore and/or fail to interview someone with an opposing viewpoint. There was not one source spoken to from the Pro-Life side of the rally. As a journalism student myself, I am disappointed by the obvious bias in this article and the carelessness in reporting a fair story.

— Rachel Bush, sophomore, Journalism, submitted via e-mail

Editor's note: This article has been changed to clarify that it was an editorial error, not editorial oversight, that resulted in the use of the term "pro-abortion."