Culture war winner: Atlanta newspaper delivers fair, nuanced coverage of anti-abortion 'heartbeat bill'

Earlier this month, I praised the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s coverage of legislation pitting religious freedom vs. gay rights.

In particular, I complimented the fair manner in which the Journal-Constitution reported on a subject that often begets scare quotes and slanted headlines (against the religious freedom side) in mainstream news stories.

I stressed in that post:

Since I don’t read the Atlanta paper regularly, I can’t say if this is typical of how that news organization handles this topic. But this particular story, in my humble opinion, deserves kudos.

I stand by the previous caveat, but I have another example of an equally balanced, nuanced report from the Journal-Constitution that I want to highlight.

Maybe — just maybe — we’ve stumbled upon a positive trend? (I know, I know: We need a third example to make it a real trend.)

The Atlanta paper’s latest culture wars story concerns abortion, a topic on which — as we’ve noted repeatedly — news media bias against pro-life advocates frequently runs rampant.

But once again, the Journal-Constitution treats both sides — all sides, actually, since there aren’t just two sides — in what impresses me as an impartial manner.

The basics from the top of the story:

Georgia Republicans are facing mounting pressure from both sides of the aisle to reject the anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” as they prepare for a final vote that could come as soon as Thursday.

Amid threats of a Hollywood boycott and fierce opposition from abortion rights activists, supporters of House Bill 481 now have a new threat to contend with: the call from a prominent conservative group to defeat the bill because it says the measure doesn’t go far enough.

If the proposal becomes law, it would be among the strictest in the nation, banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy — when its supporters say doctors are able to detect a fetal heartbeat.

Supporters of the measure have little room to maneuver. The measure narrowly passed the House earlier this month, but it needs another vote in the chamber before it heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. The sponsor, state Rep. Ed Setzler, acknowledged that some fellow Republicans are starting to waver.

“There’s a lot of folks who voted yes who kind of have bellyache about it,” the Acworth Republican told Cherokee County conservatives this week, urging them to prepare for a final vote Thursday. “They don’t want to have to stand behind this and campaign on this.”

Keep reading, and the story quotes a legislative opponent and other key voices.

Later, the Journal-Constitution does a nice job of summarizing the various viewpoints just on the anti-abortion side:

On one hand, supporters who already voted for the bill are already on the record and have little incentive to change their mind. On the other, the opposition from Georgia Right to Life, an influential conservative group, could give those having second thoughts some political cover.

The group’s director, Zemmie Fleck, said in a letter to members that it opposed the bill because of exceptions that would allow abortions in the case of rape, incest, medical emergencies or “medical futility,” meaning the fetus would not be able to survive after birth.

According to the legislation, someone who has become pregnant after an incident of rape or incest would have to file a police report to have the abortion performed.

Another anti-abortion organization, Save the 1, said it would sue the state because of what it called “discriminatory exceptions” that weren’t restrictive enough. They want the legislation to become law, only without the exceptions.

The proposal’s champions are scrambling to counter the blowback. Joshua Edmonds of the anti-abortion Georgia Life Alliance — the official wing of National Right to Life — said the legislation isn’t perfect but it’s the only pending bill this year that “can save lives in the womb.” And Setzler, the measure’s sponsor, tells his allies to prepare for a drawn-out fight.

It’s a complicated, controversial story.

Kudos to the Journal-Constitution for offering the kind of serious, unbiased coverage that it deserves.

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