Abby Johnson

Is it me or does this NYT story on anti-abortion movie 'Unplanned' contain a lot of extra qualifiers?

Is it me or does this NYT story on anti-abortion movie 'Unplanned' contain a lot of extra qualifiers?

Regular GetReligion readers are familiar with the concept of scare quotes.

For those new to the term, Dictionary.com defines scare quotes as “marks used around a term or phrase to indicate that the writer does not think it is being used appropriately or that the writer is using it in a specialized sense.”

Journalists frequently use scare quotes in coverage of “religious liberty,” for example, a sort of journalistic raising of the eyebrow, as we have noted from time to time.

A recent New York Times story on the controversy over the anti-abortion movie “Unplanned” doesn’t rely on scare quotes. But in quoting anti-abortion sources, the piece repeatedly employs what might be characterized as a similar tool.

I’m talking about the Times’ repeated use of qualifiers in the indirect quotations. I’ll elaborate on what I mean in a moment. But first, here’s the top of the story with a few crucial details:

CLIFTON, N.J. — It was a rare packed house for a weeknight in the suburbs, and when the movie was over, the sold-out crowd of about 100 last Wednesday spilled haltingly into the light.

A few — a gaggle of nuns in their habits, at least one collared priest — wore their dispositions on their sleeves. Others communicated in muted gestures, dabbed at tears, or lingered for long stretches in the popcorn-strewn vestibule at the AMC multiplex here, as if still processing the deliberately provocative movie they had just seen.

Since March 29, similar scenes have played out across the country as faith-based groups and many others have gathered en masse to see “Unplanned,” a new movie that paints a scathing portrait of abortion rights in general, and Planned Parenthood in particular.

A few paragraphs later comes the first instance of a qualifier:

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Houston Chronicle's latest abortion-law package feels like another NARAL brochure

Houston Chronicle's latest abortion-law package feels like another NARAL brochure

Abortion is a big deal in Texas news these days, mainly because of a law that requires abortion clinics to meet the same safety standards as hospital-style surgical centers. The law also says that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

For instance, If you have a colonoscopy, or some other form of "minor" surgery, you have to show up at one of these surgical centers. The law obligates those who perform abortions to have the same safeguards used with these other procedures.

Logical, right? Not necessarily, according to its opponents, who will appear Wednesday before the Supreme Court to argue a case known as Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt

This past week, the Houston Chronicle mounted a full-court press showcasing the dangers of this law. These stories sound straight out of the public-relations playbook for NARAL, the nation's oldest abortion-rights group whose acronym used to stand for National Association Abortion Rights Action League. It's now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America. A Chronicle story released this past weekend called “150 stories take aim at abortion stigma” starts thus:

They are attorneys and administrative assistants, actresses and anthropologists, computer scientists and clergy members. Millennials and baby boomers. Married and single.
All are women who have had abortions and whose stories were gathered in four legal briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a controversial Texas law that creates stricter regulations for clinics and doctors that provide abortions.

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