Gov- John Kasich

In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

Let's consider a mirror-image scenario, as GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly calls it.

The scenario: A federal judge, who once served as a local chapter director and board president for the National Right to Life Committee, hears a case concerning abortion. In his ruling, the judge rejects a new state law friendly toward a woman's right to choose an abortion.

Might news reports on the judge's decision mention his connection to the anti-abortion movement? (You think?)

Now, let's look at a real-life scenario involving a U.S. district judge in Ohio with ties to Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion provider.

CNN reports:

(CNN) — An Ohio federal district court judge blocked legislation that would have banned abortion in cases where a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation into law in December of last year, and it was scheduled to go into effect March 23. The legislation is now blocked until a final ruling is made in the lawsuit.
In a court order granting a preliminary injunction Wednesday, Southern District of Ohio Judge Timothy Black said that federal abortion law is "crystal clear" that "a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability."

A quick aside: My colleague Julia Duin recently delved into "Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?" I, too, have explored the holy ghosts that have haunted much coverage of the Ohio legislation.

But for the purposes of this post, my focus is this specific question: Does news coverage of Black's ruling inform readers of his possible bias? In a case such as this, that seems like a pretty crucial detail, right?

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When is a heartbeat not a heartbeat? When NPR (briefly) calls it 'sounds from the fetus'

When is a heartbeat not a heartbeat? When NPR (briefly) calls it 'sounds from the fetus'

If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

You know the answer to that one, don't you? In a way, that old puzzler reminds me of questions your GetReligionistas face from time to time. I am thinking, to be precise, about emails in which readers send us items claiming that this or that newsroom has committed this or that atrocity, yet there is no URL provided and, when push comes to shove, there is no way to know if that news report ever contained the words or phrases quoted by the offended readers.

You see, it's so easy to change the content of online news and there is no common standard for digital corrections. (At GetReligion, when non-troll readers -- especially journalists -- leave comments noting typos and clear errors of fact we change the text, but we thank them and leave their comments live at the end of repaired articles.)

Thank goodness there are people who know how to use the "screen grab" (or screen shot) function in their computer browsers. I say this because of a remarkable "Heartbeat Bill" fix in a story at National Public Radio, which led to a piece by Bre Payton at The Federalist, as well as cyberspace shouts from readers.

Before we get to the NPR case study -- backed by a screenshot -- let me remind readers why stories about abortion show up so often at GetReligion. First, these public-square debates always involve activists from religious groups. Second, it's virtually impossible for activists on either side to describe their beliefs without raising moral and theological questions, as well as questions about science. For decades, abortion-coverage issues (click here for the classic Los Angeles Times series by reporter David Shaw) have played a crucial role in discussions of both media bias and religion-news coverage.

So what is the "Heartbeat Bill" in Ohio? Let's look at how The New York Times started a story on this topic, to get a sample of the language being used. Here is the overture:

WASHINGTON -- Gov. John Kasich of Ohio on Tuesday signed into law a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but vetoed a far more restrictive measure that would have barred abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

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