NPR ombudsman: Using ‘abortion doctor’ in news stories channels hostility

Edward Schumacher-Matos responds to a listener’s complaint by acknowledging that it doesn’t make sense to label obstetricians who perform abortions as “abortion doctors,” as a recent story did. “We don’t say a physician is an STD doctor. Or a child-birth doctor. Or a breast-exam doctor,” Schumacher-Matos writes. He found four uses of “abortion clinic” on-air or in headlines — including once by him — although NPR’s style guide says not to use that term or “abortion doctor.” He concludes:

Labels carry consequences. It would be too much to say that media usage of ‘abortion doctor’ was behind the murder of [Dr. George] Tiller. But the label certainly channels hostility against doctors who do the operation. … The media’s responsibility is to be accurate in framing an issue in all its complexity.

A quick Google News search indicates that the term isn’t widely used in media. The Associated Press stylebook doesn’t prohibit the term, although it tells journalists to “avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions.” || Related: Jay Rosen calls NPR abortion report worst form of ‘he said, she said’ journalism | The war of words and how we come to label Jared Loughner an ‘assassin

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  • Anonymous

    How about plain old,”murderer”?

  • Blank

    I get the ombudsman’s point about how the label used in reporting a story can color the reader’s perceptions. I also note how NPR and the overwhelming majority of media outlets will use “gunman” or “shooter” to describe an criminal act that involves a firearm (whether fired or not). Those same sources will NOT use the term “knifeman” or “stabber” for an individual that uses a knife to commit similar criminal acts.

    No doubt such observations would go right past the NPR ombudsman and many others since anti-gun bias is endemic in the press while the same group is heavily pro-abortion.

  • Anonymous

    “abortionist” by definition just means one who performs abortion. Where does the “clandestine” come from? Weird.

    We use the term “heart doctor” “brain surgeon” etc. For docs who almost exclusively do abortion it makes sense if the story is about abortion. Otherwise people are confused as to who the characters in the story are.

    Abortion is only bad term to use if there is something wrong with abortion. Did anybody complain about the use of heart doc? Is this NPR admitting that abortion is different than other medical procedures?