The Corner

Politics & Policy

NPR’s Abortion Rules

Mark Memmott, NPR’s “supervising senior editor for Standards and Practices,” has reminded NPR’s reporters and editors about “the longstanding guidance” on the proper terminology to use when discussing abortion. It turns out that the longstanding practice of NPR has been to use the terms that are favored by one side of the abortion debate. Guess which one!

During the debate over partial-birth abortion, the abortion lobby complained that it was not a medical term and got much of the press to use it only with tongs. “Bush Signs Ban on a Procedure for Abortion” was one New York Times headline. The NPR guidance is sticking with this fatwa against the phrase, even though it is now defined in federal law. (A quick glance at the NPR website shows no similar fastidiousness about the phrase “assault weapons” or “assault-style weapons.”)

“Abortion clinics” are another disfavored phrase, because “the clinics perform other procedures and not just abortions.”

Here’s the most unself-consciously propagandistic portion of the memo: “Babies are not babies until they are born. They’re fetuses. Incorrectly calling a fetus a ‘baby’ or ‘the unborn’ is part of the strategy used by antiabortion groups to shift language/legality/public opinion.” This allegedly erroneous usage of “baby” is, in fact, the one that basically all users of English embrace when not specifically contemplating abortion. Here, for example, is the Mayo Clinic, telling new parents “how your baby grows and develops during the first trimester.” Or check out this page from the Cleveland Clinic—or don’t, if prenatal uses of “baby” are triggering for you. (“At the moment of fertilization, your baby’s genetic make-up is complete, including its sex.”)

The memo concludes, “On the air, we should use ‘abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)’ and ‘abortion rights opponent(s)’ or derivations thereof (for example: ‘advocates of abortion rights’). It is acceptable to use the phrase ‘anti-abortion rights,’ but do not use the term ‘pro-abortion rights’.” If only NPR found putting out pro-abortion spin as unacceptable as it finds the phrase “pro-abortion.”

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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