From the AP: How We Should Cover the Supreme Court Decision on Abortion

From an AP internal message by John Daniszewski, vice president for standards, on covering the expected Supreme Court decision on abortion:

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in coming days could overturn, modify or uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a legal right to abortions across the United States on grounds of privacy rights deemed embedded in the Constitution.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade would be a story of enormous significance, and it is important that the AP cover it with the same accuracy, fairness and balance as it applies to all of its journalism.

Abortion has been among the most contentious issues in U.S. politics for decades, and foes of legalized abortion have worked steadily to limit or restrict abortion rights. Meanwhile, an estimated 63 million women have received legal abortions in the United States since Roe became the law of the land.

A leaked draft in May to Politico indicated that the court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, a step that would lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states. However, we do not know how the draft decision may have been modified within the court since the leaked draft appeared.

Be certain, when the decision comes down, that we stick closely to whatever language is decided on by the Washington bureau’s Supreme Court reporting team when we describe the contents. There may be nuances and caveats in the fine print of the decision that we must reflect accurately in all of our stories, whether in text, photos, audio, social media, headlines or video.

Our coverage must be fair, including respecting the sincerity of the beliefs on all sides of the abortion debate. While polls show that a majority of Americans support retaining abortion rights in some form, others oppose the termination of pregnancy at any stage.

Be careful not to caricature any side. Keep in mind that most Americans fall someplace in the middle between those wanting an absolute ban of all abortions and those wanting no restriction on a woman’s right to a legal abortion at any point. Intermediate opinions include allowing abortions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, or only during early pregnancy, or banning late-term abortions unless the woman’s life is in danger.

When we gather reaction after the decision, gather opinions inclusively of those on all sides of the issue as we have conscientiously in our thorough and excellent stories leading up to this decision in recent weeks.

In addition to accuracy, fairness and balance in our coverage, please pay special attention to headlines or social media posts both on AP and personal social media accounts to make sure that they do not convey a pro-abortion-rights or anti-abortion bias unintentionally. As always, AP headlines and social media posts should employ neutral and fact-based language.

We know this is a personal issue for many people and we would encourage you to discuss the decision with trusted colleagues, friends or family if you so choose. But when it comes to personal social media accounts, best practice is to link to AP’s own coverage. In line with AP social media guidelines, do not tweet or post personal opinions that could call into question AP’s reputation or ability to be impartial. Do not feel obliged to post.

If you do decide to post on this topic, please first consider these questions that have been recommended by AP’s social media committee.

What is your objective in posting your content and is social media the proper forum? Would you feel comfortable with your post surfacing and being shared widely? Would you say the same thing in an AP story? Could your post compromise the ability of you or your colleagues to work?

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