Journalism or Advocacy?

The Times Strikes out on Abortion

Dr. Ted Joyce, an economist at Baruch College at the City University of New York, says that parental notification laws have little effect on teenage abortion rates.

Dr. Joyce also says that parental notification laws have a significant effect on teenage abortion rates.

Well, which Dr. Joyce is talking? Or is there something else going on here? Apparently, it all depends on what you read.

The New York Times recently conducted its own study on parental notification laws. The paper reported that it had found “no evidence that the laws had a significant impact on the number of minors who got pregnant, or, once pregnant, the number who had abortions.” And then the Times quoted Dr. Ted Joyce as saying, “There are ongoing trends that are pushing both birth rates and abortion rates down significantly, and those larger trends are more important than the effect of these laws.” The paper added, “[Joyce] found that they had limited effects on small subgroups of minors but little impact over all.”

How strange that just two days later, the Dallas Morning News reported on a new study by—you guessed it—Dr. Ted Joyce, which showed that abortion rates among teenagers in Texas experienced a major drop after the passing of a notification law.

The paper stated that, according to Joyce, “the authors of the study tried to overcome flaws in previous work. . . . For example, the scientists pinned the analysis to a girl’s age at [time of] conception, not just at delivery or abortion. Other studies also have not effectively accounted for girls traveling to neighboring states for abortions.” Joyce’s new study showed that such factors alone cannot account for the drop. The Texas law is clearly causing more teenage girls to carry their babies to term. (As Joyce himself is pro-choice, and was not sure that this was a positive outcome, it would be hard to argue that his bias affected the study.)

We can only assume from all of this that the flawed “previous work” Joyce mentioned would include the New York Times study. Could it be that the Times quoted Joyce out of context—and that the Times’s own researchers were not as objective or thorough as Joyce and his team? Given the fact that the Times has very rarely managed to maintain neutrality on abortion, I’d say there’s a distinct possibility.

As the Heritage Foundation reports, “This continues the newspaper’s trend of poor reporting on abortion statistics over the last decade. For example, during the 2004 election season, the Times reported Glen Harold Stassen’s erroneous finding that abortions had increased [under] George W. Bush’s presidency. When the Alan Guttmacher Institute later released more comprehensive data showing that abortions had actually declined since President Bush’s inauguration, the Times was among the media outlets that failed to report the finding.”

This kind of advocacy journalism casts serious doubts about the Times’s reputation for veracity. If only the Times were able to show the same objectivity as this pro-choice scientist, we might actually be able to have an honest dialogue in this country about how to help young girls and reduce the number of abortions.


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