NPR has careful guidelines for reporting on abortion, NPR public editor Elizabeth Jensen explained.
For example, NPR doesn’t use the terms “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” but if a guest says either phrase or it’s part of a group name, it will be broadcast. NPR also tries to characterize instead of label, so it uses “abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)” instead of pro-abortion rights. Similarly,
NPR guidance calls for saying “medical or health clinics that perform abortions” and not “abortion clinics.”
Why? Jensen said the goal is to be factual, clear and non-political. Saying pro-life suggests a blanket statement that “those on the other side do not value life at all.” An NPR spokesperson declined to comment to iMediaEthics beyond Jensen’s report.
While the guidelines advise specific word use, that has upset its audience. “We get complaints that NPR is using the language of “the other side” (whatever the other side is, depending on the affiliation of the letter writer) and thus giving the other side an advantage,” Jensen reported.
NPR standards editor Mark Memmott re-posted the guidance on NPR’s website in mid-May.
Guidelines also dictate against the phrase “unborn babies,” Jensen noted, because as the guidance states, “babies are not babies until they are born. They’re fetuses.”
NPR shouldn’t use the term “fetal heartbeat” law unless it’s attributed and in quotes, Memmott noted. “We should not simply say the laws are about when a ‘fetal heartbeat’ is detected,” he wrote. “As we’ve reported, heartbeat activity can be detected “about six weeks into a pregnancy.” That’s at least a few weeks before an embryo is a fetus.”
NPR also shouldn’t use the terms “partial birth abortion” without explaining the term is used by opponents or the phrase “late term abortion,” the guidance states. Instead, NPR should use respectively “intact dilation and extraction” or “a certain procedure performed after the first trimester of pregnancy,” which are the medical procedure terminology.
NPR’s guidance was released in 2010, Jensen wrote.