Abortion in the Fox News Reality


When the infamously "fair and balanced" Fox News produces a documentary about abortion, you have to roll your eyes a bit and maybe even shudder at the prospect. But Saturday's "Facing Reality, Choice" almost lived up to the channel's motto. Almost.

The documentary followed three pregnant women in their decision to have an abortion, place the baby for adoption or keep the baby. Kayla, a Southern Baptist in her early 20s who wore a chastity ring in high school, decides to have an abortion after her boyfriend is less than supportive and notes that being a single mom is not exactly accepted in her church. Jeanne is a troubled 29-year-old woman who is pregnant for the seventh time by the end of the documentary and plans on giving the baby up for adoption to the same couple who adopted one of her previously born drug-addicted children, although she seems to be waffling and might keep the baby with her drug dealer boyfriend. Brooke is a 26-year-old married mom who, after several years of trying to get pregnant again, decides to carry to term a baby who will likely die within minutes of being born due to a fatal genetic syndrome.

To Fox's credit, the documentary is decidedly apolitical, focusing solely on the three women, their friends and family and their doctors. The women tell their own stories and each woman says she has no regrets about any of her decisions. Fox is even fair to Dr. William Harrison, Kayla's doctor, who says that he is "not in the business of murdering children" but rather "saving the lives of my patients." Dr. Harrison, a brave and unapologetic man who might have reason not to be so forthcoming after Fox notes in a caption that he performs about 1,000 abortions a year, breaks the news that "no one gets pregnant so they can have abortions."

Yet, with the selection of these three women as the subjects, Fox frames the story. All three women were white, in their 20s, southern and claimed to be religious. Not that southern Christians don't have abortions, but this is hardly the face of abortion or unwanted pregnancies in this country. Where was the married woman in her 40s with three kids already and suddenly facing an unplanned pregnancy? Where was the single 30-year-old professional woman with a supportive boyfriend but who simply isn't ready to have children yet? Where was the rape victim? Where was the woman who didn't "agonize" over her decision to have an abortion?

While the politicians and crusaders are kept out of the picture, the anti-choice bias lurks under the surface. Kayla's a partier who's having her second abortion, and Jeanne's an unbalanced drug addict whose plight makes one cry out for better access to birth control. But Brooke is the only stable woman of the three, and her decision is to have and keep the baby, even though it will die. Faced with a tragic situation, she and her husband leave it in "God's hands" and are made out to be saints. The documentary doesn't excoriate Kayla for her abortion or Jeanne for her lifestyle – it leaves that to the viewers, who will see a young woman crying as she gets her second abortion and a drug addict pondering whether she and her drug dealing boyfriend should keep the baby or give it up for adoption. One story the documentary doesn't show: a stable, sane woman exercising her constitutional and bodily right to make her own decisions. There've gotta be a few of those out there, right?

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Nicole Summer please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    … raises her hand.

    But that wouldn’t make for good T.V., now would it? Because such women don’t exist.

  • invalid-0

    Dr. Harrison, the doctor featured in the Fox documentary asked me to post this comment in response to Nicole's fine piece (and, by the way, Dr. Harrison will be writing a post on his involvement in this documentary for RH Reality Check this week – stay tuned!):

    Nicole Summer asks some good questions. Where are those women she talks about? Well, they are protecting their privacy. It takes, and took, a great deal of courage for the women who told their stories to tell them. And why would Fox News send a producer 1200 miles to get a story that could have been accessed in NYC or Boston or anywhere else in the great New York, New Jersey, New England neighborhood?

    Could it have been because no one in that area that the producer contacted was willing to work with her on this story? Why did she have to come to Arkansas and Texas and somewhere else in the Bible Belt to find a physician and patients facing these choices and willing to tell their stories?

    I have always been willing to talk to media, any media, about what I do and why I do it. And when asked, I have always found patients willing to tell their stories, on the record and on camera. One of the reasons those other women's stories don't get told is because most physicians are afraid to tell their own stories or unwilling to search for patients willing to tell their stories. I don't know where Ms. Feldman, the Fox producer that developed this story, found the two patients who were not mine, Jeanne and Brooke, but she told me that she searched for these women for more than a year before finding them. I furnished several names and phone numbers of physicians whom I thought might have been willing to work with her, but all found reasons not to do so. Oh, and the reason that I am now doing about 1,000 abortions a year is? because I am the only physician in my part of Arkansas willing to provide this service, and since there are no physicians in southern MO or most of eastern OK or southeast Kansas willing to provide this desperately needed service, many of the women from these areas arrive at my office as well. Well, that is not entirely true anymore.

    Just this year, PP in Fayetteville started providing some medical abortion care. So don't blame Fox. Blame the timidity of my colleagues who refuse too often to work with media. When we professionals who continue to provide abortion care – and there are damned few of us any more – it is extremely difficult for reporters and producers to get a "fair and balanced" story. The few physicians on the other side is always willing to tell their stories, and to find women willing to tell their "horror stories." We physicians who have the courage to provide this service have to dig a little deeper, and bring up the courage not only to provide this desperately needed service, but to tell the world why we do it!

  • http://doctorscience.blogspot.com invalid-0

    means (to my surprise) that the producers actually *were* trying to level the playing field. For their target audience, none of these women are “them” — they aren’t outsiders by race or location or even by religion. They are showing abortion not as something “those women” do, but as something that happens even in red states, even to Christian women.

    And both of the women who don’t choose abortion are shown as making uncomfortable choices with painful consequences — choices that the viewers aren’t going to easily nod and agree with.

    For Fox, this is a surprisingly liberal and nuanced tack. For Fox.

  • invalid-0

    I agree with Doctor Science — what’s fascinating to me is that they showed the kind of women who are most likely to watch Fox News (white, Christian, Southern) AND the kind of women that the men watching Fox News are most likely to know personally.

    It’s easy to Other the black woman who lives in a big city in the Northeast. It’s not so easy to Other the woman who could be your sister or your daughter.

    We have to remember sometimes: We are not Fox viewers, so the images that are persuasive to them are not the ones that are the most persuasive to us.

  • invalid-0

    While Nicole Summer’s points are well taken, I just must second approval of this program. We report; you decide. This is one time you lived up to your motto. Instead of cajoling the audience with moral majority conclusions, the show simply required that the viewer put him/herself in the shoes of these three women and then decide for him/herself whether the issues are so simple as the clergy and conservative polititicians would have us believe. That the program may not have captured the national picture is beside the point.

    Far be it from me to second guess any of these women’s decisions. However, I had a special admiration for the woman who insisted that the potential father would have to commit himself to fathering the child before she would go through with the pregnancy.

    I hope Fox News will find this program sufficiently successful that it will make more use of this technique and less of lecturing to us.

  • invalid-0

    Perhaps Fox News will have a follow-up to this with other [types] of women in mind. I’m sure they’ve gotten a lot of reaction for this program.

    Are Brooke and her husband not pro-choice? They struggled and made a choice. They believe it was the right choice.

    Also, I thought it was admirable for Brooke and her husband to decide not to abandon their moral judgment. Even though their baby wouldn’t live long, which is bad enough for a couple, they won’t have the inevitable gilt that those [types] of people would definitely have hanging over their heads. It’s good to take notice that some people know where they stand, even if that’s not the same choice* others make on a however frequent basis.

  • invalid-0

    I can speak from personal experience that Brooke and her husband Tom are definitely NOT pro-choice, but are and always have been very much pro-life, and I can say with definite certainty that they always will be.

  • invalid-0

    A choice is a choice -meaning there are *options*- but does that qualify as “Pro-choice” to some people? Do proponents imply that a single choice is the only choice in Pro-choice?

    Brooke and her husband were faced with a choice to make, probably for the first time concerning abortion, and they made a choice. I believe it was a difficult one for them.

    Do the politics behind abortion distort the label of the belief of what it really is?

    Pro-What?

  • invalid-0

    Actually, I am sitting here with Brooke right now, and her opinion is that she and Tom did not make a choice. The show presented it that way, but they never considered any alternative other than to carry Marlee to term. Please feel free to check out their website at http://www.marleejonell.com/home

  • invalid-0

    The link to marleejonell.com does not show up. There must be some mistake.

    Their whole community has embraced them and I really don’t think there’s a single person who actually knows them that can say that they didn’t struggle with their decision. They clearly struggled to make a decision and it clearly was not easy.

    And the program that aired was clear to everyone concerning Brooke and her husband’s choice.

    That aside, I must reiterate from earlier
  • A choice is a choice -meaning there are *options*- but does that qualify as “Pro-choice” to some people?
  • Do proponents imply that a single choice is the only choice in Pro-choice?
  • Do the politics behind ‘Pro-choice’ distort the label of the belief of what it really is?(especially when a woman decides NOT to abort her child)
  • Should the label for abortion advocates just be “PRO-(something else)?” Like say: “Pro-choice-unless-you’re-someone-like-Brooke-and-her-husband-who-struggled-to-make-a-choice”