Abortion is a medical term that describes the termination of pregnancy. The issue of reporting activist actions and legal acts that aim to change abortion regulation is complex since this topic is controversial. Some people advocate for a woman’s right to make conscious decisions regarding her pregnancy, while others emphasize the ethical aspect of the problem and the impact that this decision has on the fetus. This essay aims to examine the portrayal of abortion in the Australian media and discuss the impact of the problem on news sources. It also reviews the influence of social media and news agencies on public opinion and the decisions made by the politicians and describes their reactions to the new bill.
The political aspect of the problem is connected to the freedom of choice on the one hand, and protecting the rights of the unborn children on the other. According to the BBC (2019), the primary law that regulated pregnancy termination in Australia was implemented over a hundred years ago and was often criticized as outdated. A significant event, in this context, is the decriminalization of abortions in New South Wales (NSW), which is the last state in Australia that allowed pregnancy terminations only if a severe health risk for a woman was confirmed by a medical professional.
It should be noted that the Federal Government does not regulate abortion. Instead, state authorities implement laws regarding the procedure. The main implication for communication and media is the need to have a clear understanding of which territories in Australia allow abortion and which imposed a ban on it.
While most of the foreign news agencies took only a narrative and neutral approach to the new bill, Australian media has been positive about the decriminalization. The NSW Pro-Choice Alliance declared the law as a temporary solution for protecting the rights of women because there will be those who oppose it by providing falsified information (Family Planning NSW, 2019). Chairman of the Alliance, Wendy McCarthy, stated that people had been waiting for 119 years for this law, yet the opponents will never stop debating over it (Family Planning NSW, 2019).
Now To Love reacted emotionally, cheering for the decision, and emphasizing the fact that the bill should have been passed much earlier (Sullivan, 2019). The same publication related conservatism to horror and described the abortion ban as an alarming practice (Sullivan, 2019). Therefore, it is evident that the majority of Australian media agencies welcomed the new law.
The decriminalization of abortion led to positive reactions from the people too. Many pondered why it took so long to pass this bill because public opinion has been pro-choice for the last 50 years (Pringle, 2019). For instance, in 2003, a survey discovered that 81% of people are against the criminalization of abortion and believe that every woman has the right to make a decision on whether or not to have an abortion (Children by Choice, 2018). There were opinions that religious beliefs might have been a hindrance to decriminalization (Pringle, 2019).
However, the same survey found that 77% of those who responded pro-choice identified themselves as religious (Children by Choice, 2018). The reason was not related to voters – it was the politicians’ unwillingness to take action (Pringle, 2019). This fact may be due to the absence of pressure from both the public and the media.
The media has the power to influence both public opinion and policy agendas. In 2017, when the initial attempts to legalize abortion in NSW failed at the Parliament level, newspapers and online publishers immediately shared their devastation (Ingram, 2017). Many labeled this event as an act of depriving women of their rights (Ingram, 2017). Because of such active sharing of opinions and resentments, the debate was not over and continued for another two years. Online communities that distributed polls and reports started to emerge (Cockburn, 2019). This collective effort resulted in success in September 2019, when the Parliament finally passed the bill legalizing abortion (Cockburn, 2019).
The media, however, was actively used by the opposition as well. There were reports that religious communities and other abortion opponents were engaged in propaganda on social media websites (Cockburn). There were twice as many Facebook pages opposing the legalization of abortion as those supporting it (Cockburn, 2019). These pages had ten times more followers than the pages promoting the new bill. However, it can be seen that social media campaigns are not always effective despite reaching large audiences.
Next, considering the recent legislation changes in NSW, it is essential to review the social implications of abortions. BBC (2019) and Walton (2019) report that decriminalization led to protests organized by activists who believe that this regulation is unethical. In this context, one can argue that topics such as abortion are difficult to report for the media because journalists have to assess factual data and opinions of stakeholders. However, the controversy and the underlying ethical and philosophical context of this issue can make it challenging to present both sides of the debate equally.
Overall, abortion is a complex issue that affects the media because of the different viewpoints that review this problem from different perspectives. The media sources are affected since the topic of abortion is sensitive for both opposes and supporters of the women’s right to choose. The controversy surrounding abortions and the fact that there is no consensus on whether one has the right to choose abortion or if it is against ethical standards is among the many factors that make this topic an important issue for the media.
In regard to the recent changes in Australian legislation, foreign news agencies have been often restrained, only describing the events in a narrative way and presenting the facts. Australian media, however, has taken an emotional approach and welcomed the new amendments. During the debate, social media was used by both supporters and opposers of the new law, but this method was not proved to be useful for opposition despite a high number of followers.
BBC. (2019). Australia abortion laws: Terminations now legal in New South Wales. BBC. Web.
Children by Choice. (2018). Attitudes to Abortion. Web.
Cockburn, P. (2019). Social media tactics being used to shape the abortion debate. ABC News. Web.
Family Planning NSW. (2019). Abortion decriminalisation delay a slap in the face to women & experts. Web.
Ingram, L. (2017). Why the NSW abortion ruling is absolutely ridiculous. News Corp Australia. Web.
Pringle, H. (2019). After 119 years, NSW is set to decriminalise abortion. Why has reform taken so long? The Conversation. Web.
Sullivan, R. (2019). Finally! Abortion is now legal everywhere in Australia. Now To Love. Web.
Walton, K. (2019). Abortion bill faces resistance in Australia’s New South Wales. Al Jazeera. Web.