Reflection: Take Two

The issue of ‘after-birth’ abortion has caused a media frenzy when it first appeared in a journal article presented by two bioethicists from Oxford, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, supporting the issue. The issue soon became a commonly debated topic in many media types including, TV programs, print media, social media, and user-generated media, being presented in terms of concepts such as the public sphere, semiotics, media regulation and moral panic.

The primary function of official print and TV media is to present current world issues to the general public in a manner in which the wider audience can easily understand and engage with. For this reason stories visually presented are generally short and concise, only including the facts and opinions that the station deems significant. The focus of TV programs on the issue of post-birth abortion is the socio-moral values of society and the debate between right and wrong. The coverage on Russia Today concentrates on the mistaken advice given to a woman in England who was going to give birth to a child with Down syndrome. The news station highlights the doctors’ recommendation to abort the baby, as it would be “a struggle not worth living.” The news station follows the story of the mother and child, chastising professional medical personnel on their recommended medical advice, highlighting the morality of abortion and the right to life in modern society.

Print media has also heavily debated the issue, focusing on the opinions of academics and medical personnel in order to accentuate the prominence of the moral and social underpinnings of society, most notably the article in the Journal of Medical Ethics that evoked an intense response after stating that foetuses and newborns “do not have the same moral status as actual persons” and “the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant”. This remark prompted responses including Stuart Cowie, from the LIFE charity retorting “The idea that respectable academics at prestigious universities would argue for the killing of newborn babies seems monstrous,” and also reassurance from the British Medical Journal saying “Many people will and have disagreed with these arguments. However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well-reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.”

The moral debate that is presented in TV and print media has taken on the role as a moral panic by causing humanity to question and challenge societal values and interests, by exploring the undertones of abortion and ‘after-birth’ abortion. The hypersensitive debate of ProLife vs. ProChoice incorporates religious undertones that often colour stories presented in TV and print media with strong views and opinions supported by God and the Bible. The discussion between the opposing positions revolves around the validity and definition of human life and whether newborns can be categorized as persons. The Kirby Lang Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE) outlines the “Judeo-Christian belief that all humans are “created in the image of God” and later by the Enlightenment humanist doctrine of “inalienable natural rights””, while The Radiant Cross bluntly state “Killing a baby is killing a baby, no matter when it’s done.” Though many religiously affiliated online articles relate back to Giubilini and Minerva’s article, the authors of the controversial article justify the moral (not legal) permissibility of infanticide on the ground that “while newborns are “human” they cannot be deemed “persons” unless they meet what is a profoundly contestable definition of “personhood”, namely the capacity to “attribute to their own existence some…basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to them”.”

The issue of after-birth abortion has also caused a whirlwind of responses in social and user-generated media. Social media refers to a vast array of content made available through the use of modern communication technologies. The primary function of social and user-generated content is to attempt to equalize official media sources with the knowledge and opinions of the general public to establish a balanced representation of media issues.

Platforms including online blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Podcasts have all played a major role in facilitating the general public in voicing their opinions and concerns about after-birth abortion and distributing them worldwide via the public sphere. The public sphere allows everyday civilians to discuss and debate topics and issues in a free, anonymous environment, encouraging freedom of speech and expression.

Pages have emerged on Facebook including “Abolish Human Abortion” and “We can end abortion” that present abortion and by extension after-birth abortion as a threat to humanity and the social order of society. Twitter topics in the form of hash tags (#abortion, #ProLife, and #personhood) have been created to collectively argue against after-birth abortions and rally support amongst the online community. Twitter accounts most notable @SohlUSA and @ProLifeBlogs have also been produced dedicated to raising awareness of this issue.

User-generated media such as YouTube videos have surfaced from across the globe in the form of News programs (including Russia Today and GGN) and personal beliefs that can be accessed, liked and commented on by anyone, anywhere, anytime, giving the general public a powerful, collective voice. Anonymous comments on blogs, videos and Facebook pages paint abortion as “one’s rights over one’s own body. As such it becomes ridiculous to argue for infanticide as the woman is no longer exercising her rights over her own body”, and that “Abortion allows someone complete control over their body and whether they remain pregnant or not. Once the child is born that does not apply.” On the article published in Journal of Medical Ethics one user commented, “The Authors of this paper have done us all a favour. They have stirred up our emmotions [sic] significantly to warrant people having to rethink their stance on abortion”, suggesting that the general public is not as anti-abortion as official media sources would like us to believe.

The issue of after-birth abortion is presented throughout different platforms of media in a variety of lights, depending on a variety of factors. The knowledge of the individual of group, their age, religious and political affiliations, exposure to the issue either directly or indirectly, and reasons for presenting the issue can all cloud the representations of the issue in TV and print media and social/user-generated media, labelling it as either the right to life or the right to choice.

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