NPR Faces Right-Wing Backlash After Airing Audio of Abortion

A Fox News op-ed called it “horrific” and said it “shows Americans how terrible procedure and NPR truly are.” It's just a normal medical procedure.

NPR Faces Right-Wing Backlash After Airing Audio of Abortion
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Ahead of next week’s midterm election, which will present Michigan voters with a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution, NPR’s Morning Edition went inside a Michigan abortion clinic, Northland Family Planning, on Thursday. The episode showed audiences a day in the life working at a clinic—from the vile threats and harassment from anti-abortion protesters outside to the sometimes intense and deeply personal reasons patients seek abortion. At one point in the episode, we hear audio of a procedural abortion underway.

“Squeeze my hand, and just keep breathing,” a staff member at the clinic identified as Brandee tells a patient having an abortion. “Blow it out. Blow it out. Breathe through it. Breathe through it. Blow it out.”

“You did it,” Audrey Lance, the doctor, says, when the abortion is complete.

This particular snippet of audio has since sent conservative media in a tailspin. A Fox News op-ed called it “horrific” and said it “shows Americans how terrible procedure and NPR truly are.” The president of a major anti-abortion organization said audio of the abortion “is what Hell sounds like.” Another right-wing activist called it “violence,” and one group called it “a recording of murder” that’s further grounds for abortion to be “outlaw[ed].” I call it… pretty cool!

Abortion is an extremely normal, extremely safe, everyday medical procedure. Polling shows it’s very popular, but the more notable statistic, to me, is that, like it or not, it’s always been—and always will be—extremely common: One in four pregnant-capable people has had an abortion; someone you love has certainly had an abortion. As a routine health service, abortion probably isn’t going to sound like a majestic walk through a field of daisies, just as a colonoscopy or dental work probably don’t sound like a Harry Styles concert, either. That said, there was nothing upsetting or even particularly uncomfortable about the abortion audio on NPR—it’s just a doctor and clinic staff guiding a woman’s breathing through the procedure, and minutes later, it’s finished.

We should be taking every opportunity to demonstrate the simplicity and safety of abortion, as a means to destigmatize and demystify the health service—all the more so in these post-Roe v. Wade times, when doctors and patients are being threatened with prison, state investigation, and criminal charges over a health service that is objectively a public good.

The performative outrage and “disgust” from conservative activists is stupid, stigmatizing, and cruel, but on some level, it’s also very funny. Imagine being appalled by audio snippets of health care workers encouraging a patient to breathe, but finding nothing wrong with reports earlier this year about an anti-abortion activist who stole five fetuses from a clinic and stored them in a basement apartment. Imagine finding the very normal audio more disturbing than all of the falsified, highly graphic, and utterly disgusting protest signs anti-abortion protesters routinely wield outside clinics, shoved in abortion patients’ faces.

Speaking of abortion patients, audio of the abortion was just one piece of the NPR episode; it also gave patients a platform to describe what brought them to the clinic. “When I asked patients if they would talk with me, so many of them said, ‘Yeah, I want to talk. If people are going to be voting on this, I want them to know what this abortion means for me,’” NPR’s Kate Wells says in the episode.

One patient, called A, told her, “I don’t think I could survive if I knew that I had to have these babies with an abusive person. That’s insanity to me. I feel like a prisoner.” Through tears, the woman pregnant with twins told NPR that she already had two young kids, is not currently with her kids’ father, and is seeking a protective order from him. “At the end of the day, I can’t physically, financially or mentally handle two more kids.”

It’s a strikingly, achingly familiar story: An estimated 10% of abortion patients seek abortion specifically to escape an abusive partner, and research shows being denied a wanted abortion places people at substantially greater risk of long-term domestic abuse. Many post-Roe abortion bans lack rape exceptions, and those that have them still require pregnant survivors to jump through needless, dehumanizing hoops for care.

NPR also shined light on patients who are in healthy, happy relationships seeking abortion care. As Jezebel’s Caitlin Cruz has written, there’s simply no reason more valid than any other to have an abortion.

For all the backlash from conservative media, abortion is an everyday reality all around us—it’s the reason many of our co-workers are able to work with us, the reason many of our classmates are in class with us, the reason many of our parents were able to have us at all. It only makes sense that we should hear exactly what abortion entails.

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