A story in images: the abortion media storm of 2019


Cindy Sherman Bishop

Cindy Bishop

By Cindy Sherman Bishop

Spring 2019's onslaught of state-level abortion bans across the country was like a surprising cold shower on an even colder day. I found this landslide of legislation disturbing on many levels. How and why is the abortion topic so divisive well after 50 years of what many consider “settled law”? What are the narratives that continue to provoke? What is the religious framing, the secular framing, the feminist framing? Can the visual language around these stories partially answer these questions?

To find out, I used MediaCloud, our awesome media analysis platform here at MIT’s Center for Civic Media. I downloaded headlines and images from this spring’s popular U.S. News stories. I then created interactive maps that sorted the data for me. From these maps, I could clearly see that not only has the term “unborn child” entered conservative mainstream vernacular, but the accompanying image often features a baby or infant. Women who grow and birth these infants have far less visual representation. It looks like images of already-born cute cuddly children are essentially weaponized to malign the choice of abortion.

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