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February 8, 2007

Misled by Bad Reporting

On February 1, the Arizona Daily Star reported that a state senator is seeking to "expand existing requirements" for doctors to report data on women receiving abortions to the state Department of Health. In addition to age, race and marital status, it "would mandate that doctors collect and report information such as the reason for the abortion … and other intimate personal information about the woman."

Responding to a quote in that article by Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of NARAL Pro-choice Arizona, who said the bill "imposes incredibly onerous and burdensome requirements," a blogger at Feministing.com wrote: "of course it does—that’s the point."

If you find this shocking, don’t. Several states, including Arizona, already require doctors to report various pieces of information about abortions they perform, as a call to the Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive issues, reveals.

The Arizona bill wouldn’t change much. Abortion doctors in Arizona are already required fill out this form for every abortion. It includes information you might expect a doctor to already know about an abortion patient, like reproductive history, age and whether the abortion was elective or medically necessary. But it also includes personal details not medically relevant, like race, marital status and education level that the doctor would have to specifically ask for. It does not, however, include the name or ID number of the woman.

The bill would add a few more details to the reporting requirement, like the weight of the fetus, if applicable. But the major change the bill proposes is to hold doctors criminally liable for failing to file this form.

Aside from being terribly misleading, the Star article got a few things downright wrong. For instance, it reported that the bill would increase the number of abortions getting reported by requiring reporting on medical abortions (abortions triggered through medication instead of surgery). But since the form already asks whether the abortion is medical or surgical, I was skeptical, so I called the state health department and found out doctors already report medical abortions.

Not only was the Star article blatantly wrong, but with posts like "AZ bill would disclose personal patient info to the state," blogs like Feministing are spreading the inaccuracies to new layers of the Internet.

We’re not saying this isn’t still an important story. If you read this post at the blog Frammin at the Jim Jam, you’ll find a really interesting critique of the reporting requirements that could be applied to current Arizona law and all the state laws like it.

But the inaccuracies found in the Star article and later repeated in the blogs illustrate why progressives need a vetted source for news. This is a role TNS is trying to fill. You may sometimes wonder why we don’t publish as much as other websites. The answer is real journalism is time intensive, especially when we’re following stories like this and part of the challenge is sifting through the shoddy work of others.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.