NPR Backs Out of Interview with Abortion Provider

In response to the WaPo article I wrote about this November, NPR’s Talk of the Nation got in touch with my charity of choice, Medical Students for Choice, to interview a doctor who is part of MS4C and did opt to perform abortions unlike the student profiled in WaPo. Apparently the interview with Dr. Rachel Phelps, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Syracuse, NY, was cancelled because the head producer refused to represent the doctor on air without also representing an anti-choice doctor.

Unfortunately (for NPR), MS4C had already sent out a press release to its followers telling them to keep a look out for the interview, and then had to send out a second release stating why the interview wouldn’t be aired. MS4C supporters were annoyed, and rightfully so, and flooded NPR with letters urging them to reconsider.

They did. The TOTN interview with Dr. Phelps is set to air on Monday. Meanwhile I, like MomTFH, am wondering why some controversial women’s health issues — controversial as it is that women may deserve some semblance of healthy living that may or may not involve their girly innards — aren’t treated like other controversial issues in the media. Why the emphasis on “moral” “balance” and equal time only when it comes to abortion, and not to, say, the environment? Or war?

Abortion is a legal, overwhelmingly safe, very common medical procedure, one of the most common surgical procedures in the country. The vast majority of the country supports the right for women to choose to terminate a pregnancy. The Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates between 30 to 40% of all women of reproductive age will have a pregnancy termination in their lifetime. Unfortunately, very few of these women will talk about it to anyone other than their immediate support circle, due to the stigma. Part of that stigma is due to many media outlets not thinking that a story about abortion is complete without having someone pointing out that some people think that it is immoral.

Many NPR shows, including TOTN, are successful at providing nuanced discussion of controversial issues without resorting to having one guest that calls the other guest immoral, one who completely disagrees with their legal ability to even do what they do…When you have on military experts or spokespeople, do you have a token pacifist on the panel saying war is wrong, or even someone who represents the 60%+ of us who think we shouldn’t be in Iraq? Just to remind everybody that some people think it’s immoral?

Maybe we should! And then we can start voting and legislating based on murky waters and human interest stories instead of on facts, or needs, or socio-political forecasts, or hell, the future.

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15 comments for “NPR Backs Out of Interview with Abortion Provider

  1. December 11, 2008 at 9:30 pm


    Now I need to figure out how to listen. I never listen to the radio.

  2. December 11, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    Wow! Thanks for the love!

  3. Claire
    December 12, 2008 at 12:03 am

    You should be able to find it at the above link on the day it airs, Cara.

  4. December 12, 2008 at 12:48 am

    Was there any public statement given by NPR about this? I’d be interested to know how they addressed the issue.

  5. Chloe
    December 12, 2008 at 1:34 am

    I think they do give equal time for differing opinions on war and the environment.

  6. December 12, 2008 at 9:05 am

    “… because the head producer refused to represent the doctor on air without also representing an anti-choice doctor.”

    Remember, the world is going to end next month because “the liberals are trying to bring back the fairness doctrine.”

    And don’t go bringing those pesky facts into this debate.

  7. MsM
    December 12, 2008 at 9:31 am

    @Chloe: Yeah, but I don’t think it’s the same thing. If you’re going to discuss the validity/legality/morality etc. of a war, that makes sense. But if you’re interviewing, say, a soldier or sergeant who is fighting that war, it doesn’t.

    Same thing goes here. They aren’t interviewing a pro-choice activist, they’re interviewing a abortion provider for her views on what it’s like to do what she does. It’s not about her views or opinions per se. It’s about her experiences.

  8. December 12, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Thanks a lot, Claire!

  9. Henrietta G. Tavish
    December 12, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Apparently the interview . . . was cancelled because the head producer refused to represent the doctor on air without also representing an anti-choice doctor.

    So “apparently” this may not even be a fact. A substantiating link would be helpful, as it’s doubtful that the producer used the word “anti-choice” in characterizing the doctor that was being sought. They might well have been seeking some doctor like the one who belonged to Medical Students for Choice, but ultimately declined to perform abortions. Also. “anti-choice” generally refers to someone who advocates the recriminalization of abortion, not merely someone who believe it to be immoral but is otherwise strongly pro-choice.

  10. December 12, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    I’m really excited this interview is happening. There is also a really great blog by abortion providers if people are interested:

  11. December 12, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    wow…I gotta say I’m stunned…what’s the real story here? I thought NPR couldn’t be bought, but this is the second time I’ve had to really wonder…maybe in desperate times anyone can be bought…NPR just made some cuts of well-known journalists…Ketzel Levine is one…

  12. Michael
    December 12, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    This is an example of why people should oppose any “fairness doctrine” through the media. Imagine if every pro-choice commentator had to be paired with an anti-choice commentator. This is an example of how anti-choice politicians would use the law.

  13. December 12, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    There was no statement form NPR and no link because the show does not officially announce their guests or the topics of the show until 2 pm the same day. Probably due to circumstances such as this. There was a press announcement to Medical Students for Choice, and a Facebook event invite. The event was canceled, and the MSFC outreach people sent out a list serve email that explained the circumstances. The reason given was that they could not find a doctor who was morally opposed to abortion to counter her on the show. I said “apparently” on my blog because I was obviously not a first hand witness to the decision.

    Because of a large amount of emails along with mine, the show has been rescheduled for Monday.

  14. R
    December 14, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    The show does not release the names of guests until 2pm the day of for a couple of fairly obvious and simple reasons:

    1. A guest might fall through at the last minute (illness, missed plane, phone lines down in their far off country, whatever)

    2. An important news story this morning might trump whatever other topic was being planned for this afternoon’s show.

    Changes happen at the last minute all the time, either because news gets in the way, or because they can’t get the guests they want today, or whatever. Most of the time, that’s not political, it’s just the live radio biz.

    Also, was NPR unable to find an “opposing” doctor, or was MSFC unwilling to have their doctor on if an opposing view was being aired? Did NPR plan never to air the segment, or simply to postpone it until a day when a second doctor could make it on the air? What language did NPR actually use to describe what they were looking for in the second doctor? Someone who opposed abortion on moral grounds? Someone who was anti-choice? Someone who chose not to provide abortions in his or her own practice? These are all questions we can’t know the answer to without having been there, and all questions that substantially affect how inflammatory this decision really should be.

    What was the actual topic of the segment as defined by TOTN? In other words, you’ve presented the segment here as an antidote to a particular WaPo story, but is that how TOTN conceived it? They design these segments intentionally to provoke debate and discussion among listeners. Having only one point of view on the air, doesn’t really serve that purpose. So this could easily have been a tactical choice in terms of their mission and goals as a radio program, not a political statement at all.

    I’m not suggesting that NPR can do no wrong, or even that they didn’t do wrong in this situation. I’m only suggesting that the outrage in this case may be premature, since we are missing a lot of key info and most of the comments are missing an appreciation of the basic nature of how talk radio works.

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