The Washington Post published their second profile on 19-year-old Brooke High this week, continuing the outlet’s coverage of the young mom who found out she was pregnant with twins 48 hours before the Texas Heartbeat Act preventing the abortion of babies with heartbeats took effect.
High gave birth to her and her husband, Billy’s, daughters instead of getting an abortion, prompting a flurry of praise from pro-life proponents and an equally intense avalanche of recriminations against Texas for “compelling” mothers to have their children.
The Post’s article is well-reported and seems objective — at least at first glance. It’s a nine-and-a-half-page detailed profile including negative and positive snapshots of the family’s life. It’s organization and word choice, however, reveal an implicit argument being made in favor of abortion.
The story is structured to suggest that Brooke’s children have made her life worse.
Consider the introduction, which features an anecdote describing a frazzled Brooke hiding in her room while her wailing children throw dishes and her checked-out husband watches T.V.
This episode is immediately offset by idyllic descriptions of Brooke’s life before the birth of her daughters, when she was “gearing up for real estate school and enjoying long days at the beach with her new boyfriend.”
By the time readers learn — 16 paragraphs in — that the twins are “happy and healthy” and “really smart,” that Billy became an U.S. Air Force mechanic to support his family, and that “Brooke is proud of the decisions she and Billy have made for their family,” the article has already invited readers to conclude Brooke’s life would be better if she had gotten an abortion.
This argument is bolstered by the omission of key context. This isn’t uncommon. It’s impossible for journalists to communicate a full story with every fact and from every point of view, so they have to prioritize what they think is most important for readers to know. It becomes problematic when a story is portrayed as objective, but information has been excluded to guide readers toward particular conclusions.
In this case, the article claims Brooke couldn’t get an abortion in Texas because of the Texas Heartbeat Act. While this is technically true, it encourages readers to draw the conclusion that Brooke wanted an abortion and was unable to receive one. This is not the case.
According to paragraphs 31-59 of the original article, published last year, Brooke received her ultrasound at a pro-life pregnancy crisis center 48 hours before the Act took effect. If her baby had a heartbeat, she knew she likely wouldn’t be able to get a local abortion appointment before the law was implemented, but she could get it done in New Mexico.
At the pregnancy center, she was informed of the risks of getting an abortion, including death and infertility. She also experienced the excitement of her mom and her ultrasound tech when they discovered she was pregnant with twin babies — each with a heartbeat. At the end of the appointment, when the tech asked if she planned to keep her babies, Brooke replied, “Yes.”
This information likely wasn’t included in the Post’s most recent article because it doesn’t serve the implicit argument the Brooke should have gotten an abortion. By implying a Texas law forced Brooke to keep her children, the article implicates the state in making Brooke’s life worse. Context shows us that it was Brooke’s decision to keep her children, not Texas’.
Using word choice to flesh out one viewpoint and leave others vague is another way articles can advance implicit arguments. The Post’s piece dedicates more words to describing pro-abortion views than pro-life views. For instance, it quotes two words — “powerfully pro-life” — from Sen. Ted Cruz (R) to describe pro-life reactions to Brooke and Billy’s story. In contrast, it devotes three descriptive, contextually rich lines to the pro-abortion perspective: “Abortion rights advocates decried the Texas law that compelled an ambitious young woman to abandon her education and raise two kids on the $9.75 an hour her then-boyfriend made working at a burrito restaurant.”
It is important for Christians to be able to identify these kinds of hidden arguments in the news they consume. If we do not learn to assess what information is true and complete and what is being used in service of a greater argument, our minds are more susceptible to lies and propaganda.
For an analysis of the article’s themes and the Christian response, stay tuned for Part 2.
Related articles and resources:
If you are experiencing an unexpected pregnancy and want to learn more about your options, you can visit My Choice Network here.
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