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New Court's First Abortion Decision -- Confusing Coverage Or Is It Just Me?

Coverage of the abortion debate leave the media open to charges of bias and mischaracterization like few others. Take the emotions and beliefs involved, add in some loaded terminology and tricky legal issues, and you've got quite a combustible mix on your hands. Are opponents of abortion "pro-life" or "anti-choice?" Is a particular procedure terminating a pregnancy "late-term abortion" or "partial-birth abortion" or something else entirely? What exactly does "health of the mother" mean? What would happen to abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned? Would that mean all abortion would be outlawed?

It's not easy to lay out a lot of this in a short "Evening News" story, but CBS Correspondent Wyatt Andrews did it as well as possible in his story last night about the Supreme Court decision to hear the case of a "late-term" or "partial-birth" abortion law passed by Congress and struck down by lower courts.

Andrews explained why this decision to hear the case was important news – because of the new makeup of the Court, particularly Associate Justice Samuel Alito who replaced traditional swing vote Sandra Day O'Connor. He explained what was prohibited by the law and the primary reason that the law has been struck down in the past – because it does not include an exception for the health of the mother. He interviewed a co-sponsor of the bill, Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) who explained why that provision was not included in the law – because supporters believe "health of the mother" could mean virtually anything.

Most importantly, in my judgment, he provided the reasons why all eyes are on Alito – and why no one is quite sure how he will rule on the case. That is why I became confused when the "Evening News" then turned to Jan Crawford Greenburg, legal reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Supreme Court analyst for CBS News, for more on what Alito might do.

Greenburg's analysis seemed to contradict information in Andrews' piece and leave the clear impression that Alito would almost certainly vote to uphold the ban on "partial-birth" abortion. Here's how she opened her talk-back with anchor Bob Schieffer:

Today's announcement, the first day that Judge Alito took the bench in public in the courtroom dramatically underscores the changes that are already taking place in the Supreme Court. If Justice O'Connor were still on the court, this law would be unconstitutional. With Justice Alito now in her place, the court is poised to say this kind of law is OK.
In his segment, Andrews noted that Justice O'Connor "protected the woman's health exception and she did it so often it became accepted constitutional law." He went on to note that in his confirmation hearing, Alito "would not tip his hand on abortion but came out strongly in favor of honoring previous court decisions." And, he quoted another CBS legal analyst, Andrew Cohen, saying: "If Justice Alito meant what he said when he says he believes in a strong rule and role of precedent at the Supreme Court, this law is going to fail." Taken together, a viewer may reasonably be expected to either believe that Justice Alito had not "meant what he said" during his confirmation hearings or be confused about what to think altogether.

The reality is, nobody knows for sure how Justice Alito will rule on this particular case. It is one thing to say the court will "likely" do something because that is based on educated speculation, and there's been no shortage of that when it comes to the court over the past six months. It's no secret that many in the president's party would like more regulations on abortion, if not to outlaw it all together. It's no secret that Alito has voiced his personal opposition to abortion in the past. And the court has undeniably tilted toward the right from where it has been in the past.

But the analysis muddled the primary issue for me, which was this case. Greenberg went on to say this court is likely to agree to more regulation on the abortion issue, which didn't even confuse my thick skull, but does that generality apply here? Of course, that's just my take, watch both segments above and judge for yourself, let us know what you think. Am I making too much of this? Did Greenburg's analysis add another, valuable layer of context to this complex and emotional issue or leave you wondering what you should think about the eventual outcome of this particular case?