Bad Moms, Blameless Dads: Examining How the Media Portrays Age-Related Preconception Harm

As I discussed in a previous blog,
the blame for fetal harm is generally directed at women. Some of my colleagues
and I, including AMBI faculty member Zubin Master, were interested in examining
how fetal harm, and more specifically age-related preconception harm, is
portrayed in the media.
findings were published
earlier this year in the American Journal of Bioethics Empirical Bioethics.

Given the significant social change
that many people today are delaying childbearing in comparison to previous
generations, it is relevant to examine the media portrayal of older parental
age and risk to future offspring. Furthermore, there is clear evidence that
older parental age carries certain risks to offspring: older age in women and
men leads to an increased risk of having children with autism and Down syndrome
and older paternal age has also been linked to higher rates of children with
schizophrenia. Many people get most of their scientific news from the media, so
it is important to examine the accuracy and biases of the information.

Our results indicate that
reproduction is still largely seen as the domain of women, rather than of
couples or of men. We rarely found articles discussing reproduction as it
relates to both women and men as the majority of articles were maternally
focused. Even among the articles that were paternally focused, they almost
always discussed maternal harm as well. However, the reverse – maternally
focused articles containing discussions of paternal harm – were almost
nonexistent. This pattern suggests that men alone are never seen as solely
responsible for fetal harms, but rather that this responsibility is always
shared with women.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.