Kate Smith was a reporter for CBS News for several years, and her main beat was reproductive rights.
Now she works for an organization that was one of her main sources. Last year, Smith left CBS to work as the senior director of news content for Planned Parenthood.
On “Reliable Sources” Sunday, Smith said there were several reasons why she decided on the career move. But the most relevant reason, she said, was because her editor was no longer interested in covering abortion policies and reproductive health as a dedicated beat— a topic she had spend much of her career becoming an expert in.
“I was thinking the next steps of my career having that off the table,” Smith said. “I was more willing to consider other options.”
Working for Planned Parenthood, part of Smith’s job is deciding how to frame coverage of reproductive health issues. For example, topics such abortion are often covered through a political lens — sometimes overlooking the practical implications for individuals.
Smith noted how stories about the Texas abortion law, for example, will almost always have a quote from Sen. Ted Cruz and refer to the size and scope of similar restrictions that have been passed in other states. But many readers just want to know whether or not they can still make an appointment at their local Planned Parenthood.
“In that article, I promise you, [the reader’s] not going to be able to figure out whether or not her appointment is on,” Smith said.
As a reporter for CBS, Smith said she was flooded with phone calls and messages from people concerned about the status of their appointments after an article published.
“Because of the way that we cover abortion in the media with this national frame, often as a political story, we’re leaving patients out of the equation,” Smith said.
Smith wants readers to come to Planned Parenthood to hear from experts and understand what their rights are in real time.
“[Think about] cancer treatments,” Smith said. “You’d rather go to Sloan Kettering’s content than a New York Times article.”
Smith’s move to Planned Parenthood didn’t come without controversy. Two years ago, the conservative news outlet National Review called Smith Planned Parenthood’s ambassador to CBS.
“They said you’re posing as a reporter and constructed articles that more closely resemble press releases than news,” CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said. “So that was the charge when you were at CBS and now you’re at Planned Parenthood.”
Smith emphasized the journalistic standards and legal reviews her stories were subject to at CBS, and said her reporting today still goes through a rigorous review.
“I stand by every article I write,” Smith said. “I would say that making that accusation, you’re playing into the Right. Anyone who doesn’t fall by their rules, who isn’t anti-abortion, is against them.”
Covering abortion from a neutral point of view and including perspectives from both sides of the debate automatically makes anti-abortion advocates defensive, Smith said.
“They view doctors as for abortion, and they view them as biased, even though these are doctors we’re talking about,” Smith said. “So I really reject all of that criticism.”
In 2019, Smith traveled to El Salvador, where abortion has been banned since 1998. In 2020, CBS reported that more than 140 women accused of having an abortion have been jailed, even though many of them may have suffered a miscarriage.
“When we went to El Salvador, what we saw is all of those things that these doctors and politicians had warned us about were happening in real time on the ground,” Smith said.
Smith met with one doctor who said he had patients die because they weren’t allowed to undergo an abortion, and another who was providing them illegally who said there has been no drop off in demand.
But what kept Smith up at night was speaking to an imprisoned woman who hadn’t seen her family in years. The woman said she had a miscarriage.
“They wake up and they are shackled to the hospital bed and there was a police officer in there investigating them,” Smith said. “Doctors told me when they are looking at a patient, there is no way for them to tell the difference between an induced abortion and a spontaneous miscarriage.”
Smith said the consequences of what a post Roe world will look like aren’t merely hypothetical.
“All of these things that we say might happen if abortion gets banned, if abortion becomes illegal, they do happen,” Smith said. “We have actual facts that can inform what happens.”