After Roe v. Wade Reversal, Readers Flock to Publications Aimed at Women
In the weeks since the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, overturning the right to abortion after almost 50 years, the consequences have quickly rippled through American life. States have banned abortion or restricted access. Individual stories about the real-life impacts have become national headlines. Concerns have flared about what the decision means for other civil rights.
And through each big news development, readers have flocked to women-centric publications that support abortion rights to understand how it will shape their lives.
Jezebel, a feminist website started by Gawker Media in 2007, saw an 18 percent increase in traffic after a leaked draft of the decision was published by Politico in May. The 19th, which covers gender and politics and takes its name from the 19th Amendment, reported a 63 percent jump in readership for its abortion-related stories. And The Cut, New York magazine’s women’s site, said traffic to its abortion rights coverage increased nearly threefold in June compared with the previous month.
The surge of readers has buoyed a part of the digital media world that has declined in recent years, with many sites aimed at women closing down. Now readers are hunting out a feminist perspective and looking to writers who have closely covered the fight over abortion rights for years.
“We are able to cover this in an unflinching and honest way, with a perspective that I think a lot of traditional media outlets sort of aren’t able to do,” said Laura Bassett, the editor in chief of Jezebel.
Ms. Bassett previously covered women’s rights and health for nearly a decade at HuffPost. She took over Jezebel in September 2021. One of her first moves, she said, was to hire a reproductive rights reporter based in Texas, anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This was going to be the year where you have this legendary feminist blog, maybe the first feminist media site that got a lot of people into media,” Ms. Bassett said. “And you either meet this moment or you don’t.”
Jezebel helped to inspire new publications aimed at women in the 2000s and 2010s. But many of those blogs and websites struggled with the tricky business model of digital media that has made it hard for even large mainstream publications to stay afloat.
Most have now closed their doors. xoJane, founded by the former editor of Sassy and Jane, Jane Pratt, folded in 2016. In 2018, The Hairpin (a sister site to The Awl), Lenny Letter (an online newsletter by the actor and writer Lena Dunham) and Rookie Mag (a magazine from the then-teen style icon Tavi Gevinson) shut down. The popular blog Feministing closed in 2019 after 15 years. The same year, Vice Media eliminated its women’s vertical, Broadly. Bitch Media, a feminist publisher and magazine that was started in 1996, shuttered in June.
The remaining publications have found their moment. Readers outraged over the erosion of abortion rights across the United States seemed to be seeking outlets that match their reactions and provide updates and analysis as well as practical information on what new legislation means for their state, how to help other women or even how to obtain an abortion themselves.
Alexandra Smith, the audience director of The 19th, which was founded in 2020, said growth in traffic had been “exponential.” She said an increase in search traffic had continued well after the June 24 court decision, with readers now looking for information on how the decision could impact access to Plan B and IUDs. They were also looking to read about the impacts on other civil rights, such as marriage equality.
“We didn’t launch with a focus on just providing the daily news updates, because so many other sources already have that covered,” she said. “So we see people looking for this context, looking for implications for other parts of their lives and that’s kind of the niche we’ve been able to fill.”
The 19th’s content is free to readers and available to other publications that want to republish it.
Priyanka Mantha, a spokeswoman for New York magazine, said The Cut had increased coverage of abortion in anticipation of the Dobbs decision, including putting together the cover story for the May 23 issue: “This Magazine Can Help You Get an Abortion,” which offers a guide for access to abortion, legal help and aid. Ms. Mantha said traffic to abortion rights coverage at The Cut had sharply increased in June, though engagement dipped in July.
Jezebel has focused on explainers and news updates and has spotlighted local news reporting. Jezebel saw the most traffic to its website all year in June, the month the Supreme Court handed down its decision, according to Mark Neschis, a spokesman for G/O Media, the owner of Jezebel.
“In some ways, I do think we do pieces of writing that should be readable for everyone, but am I trying to expand Jezebel’s audience into the pro-life crowd? No, I’m not,” Ms. Bassett said.
She expects that the website will be able to sustain its readers’ interest amid the continuously shifting terrain for abortion access and the looming midterm election in November.
“It’s not like we’re reporting the same thing day after day, week after week, it’s like an evolving beast, so I don’t see this dying down any time soon,” Ms. Bassett said. “I think it will continue to be the top story in this country for a while.”
Jessica Valenti, a feminist writer and author, has turned her focus in recent weeks to delivering a daily roundup of abortion-related updates to readers of her Substack newsletter, All in Her Head, after hearing from many that they felt overwhelmed by the torrent of news around the country.
“It occurred to me that just trying to distill everything that was happening on a state level, on a national level, these random local stories, would be helpful and give people that bigger picture they were looking for without having to spend hours online,” she said in an interview.
Ms. Valenti, a co-founder of the now-shuttered blog Feministing, said that since the Supreme Court decision, the number of free subscribers to her newsletter had gone up more than 30 percent, while the number of paid subscribers had jumped 70 percent.
She said she thought people were signing up for the paid subscriptions because it gave them access to a community where people could talk to each other and commiserate without the online harassment that often comes with other social platforms.
“Right now, people are so angry,” Ms. Valenti said. “They want a place that is raging with them.”