Decision of the Complaints Committee – 28341-20 Carroll v The Times
Summary of Complaint
1. Patrick Carroll complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Women facing 40 days of protests at abortion clinics” published on 24 September 2020.
2. The article was reporting on the beginning of a 40-day campaign carried out by anti-abortion protesters, targeting 12 abortion clinics. The article gave details of the protesters’ tactics, which it reported included handing out “inaccurate” leaflets which included “…the false claim that abortion causes breast cancer”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that it was his view that abortion does cause breast cancer, and he said that there were studies showing a correlation between the two, including his own research. As such, he said that it was inaccurate to describe the claim that abortion causes breast cancer as “false”. He also said that the newspaper should have printed his letter refuting this claim.
4. The newspaper did not accept that the article was inaccurate. It noted that the sentence was a passing point made in the context of a brief news article – it was not an in-depth discussion of the research surrounding abortion. It said that it was the consensus of the overwhelming majority of doctors and the medical community that having an abortion does not cause breast cancer and provided examples from medical journals and research articles to demonstrate this. It said that by its very nature, medical research is constantly evolving and updating, but the newspaper could rely on the current overwhelming medical consensus as representing the true position, and thus accurately describe a position contrary to this consensus as false. Finally, it acknowledged that some research existed suggesting a correlation between abortion and breast cancer, but this was not the same as causation and was at odds with the majority of research on the subject. It said that although universal agreement on the issue did not exist, it was entitled to describe the claim that “abortion causes breast cancer” as false.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
6. The article was not an in-depth report on the research surrounding the possible causes of breast cancer, or the long-term medical effects of an abortion. It was reporting on the protest organised by anti-abortion campaigners, and made only a brief reference to the subject, saying that the claim that “abortion causes breast cancer” was false. The newspaper had been able to provide references to numerous studies and research papers concluding that there was no evidence of a causal link between abortions and breast cancer. The existence of a small number of research papers finding a correlation between abortion and breast cancer did not render the newspaper’s assertion inaccurate – the leaflets had claimed a causal link between the two, not a correlation, and it was this causal link the publication had described as “false”. The Committee was, therefore, satisfied that the publication had been able demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article on this point, and there was no significant inaccuracy requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1.
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 02/10/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/12/2020
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.Back to ruling listing