Case Number: 2486

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2016

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: The Press

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage


The Right to Life organisation complains that a story published in The Press on November 30, 2015 headlinedAbortion clinic staff ready for attacks breached the Press Council’s Principle one (accuracy, fairness and balance).

The story, sourced from the Reuters agency, reported the attack by a lone gunman on a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Colorado. Three people were killed in the incident with nine others injured. The story provided details of the tragedy and referred to Planned Parenthood’s determination to continue its activities.The report referred to the centre as having previously been the target of “anti-abortion” protests.

The complaints are not upheld.

The Complaint

Right to Life has three essential concerns. First, it claims the use of the phrase “anti-abortion” by the media generally and byThe Press in this story is inaccurate and derogatory of members of the “pro-life” movements (as Right to Life and similar groupings are).

Secondly, while major pro-life movements in the US and in New Zealand denounced the Colorado clinic attack the story failed to refer to the “daily scene of violence perpetrated against innocent and defenceless children before birth” by this and other clinics.

Thirdly, Right to Life maintains that the article infers that pro-life groups have been responsible for this and other similar attacks going back to 1977, an inference which is completely wrong.

The Response

The Press responds by denying Right to Life’s claims. The newspaper says that the term “anti- abortion” is neither incorrect nor offensive. The phrase accurately describes those who do not support abortion. It can be applied equally to “peaceful protesters” as well as to those “with violent intent”. The term does not carry the derisory connotations claimed by Right to Life.

The Press rejects the claim the story was unbalanced because it failed to refer the violence inflicted by abortion clinics on women and their unborn. The story was simply a “straightforward news account of a crime”. The story did not call for balance by publication of the views of pro-life movements towards abortion. The newspaper says this factual account does not “[taint] all those opposed to abortion by the actions of a “deranged murderer” nor imply [members of the pro-life movements] are “radicals, hatemongers, fools or criminals”” as Right to Life maintains.

The Discussion

The Press Council agrees with the newspaper. This story reported yet a further tragic, random shooting in the US. While this event took place in an abortion clinic the story did not require an analysis of the much deeper issues at play around abortion. The Council notes the phrase “anti-abortion” was used only once in the story and then in a context which does not suggest the term is derogatory of those who are pro-life. Nor is there anything in the story suggesting the pro-life movement was somehow behind the Colorado clinic attack or that the pro-life members supported it and other similar incidents.

Putting it simply this was not a story which, as Right to Life claims, brings opprobrium on the many sincere, law-abiding people who passionately support life from conception to natural death.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.


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