Irish Media totally misrepresents abortion poll results

By Dave Andrusko

I write for a living and have for a long, long time. I have not seen many cheesier examples of hiding behind bogus excuses than what I read today in the Irish Examiner, a newspaper published in the Republic of Ireland.

In a nutshell, the paper published a story Thursday under the altogether misleading headline, “75% of doctors support 12-week access to abortion.” That’s a reference to possibly wording in a referendum that Irish voters will consider in May or June.

Here’s the opening sentence:

Three out of every four GPs and hospital consultants are in favour of allowing unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks gestation, the most substantial survey of medics on the issue to date has found.

But that’s not true at all. The Pro-Life Campaign labeled it “false news” which “misled the public by giving it such prominence.”

“For the Irish Examiner to claim the findings were ‘the most substantial survey of medics on the issue to date’ creates an entirely false impression,” said PLC spokesperson Dr. Ruth Cullen. “Anybody, not just medics, were able to vote in this poll. The only criteria for voting was a Facebook or Twitter account.

The Pro-Life campaign called on the Irish Examiner to follow the example of The Irish Times and the Journal.ie which have withdrawn the story from their websites which were based on a survey in the Irish Medical Times.

But the Irish Examiner scampered away in an “update” added to the original story which included these final two paragraphs:

It is not Irish Examiner policy to take down or remove stories from our website but rather to update the story as fresh information emerges.

To date, no fresh information has emerged from the Irish Medical Times about their latest survey on abortion attitudes. Any questions about their methodology should be directed to the Irish Medical Times.

Which, of course, entirely misses the point. The newspaper’s job is not to merely ‘fairly and accurately” report the results of the survey but to at least do a minimal job of factchecking. This referendum is highly controversial and to run a story that is not even marginally accurate is irresponsible.

BTW, according to Dr. Cullen, the original story included this subhead: “Poll of 400 medics shows support for liberalising abortion regime.” That subhead is missing in the “updated” story.

One other quick but important point. Later in the original story we read

Irish Medical Times editor Lloyd Mudiwa said the results “would seem to suggest that at this point in time a significant majority of medical practitioners [!] who participated in our poll support the recommendation of the committee, and that doctors aren’t necessarily more conservative than the general public, at least when it comes to this issue”.

The poll results emerged days after one of Ireland’s three GP representative groups, the National Association of General Practitioners, said some GPs may be opposed to performing abortions and hit out at the lack of consultation by the Department of Health with doctors on a potential new GP-led abortion service.

Let’s neutralize the opposition of the National Association of General Practitioners by falsely announcing to the public that 3/4ths of doctors support legalizing abortion through the 12th week.

To quote Dr. Cullen one more time, “The flippant use of such faulty methodology doesn’t augur well for the forthcoming referendum campaign.”