Labour fights to keep abortions secret

Data on the number of abortions performed for conditions like club foot and cleft palate must remain secret, labour government officials argue.

An appeal panel will listen to experts who believe the numbers must remain confidential after the Information Commissioner ruled that they must be disclosed.

Such data – involving abortions carried out for reasons like cleft palate, club foot and webbed fingers or toes – was published up until 2002.

But ministers stopped the practice if fewer than 10 cases were involved, saying there was a risk the women or doctors involved could be identified.

The ProLife Alliance challenged this stance in 2005 and requested a release of the figures under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Information Commissioner ordered ministers to publish the data, but the Department of Health refused and appealed against the commissioner’s decision.

Ministers originally called for the hearing to be held in private so the data could be discussed.

An agreement has since been reached with the Information Commissioner’s Office for only part of the hearing to be heard in private.

Abortions can be carried out up until birth under category E, which relates to disability, as long as two doctors agree the procedure should be performed.

There is no list exempting certain conditions such as cleft palate or club foot.

A spokeswoman for the ProLife Alliance said: “We believe there should be absolute transparency and openness about these statistics. Abortion is not a right; it can be performed if you fulfil certain conditions under law. Otherwise it remains a criminal act. We have been very clear that we have asked for information about all abortions, not just those after 24 weeks. This case is about transparency.”

She said it was “nonsense” for the Department of Health to suggest doctors could be at risk of being identified.

People who wished to campaign or pray outside abortion clinics only had to go on the internet to find a clinic rather than looking through Department of Health figures, she said.

She said it was the department’s job to adopt a neutral position on the issue rather than “taking sides” in the debate.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Data on abortions is considered highly sensitive personal data.

“The Office for National Statistics guidance does not recommend releasing any data with a count of less than 10. Releasing such data could increase the risk of identifying individuals.

“The guidance provides clear boundaries to make as much information about abortions available as possible, whilst protecting the individuals concerned – both patients and doctors.

“When the ProLife Alliance asked the Department to release the full data in 2005, we withheld it to secure individuals’ confidentiality.

“However, following an appeal from the ProLife Alliance, the Information Commissioner ruled that the department should release the full data.


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