BY ED WEST
THE GOVERNMENT has appealed against a decision to force it to reveal statistical information on late-term abortions.
The Department of Health is taking its own Information Tribunal to court to overturn a landmark Freedom of Information Act ruling made last month to reveal for what reasons post-24-week abortions were carried out.
It used to publish statistics on the number of late abortions, and the reasons for them, until 2003. The reason given for the ban was that the information would lead to the identification of doctors who perform late abortions, and the women who have them, and that both would then be targeted by anti-abortion activists. Yet its claim that the statistics had, in at least one case, led to the identification of a doctor who performed a late abortion were shown to be wrong. As the Information Tribunal noted when ordering the release of the data, the Department was “not able to point to anything in the published statistics that would have enabled the general area, town, hospital or doctor to be identified”, let alone the identity of any woman who had undergone an abortion.
There is evidence that many of the abortions are carried out for minor, treatable conditions, such as cleft palates, rather than on unborn children with “serious handicaps”, as permitted by the Abortion Act.
Health Secretary Andy Burnham, a Catholic, authorised the appeal. Julia Millington of the ProLife Alliance said the decision was “a reprehensible waste of public money and court time to continue a fruitless battle to hide this information”.
She said: “A country, committed to transparency and openness, accepts and expects that the same principles apply to abortion as to other areas of healthcare practice. These statistics should be made public.” Britain has overtaken France as the “abortion capital” of Europe, making it now fifth in the world behind Russia, the US, India and Japan in terms of total abortions, according to new data.
The latest figures were compiled by the Norwaybased group, the Institute for Family Policies, from statistics collected by the European Union’s statistical arm, Eurostat. Britain also had the highest number of teenage abortions, with 48,150 among girls under 20, compared to France’s 31,779 in spite of Labour spending £300 million on its Teenage Pregnancy Strategy in an attempt to cut the rate of conception.
Last week the National Down’s Syndrome Cytogenetic Register also said that twice as many unborn babies are being aborted because of Down’s Syndrome as official figures suggest.
Doctors are trying to spare women’s feelings at aborting a disabled child by failing to classify the termination as Down’s, it was claimed. Instead, they are recorded as “social” abortions, which make up the bulk of terminations in Britain.