Abortion Statistics Tribunal Begins

Department of Health appeals against Information Commissioner's Decision

The hearing of the Department of Health’s appeal under the Freedom of Information Act against the Information Commissioner’s decision that the Department release more detailed abortion statistics for 2003 began today in the Information Tribunal.

The case concerns statistics for “Ground E” abortions. Ground E permits abortions where there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped. Ground E abortions may be carried out after 24 weeks gestation.

The Department of Health argue that the Freedom of Information Act exemptions under s.40 (personal data) and s.44 (disclosure prohibited by any enactment – specifically the Abortion Regulations 1991) apply to the data.

Based on the official Office of National Statistics Guidance, the Department of Health currently supress Ground E abortion statistics where the individual category total count is less than 10.

Prior to 2002, abortion statistics were published in a  more detailed form which included counts of 1 and 2. This was altered in 2003, following a review of guidance after concerns about the risk of individual patients being identified from low counts.

The Pro Life Alliance made a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the more detailed statistics and appear as Additional Party at the hearing.

Fiona Henderson, deputy chairman of the tribunal, refused the ProLife Alliance permission to call MP Ann Widdecombe to give further oral evidence in addition to a written statement submitted previously.

The hearing before the Information Tribunal continues.

5RB’s Christina Michalos is acting for the Department of Health.