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Obfuscation on the Abortion Front ­- Freedom of Information Case back in Court on Monday 18 April

It is ten years since a statistic for one late abortion (post 24 weeks) for cleft palate, published in the 2001 Abortion Statistics, triggered what has become a very lengthy battle over freedom of information in relation to the statistical reporting of termination of pregnancy.

On Monday 18 April the legal battle continues in the High Court, as the Department of Health (DoH) challenges a ruling in October 2009 from the Information Tribunal (IT) in favour of the request of the ProLife Alliance (PLA) to the Information Commissioner (IC) for full disclosure of statistical information covering the provision of late abortions.

When attention was drawn to the original cleft palate case there was huge public outrage in the United Kingdom and not just from the pro-life movement. A relatively simple surgical intervention can repair this defect and many plastic surgeons currently offer their services free to children with cleft palates living in developing countries.

Subsequent to the publicity around the UK cleft palate case, a decision was taken by the DoH in 2003 to no longer reveal detailed information about the provision of abortion in the United Kingdom, where figures fell below 10 cases. They argued that where the number of cases was low, there was a risk of identification of the women involved.

The PLA considered this an unjust and unreasonable response and one contrary to Freedom of Information legislation. It initiated a series of requests and formal applications to reverse the new policy adopted by the DoH.

Abortion statistics do not identify individual patients, and with 200,000 abortions occurring annually in the United Kingdom it would be impossible to identify any single abortion even if there was only one incident of a particular kind recorded. The public however has a right to know exactly what is happening under our current Abortion Law, not least those who like ourselves are engaged in legitimate lobbying against abortion.

A summary of the legal dispute to date follows:

2003
Following cleft palate case the DoH significantly reduced the information available for abortions performed under ground E, which relates to abortion for disability.

2005
Feb: FOI request from PLA asking for full disclosure of 2003 stats.
April: Substantive reply from DoH denying request.
May: Application by PLA for internal review of DoH decision.

2006
April: Review completed upholding decision not to reveal information in question
May: PLA complained formally to the IC

2008
July: PLA complaint upheld by IC
August: DoH appealed against judgment.

2009
29 May-1/3 June: Appeal heard by IT
October: IT ruled in favour of disclosure to PLA
November DoH appealed

2011
April 18/19: Appeal Hearing
Court 73 at 10.30

Before Mr Justice Cranston
Appellant : Department of Health
and
Respondent : Information Commissioner
and
(Additional Party : ProLife Alliance)