The Department of Health (DH) is set to launch a legal challenge against a ruling that the full statistics on late abortions must be made public.
Following a request from the anti-abortion ProLife Alliance (PLA), the Information Tribunal ruled in October 2009 that the data must be disclosed under freedom of information laws.
The decision was hailed by the PLA as a victory for ‘transparency’, but ministers fear that releasing the figures could lead to the identification of patients and doctors involved in late abortions.
While abortion on ‘social’ grounds is only legal in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, under Ground E of the 1967 Abortion Act it is legal to abort a foetus right up to birth if there is a substantial risk of ‘serious’ physical or mental abnormality.
Campaign groups like the PLA are concerned about cases where mothers opt for late termination because their unborn babies have been diagnosed with conditions such as a cleft palate and club foot.
They claim that the rules are being flouted to weed out ‘less than perfect’ babies, where doctors say such conditions can usually be corrected by surgery.
The concern seems to be the identification of women and doctors who have participated in such abortions, because they do in fact violate the UK’s 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act:
Women who consider abortion are referred to two doctors who then advise her whether abortion is suitable based on the decision of which of four conditions apply; only when the doctors reach a unanimous decision is the woman allowed to terminate pregnancy.
Pregnancy can be terminated under one of the following circumstances, if the pregnancy:
- puts the life of the mother at risk
- poses a risk to the mental and physical health of the pregnant woman
- poses a risk to the mental and physical health of the existing children
- shows there is evidence of extreme foetal abnormality i.e. the child would be seriously physically or mentally handicapped after birth and during life.
But is that a good reason for a government body to continue to release inaccurate statistics?by