Thursday, April 21, 2011

UK High Court rejects the withholding of eugenic abortion statistics

The Daily Telegraph reports that late abortion figures must be released according to a High Court ruling. Detailed statistics on the number of late abortions of so called "less than perfect" babies must be released according to yesterday’s High Court ruling. link to article

The decision according to the report will force the Government to publish individual figures on how many abortions are carried out after 24 weeks on foetuses with physical abnormalities, including some relatively minor problems such as a cleft palate or club foot.

Pro-life organisations such as SPUC  which, had roundly condemned the Department of Health (DoH) practice of withholding of the statistics welcomed the decision. The decision was also welcomed by other pro-life organisation

Family planning groups according to the article described decision as "deeply worrying and unethical", saying women could be identified by their publication and doctors could be "harassed".

The hearing followed an Information Rights Tribunal, which in October 2009 decided that "sensitive" abortion statistics should be released to the Pro-Life Alliance, which had been pressing for them since 2005. The Department of Health took the matter to the High Court.

James Eadie QC, for the DoH, argued on Monday that publishing the figures could lead to "awful" consequences for patients.

But Mr Justice Cranston ruled that the tribunal had made no error in law in concluding that the risk of identification was "extremely remote" and dismissed the department's bid. He also said the release of the material to the alliance was necessary to inform the public debate.

Abortion on "social grounds" is only allowed in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, but it is legal to abort a foetus right up to birth if there is a "substantial risk" of it being "seriously handicapped".

The health department stopped publishing a full breakdown of figures for the previous year in 2003. The last set of statistics, for 2001, showed that a foetus was aborted after 24 weeks because it had a cleft palate, a defect surgeons can in most cases remedy.

The Rev Joanna Jepson, a Church of England curate who was born with an overhanging upper jaw, complained to police. The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute, saying doctors had acted in good faith, but the case led the department to stop publishing detailed data.

Since 2005 it has published figures for categories in which the number of abortions is 10 or more, the same year the alliance lodged a freedom of information request culminating in yesterday's ruling.

Last night the department did not rule out taking the case to the Court of Appeal. Mr Justice Cranston gave it leave to appeal. A spokesman said: "The department will consider the implications of this judgment and the options available."

Josephine Quintavalle of the alliance said the organisation was "over the moon". She hoped it would lead to a reduction in late abortions of foetuses which were "less than perfect".