The Department of Health (DoH) has claimed that the recent murder of an abortionist in America justifies its refusal to publish detailed figures of UK abortions for minor disabilities.
Dr George Tiller, well known in America for his willingness to perform late-term abortions, was gunned down while attending church on Sunday.
At an Information Tribunal hearing yesterday, DoH personnel circulated news reports of the killing to support their claim that full exposure of UK abortion statistics could lead to violence.
The Tribunal is currently considering the Department’s appeal against the Information Commissioner’s 2008 ruling that abortion figures for minor conditions should be published.
Since 2002 the DoH has refused to publish annual exact figures of abortions for conditions such as club foot and cleft palate where these have a value of less than ten.
DoH representatives told the Tribunal that publishing these figures could lead to the individual women and doctors involved being identified.
They have claimed that such disclosure could trigger “mental distress or harm”.
Controversially, they have also claimed that identification of individuals could expose them to violence by extremist anti-abortionists.
On Thursday DoH director of health and welllbeing Geoff Dessen admitted that such violence has never taken place in the UK, but insisted that it still provided a credible rationale for suppressing some abortion figures.
“Just because it hasn’t happened here yet, doesn’t mean it won’t,” he said. “We don’t know the risks.”
Yesterday the DoH reiterated this argument, highlighting the shooting of Dr Tiller, reportedly by a man with a history of unstable and extremist behaviour.
The original request to the Information Commissioner for full disclosure of abortion statistics came from the Pro Life Alliance.
In a press release the Alliance points out that the DoH began suppressing numbers of late term abortions for minor defects after the legality of one such abortion was challenged by Anglican curate Joanna Jepson.
This case gained publicity because of the involvement of the police, not “nosy members of the public or media”.
The Alliance press release also criticises the DoH’s dismissal of late abortions for minor congenital defects as “statistics of little value”.
The Information Tribunal also heard evidence on behalf of the Pro Life Alliance from prominent doctor Prof Stuart Campbell.
Today supporting evidence will come from Dr Vincent Argent, a former medical director of abortion provider the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
Neither doctor is opposed to abortion, but both are supporting the Pro Life Alliance’s call for full public disclosure and transparency of UK abortion statistics.