Health dept fights to hide abortion figures

The Department of Health (DoH) will today defend in court its decision to suppress details of late term abortions for minor disabilities like cleft palate.

Should the Government hide abortion statistics?

Joanna Jepson debates the issue on BBC Radio 4.

The Pro Life Alliance (PLA) has been asking the DoH to disclose this information since 2004, and in 2008 the Information Commissioner ruled that the figures should be published.

The DoH is now appealing that decision. It says that if the information were disclosed women who have had late abortions could be identified.

However, prominent figures on both sides of the abortion debate will tell tomorrow’s hearing that the information should be available.

The Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe MP will act as one of the witnesses against the DoH, as will Professor Stuart Campbell, the obstetrician behind the vivid 3D scans showing developing babies.

Commenting last year, Prof Campbell said it was a “disgraceful situation” for the data to be suppressed.

He said: “This is not about whether one agrees with abortion. These statistics used to be published, now they are being withheld.

“Transparency is the essence of medicine. If we don’t have that, all sorts of wrongdoing can go on.”

Professor Vincent Argent, the former medical director at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a leading abortion provider, will also be a witness against the DoH’s decision to suppress the numbers.

The PLA says that before 2003 access to abortion statistics was easier. But after police faced a legal challenge for failing to investigate the abortion of a baby with a cleft palate the published figures became far less detailed.

The challenge came from Anglican minister Joanna Jepson, who was herself born with a jaw deformity and campaigns on pro-life issues.

Under the Abortion Act 1967 it is legal to abort a baby at any time until birth if it is at serious risk of mental or physical abnormality, and there are growing concerns that this ground is being used to terminate ‘imperfect’ pregnancies.

In 2002, the last year for which data were fully available, five foetuses were aborted because they had deformed feet, and a sixth because of a cleft lip and palate. In 2000 and 2001, nine foetuses were aborted because of cleft lip and palate, while a further two were aborted for cleft lip alone.

During 2007, more than 200 foetuses were aborted for abnormalities which could include club feet or cleft palate, but figures for each condition and which pregnancies were terminated after 24 weeks are withheld.

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