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Legal row over abortion statistics

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.

In 2003 the DH decided not to release Ground E abortion statistics where the abortion count in individual categories was less than 10.

Previously, abortion statistics were more detailed and included categories where the count was one or two.

The change followed a review of guidance after concerns were raised about the risk of individual patients being identified from low counts.

The Information Commissioner ordered the release of the full figures, but the DH appealed to the tribunal.

Copyright © Press Association 2011

Department of Health

We asked if you think late abortion statistics should be published. Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"All statistics should be published" - LD, Hampshire

"Definitely.  Why make an exception in this case?" - Stella Tidman, Essex

"Yes, but obviously any risk of identifying patients, nursing and medical staff should be removed first" - Gale McCallum, Glasgow

"Yes I do think they should be published as these are anonymous and are statistics the same as others are. Why add to the stigma of termination?" - Sandra Forbes, University of Dundee

"Yes, I believe all statistics should be posted" - Damesha Roy, US