Abortion figures and access to the truth

|PIC1|For years now people who want to assess the impact of abortion in this country have been asking the courts to apply the Freedom of Information law on this issue in an even handed way, as they do on other state healthcare issues.

It is vital that the true picture be known. How can policy questions, or the performance of public bodies, which must be accountable to the taxpayer who funds them, be properly addressed without basic figures for information?

No-one would deny that abortion is an emotive issue, whichever side of the debate we may be on. But there is a key principle at stake here.

Under the 1967 Abortion Act, abortions for disability can only be lawfully sanctioned where there is a risk the child would ‘suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’. Set against this is the current practice of sanctioning abortions for very minor and easily treated issues such as a cleft palate.

On the face of things, the law of the land is being flouted. In comparison to the seriousness of this, the grounds claimed by the DoH for resisting lawful disclosure look to most even neutral observers, extremely weak, even before we consider the question of the growing body of evidence of the harm abortion does to mothers in terms of long term mental health.

Disregard for the Freedom of Information Act is a serious step, only to be accepted in extreme cases. In this question, the grounds offered are very weak whereas the arguments for normal disclosure are extremely strong.

Concerned groups and individuals with whom we are in touch can only hope at this point that the DoH will relent and draw a line under this appeal as soon as possible. It is detrimental to our freedoms, the principal of reasonable application of the law and the free flow of information and the important need to limit state interference – not to mention the health of the nation, especially our young women. Less importantly perhaps, but not inconsequential is the taxpayers money the DoH are spending on this misguided move which could be so much better spent in patient care.

The Prime Minister’s credibility with the public is at an all-time low. If he allows his Secretary of State to continue with this legal challenge to officially hide the out-workings of his Government’s health policies in relation to abortion practice, then the public will gain an even clearer understanding of the ‘core values’ of his Government, with the General Election just months away.

Andrea Williams is a barrister and Executive Director of The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) and Christian Concern for Our Nation (CCFON)