Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Data on late abortions withheld by the Government

Briefing: they are deeply embarassed about the number of abortions for footling, correctable 'disabilities' such as cleft palettes and club feet, following the publicity such cases gained thanks to Joanna Jepson.

From the Sunday Telegraph, via CFNews: Ministers fight to keep late abortions secret. Late abortions of "less than perfect" foetuses are the subject of a secrecy row with the Government.

It centres on mothers who opt for termination because their unborn babies have been diagnosed with conditions such as club foot and cleft palate. Doctors say such conditions can usually be corrected by surgery.

The Information Commissioner has ordered the release of the figures, but the Department of Health is resisting, claiming that disclosing the data could lead to women who have late abortions being identified.

While abortion is only legal in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy if carried out on social grounds, "Ground E" of the 1967 Abortion Act makes it legal to abort a foetus which has a serious risk of physical or mental abnormality, right up to birth. There are continuing concerns that the law is being flouted to weed out "less than perfect" babies.

Health chiefs stopped publishing full abortion data three years ago after a public outcry over the termination of a foetus with a cleft palate at 28 weeks' gestation. The legality of this late abortion, carried out in 2001, was challenged by a Church of England curate, Joanna Jepson, who was born with a congenital jaw defect.
In 2005 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring any charges against the NHS consultant, who publicly confirmed that he carried out the procedure, and another doctor.

Ministers were sufficiently worried by the prospect of further complaints - which they argued would invade the privacy of doctors carrying out terminations and women having abortions - to strictly limit the publication of the figures.

From 2005, official abortion statistics were "suppressed" if fewer than 10 cases were carried out. This in effect meant that abortion details on babies with club feet, webbed fingers and toes, or cleft lips and palates, disappeared from public view.

The last year for which data were fully available, 2002, showed that 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, a total of 1,900 abortions were carried out under Ground E and of these, 648 were late abortions, after 20 weeks. A total of 125 foetuses were aborted for musculoskeletal disorders, which may include club feet, with 13 of these cases over 24 weeks gestation.

Figures on cleft lip and palate were combined with deformities of the eye, ear, face, neck and skin to reach a total of 88 abortions in these categories. No further breakdown was given. A number of these foetuses were aborted after 24 weeks but the figure is suppressed.

Information about the number of abortions carried out for cleft lip and palate, and club feet was requested by the Pro-Life Alliance using the Freedom of Information Act.

When the DoH refused to release the figures, the case was referred to the Information Commissioner, who ruled in favour of the campaigners.
The DoH's appeal against the commissioner's decision will be heard by the Information Tribunal, at a cost to the taxpayer of more than £40,000.

Ministers have been accused of "heavy handed" tactics by seeking to bar the Pro-Life Alliance from attending the tribunal, using a legal procedure designed to curb the rights of terrorist suspects.

A DoH spokesman said last night: "It is not the case that counsel for the Department implied that allowing the ProLife Alliance to attend raised issues were on a par with a terrorist threat to national security. No such suggestion was made. This hearing concerns data from which individuals might be identified. The purpose of the tribunal is to adjudicate on whether this data should or should not be released to the Pro Life Alliance. Giving access to the data to the Pro Life Alliance during the course of the hearing defeats the purpose of the hearing itself.

"In order to help the Tribunal understand the highly sensitive nature of the information in this case we wish to be able to make free and frank disclosure of the data which the Pro Life Alliance have been seeking to be published. However, we consider it crucial that there is no public disclosure of this information in advance of a decision from the Tribunal. For this reason the Department of Health has requested that all or part of the hearing is heard in private." [Sunday Telegraph]

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen