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DoH challenge late abortion figures disclosure

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The Department of Health (DoH) is going to the high court to challenge a ruling for full disclosure on late abortion figures.

The ProLife Alliance (PLA) won an Information Tribunal decision in 2009 that freedom of information legislation required full statistics on abortions be released. The PLA said the ruling was a victory for “transparency”.

The PLA sought intervention from the information commissioner because it was concerned that some mothers were choosing termination because their unborn babies had been diagnosed with conditions such as a cleft palate and club foot.

The government warned the move would risk the identification of individual patients and doctors involved in late abortions, and challenged the ruling.

Abortion on “social” grounds is only legal in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

But “Ground E” of the 1967 Abortion Act makes it legal to abort a foetus right up to birth if there is a substantial risk of “serious” physical or mental abnormality.

Groups like the PLA are concerned that the rules are being flouted to weed out “less than perfect” babies - including those with a cleft palate or club foot - where doctors say such conditions can usually be corrected by surgery.

In 2003 the DoH 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 DoH appealed to the tribunal.

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