Ontario hides abortion statistics

Mary Ellen Douglas said by not releasing statistics on abortion "the government is trying to make it seem like these deaths are not even worthy of being counted."

In January, the Ontario legislature passed the government’s Bill 122, the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act, which, despite is laudable sounding name, puts the provinces abortion statistics beyond public access. Overall, the BPSAA increases public access to information about hospitals and clinics, but when it comes to abortion, the bill amends the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act – or FIPPA – to exclude media or citizens from requesting information about abortion, including how many are carried out in Ontario.

These provisions were not made public until April when a pro-life blogger, Patricia Murphy at Run to Life, reported that her request for access to information about abortion statistics was denied. In previous years, she was able to see to what extent official statistics about the number of abortions in Ontario were under-reported. In 2010, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported that there were 28,765 abortions in Ontario but her freedom of information request produced data indicating that 43,997 abortions were done in Ontario. This year, Murphy received a response from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care saying that Bill 122 excluded individuals from requesting any information related to abortion.

Lauren Klammer, a researcher with the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, said in an eReview entitled, “Hypocrisy behind Bill 122,” that “where one form of information is denied, it is plausible that other infringements on freedom of information are possible.”

The Ministry of Health responded to the National Post as to why it would no longer release abortion statistics: “Records relating to abortion services are highly sensitive and that is why a decision was made to exempt these records.”

When Murphy asked the government why they were covering up information about abortion, the Minister of Government Services, Harinder Takhar, replied, “a limited number of amendments to FIPPA were introduced … to assist hospitals in maintaining quality of care and the safety of staff and patients.” Murphy described that as a non-answer.

LifeSiteNews.com reports, “transcripts from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario appear to have no record of debate on the issue of restricting access to abortion data in the province.”

Murphy wrote on her blog: “It all happened under the radar.”

Columnist Claire Hoy wrote in the Caledon Citizen that the media was silent on the issue, noting that the likes of the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail had “given the reams of coverage they gave last year when Stephen Harper announced an end to the long-form census.” Then, noted Hoy, “they treated this cutback on statistics as a national tragedy. But abortion statistics, hey, who cares?”

Christine Elliott, the Ontario Progressive Conservative health critic (and abortion supporter), told the Post that if the identities of individuals involved – presumably both women who procured abortions and the medical staff who provided them – were protected, she could think of no reason abortion statistics should be withheld. “Of course it is sensitive, and perhaps more sensitive than other types of procedures,” she said. “However, that’s no reason not to disclose it.”

Campaign Life Coalition issued a press release condemning restrictions to accessing abortion statistics, saying that if taxpayers can fund abortions, they should have information about how often they are doing so. “There is no accountability,” said Jim Hughes, national president of CLC. He said, “The secrecy of the McGuinty government suggests that burying the mounting toll of more than 40,000 babies killed in their mothers’ wombs in Ontario by hiding their records will wipe away the reality of their deaths.” Mary Ellen Douglas, Ontario president of CLC, said, “abortion kills a human being, hurts women, and is a financial drain on our health care system, and now the government is trying to make it seem like these deaths are not even worthy of being counted.”

CLC has asked supporters to contact their MPPs to urge them to have the “government reverse its decision to restrict public access to abortion records.”

Meanwhile, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada issued a report, “Black Holes: Canada’s Missing Abortion Data.” In the ten-page report, the EFC examines how abortion-related statistics have been released in the past and challenges the government on its explanation as to why the number of abortions being committed needs to be hidden from public view.

The report states that Dominion Bureau of Statistics and later Statistics Canada collected data from the provinces from hospitals on a monthly basis and released the information in a timely manner annually. After budget cuts suspended Statistics Canada collecting data in 1986, a lull of more than a year began before figures were released.

According to the EFC, prior to the Morgentaler decision in 1988, abortion statistics were compiled and released in regards to “gestational age of the child aborted, any prior abortions the woman may have had, or the method of abortion used and any complications.” The report notes that the information was positively welcomed by both pro-life and pro-abortion groups as well as the government, Canadian Medical Association, and international groups such as the World Health Organization and the Population Council.

Eventually, with the opening of free-standing abortion facilities in most provinces, reliable data was harder for Statistics Canada to obtain. By 2010 information about non-hospital abortions were incomplete with, five provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario) providing “limited information” while British Columbia provided incomplete data and Quebec “failed to report.”

Eventually Statistics Canada stopped releasing the data and transferred responsibility for collating and publicizing abortion figures to the Canadian Institute for Health Information in 2006. The CIHI had been collecting the data since 1995, but Stats Can released the reports.

While the data had been incomplete in recent years, the report noted that journalists, researchers, or citizens could supplement the information with access to information searches. However, with Bill 122, that is no longer possible in Ontario.

The EFC report takes issue with the government’s claim that not releasing the data is in the best interests of the public. The McGuinty government claims that releasing vague statistical details about the number of abortions carried out in the province possibly making abortionists and women seeking abortions vulnerable to “attack, harassment, or threats.” But the EFC notes there has been no violence related to abortion in more than a decade, has always been rare, and that “the actions of a few criminals should not be used as a justification for a blanket ban on statistical data.”

The EFC says that provincial or federal legislation “should not be used to inhibit access to statistical information with regard to publicly funded services,” and recommends that both information about the number of procedures all hospitals and clinics carry out be public knowledge, and be made available through the ministries of health. Doing so, “will act as a safeguard to transparency, accountability, and democracy in Canadian governance.”

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