Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 16:47 UK

Late abortions data to be public

By Jane Dreaper
BBC Health Correspondent

Pregnant women
The likelihood of a patient or doctor being identified is 'remote' says the Information Commission

The government has been ordered to publish data about the number of late abortions carried out because of disability.

The ruling has been made by the Information Commissioner.

Ministers have been told to release the data for England and Wales within the next month.

This is the latest stage in a complex legal battle which began six years ago over a late abortion carried out because of a baby with a cleft palate.

Disputed information

Anti-abortion campaigners uncovered the case from official statistics, and the furore led to one of the doctors involved in the case being identified.

It is legal to terminate a pregnancy up to birth if there's a serious risk of physical or mental abnormality.

Since the row, there have been gaps in some official figures, meaning it is not always possible to detect how many abortions can be attributed to a particular disability.

Lawyers for the Department of Health had argued that the information was "sensitive, personal and private".

But the Information Tribunal said it was satisfied that the likelihood of a doctor being identified from the statistics alone "is so remote that disclosure of the disputed information would not be unwarranted".

And the ruling said it was "very unlikely" that a patient would be identified.

The Pro Life Alliance, which has pursued the challenge, said: "This is a straightforward judgement which maintains the principles that statistics do not constitute personal data, that abortion is a serious procedure and that transparency is necessary to satisfy legitimate public interest in this controversial medical practice.

In a joint statement, Brook and fpa (Family Planning Association) said: "We are dismayed by this decision.

"Whatever anti-choice groups aim is in seeking the data to be released, the potential for individual women and doctors carrying out the procedure to be identified is deeply worrying and unethical.

"We strongly encourage Department of Health to challenge this decision in the High court for the sake of the few vulnerable women that will be affected."

The Department of Health said it would consider the implications of the judgement and whether to lodge an appeal with the High Court.

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