The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) is urging governments to stop hiding or in some cases failing to collect, information on publicly-funded abortion.
The EFC released a report Aug. 21 showing how governments have suppressed public access to accurate abortion statistics.
“The vital connection between access to information and democracy has been widely recognized by all three levels of government in Canada (federal, provincial and municipal) and thus makes the withholding of abortion data an issue of paramount concern,” concludes the EFC’s report entitled: “Black Holes: Canada’s Missing Abortion Data.”
“To block access to information is to purposefully obstruct Canadians from being able to fully participate in the democratic process; and permits politicians to carry on, without accountability to voters,” said EFC legal counsel Faye Sonier in statement accompanying the release of the report.
The missing data gap was discovered in a 2010 Freedom of Information Request (FOI) in Ontario that revealed at least 44,091 abortions in Ontario according to OHIP billing records vs. only 28,765 reported by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), the publicly-funded body tasked since 1995 with collecting abortion-related statistics.
The report reveals that in Jan. 2012 amendments to Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) came into effect that limited the public’s ability to use FOI requests to gain information about abortion rates.
“As there appears to have been no debate of this amendment in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the motives of the Government of Ontario are unclear,” said EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel, Don Hutchinson. “In response to recent questioning by the media, government spokespersons stated the amendment was necessary because abortion-related information is ‘highly sensitive’.”
“What does ‘highly sensitive’ mean and what are its limits?” he asked. “Does the Government of Ontario think some topics are too difficult for the electorate to consider? Is knowing the number of abortions performed in the province more intrusive than knowing the number of mastectomies or prostate removals? Do they really think, as was suggested, the release of general statistical data might lead to someone getting hurt?”
The study says reasons given for either not reporting or not releasing abortion-related data have to do with concerns over risks of harm and concerns “the availability of abortion services would thus decline out of abortion providers’ fear of attack, harassment and/or intimidation.”
The study points out that abortion-related violence---from either side of the debate---has been rare in Canada and none has taken place in the last ten years. “Crime carried out by extremist abortion opponents is virtually non-existent in Canada: which is notable when one considers the statistical data demonstrates that most Canadians believe at least some degree of legal restriction should be placed on abortion," it says, noting pro-life Canadians use peaceful means to advance their position, such as the annual March for Life in Ottawa and various provincial capitals.
The EFC recommends information collected from hospitals should be publicly available through and legislation should be enacted that requires private abortion clinics to report as well.
“Legislation, provincial or federal, should not be used to inhibit access to statistical information in regard to publicly funded services,” it concludes.
The EFC, a national umbrella organization representing evangelical denominations and other institutions, outlines the history of abortion statistics gathering since 1969 when the Trudeau Omnibus Bill legalized abortion under certain conditions. The report notes that for the first 16 years, abortion reports were timely and accurate.
After 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s abortion laws, data collection responsibilities were transferred in 1995 from Statistics Canada to CIHI, though Statistics Canada continued to release it.
Private clinics were not required to report their data even though the abortions they provided were publicly funded. Though not all provinces have free-standing abortion clinics, those that do are less likely to release complete abortion data.
The report notes that in 2010 Quebec private clinics failed to report, while Ontario clinics provided only “limited information.”