The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) has accused the Ontario government of hypocrisy.
In January, the Liberal minority government passed Bill 122, the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act. It was supposed to increase public access to information from hospitals and clinics. However, while it made some information more readily available, it made other information less available. In a news release, Lauren Klammer, an IMFC researcher, explained that the bill made changes to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act (FIPPA) so that citizens can no longer request information on public health issues such as patient care quality and abortion statistics.
These changes came to light when a Patricia Maloney, a blogger with Run With Life, had a request for information turned down.
It is already difficult to gather accurate abortion statistics in Canada, and the change in Ontario makes it even harder.
The change has also been criticized in an even more detailed study by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) called Black Holes: Canada’s Missing Abortion Data.
Starting in 1969, abortion statistics were collected by Statistics Canada. However, in the R. v. Morgentaler case in 1988, the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s abortion laws. After that, some hospitals stopped reporting abortion statistics or reported only incomplete data. Private clinics, which could also legally perform abortions after 1988, were even less inclined to report.
Between 1995 and 2010, Statistics Canada transferred to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) responsibility for compiling and publishing abortion statistics. However, even CIHI recognizes that its statistics are incomplete.
Because of this, pro-life groups have used FIPPA requests to gather additional information.
The reporting discrepancies are extensive. For instance, a Freedom of Information request discovered that the Ontario Health Insurance Plan was billed for 44,091 abortions in 2010 while CIHI’s figures counted only 28,765. Moreover, even these figures do not include abortions performed in doctor’s offices and unlicensed clinics, particularly those done by prescribing medication rather than using a surgical procedure.
Under the new changes, Freedom of Information requests for OHIP billing data on abortions will be categorically denied.
The IMFC and the EFC say there are two problems with the lack of data. One is that it prevents health care professionals from recognizing trends and health issues.
For example, IMFC says it is now impossible to have accurate information regarding changes to the pregnancy rate. In May 2012, the Vanier Institute, an Ottawa-based family think tank, published a fact sheet stating that the teen pregnancy rate in Canada had dropped by 36.9 percent between 1996 and 2006. However, since the pregnancy rate is a combination of live births, miscarriages and abortions, there is no way of knowing what the actual pregnancy rate is. IMFC says it is also impossible to determine if changes to diet and exercise, lifestyle choices or environmental pollution are reducing women’s ability to become pregnant.
It is not just numbers of abortions that are not reported but also the details – such as the age of the child aborted, any prior abortions the woman may have had, the method of abortion used and any complications that occurred in the process.
The second problem is that keeping information secret weakens democracy.
The EFC document points out that there was no recorded debate on the amendment in either in the Ontario legislature or in committee hearings and that therefore it is not clear why the Ontario government made the change. In response to a question by the National Post, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care released a statement stating only that “Records relating to abortion services are highly sensitive.”
The EFC study discusses in some detail “the vital link between access to information and democracy.” It states that access to information is necessary so citizens can “participate meaningfully in the democratic process” and so “politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry.”