Ontario’s Ministry of Health was ordered to release abortion statistics by the Information and Privacy Commissioner – in a decision that relied heavily on a recent case won by our parent organization, ARPA Canada..
That 2017 case, where ARPA Canada partnered with pro-life blogger Patricia Maloney, decided that the exclusion of Ontario’s abortion statistics from access by the public unjustifiably violated section 2(b)’s guarantee of freedom of expression under the Charter. While a ban might be justified on sharing information that could identify an individual patient, physician, or hospital, the total ban was found to be too extreme. Since then, abortion statistics have been available upon request and reported on Patricia Maloney’s blog.
This 2021 Commissioner decision revolves around requests for abortion statistics in six northern regions. Despite the change in the law following the ARPA Canada case, the Ministry of Health initially refused to share their statistics, arguing that, because the numbers were so low, someone may be able to guess the identity of facilities or individuals. The Commissioner, however, cited the 2017 ARPA Canada case, pointing out that denying the information “runs the same risk of precluding meaningful public discourse on statistical abortion services information that led to the former exclusion being struck down in ARPA.” The Commissioner went on to find that the concern of identifying individuals or hospitals was unfounded. In the end, the Ministry was ordered to make a new decision.
An informed discussion of abortion requires information. As a pro-life movement, we welcome as much data as possible. How many abortions happen in Canada? Why do women have abortions? What gestational age do these pre-born children lose their lives? These are all questions that require data.
Canada continues to have very poor abortion data, limited access to that data, and a lack of unbiased research in this area. There are still some private clinics that are not required to provide their statistics. The data we are able to get relies on the fact that doctors bill for every abortion they perform. If the procedure is taxpayer funded, any citizen should be able to have access to that information in a manner that preserves privacy but still allows for a meaningful discussion about abortion. We’re thankful for a decision that ensures the precedent we helped set in 2017 still holds and helps facilitate the ongoing abortion debate.