Statistics from the Ministry of Health show that, in 2010, over 44 000 abortions were billed for in Ontario. But a change to the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) means that information regarding abortion services will no longer be released to the public.
As Laura Armstrong reported in her July 19th Ottawa Citizen article “Blogger asks courts to intervene after government denies request for abortion data,” pro-life blogger Patricia Maloney learned of this change when her freedom of information request was denied.
Ms. Maloney writes the Run with Life blog. In March 2012, through FIPPA, she requested access to public documents on the number of claims and amount of money Ontario’s physicians billed for abortion services. But the amendment to FIPPA that was enacted under the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act, 2010, and came into effect in January 2012 prevents the release of records relating to the provision of abortion services.
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care denied Ms. Maloney’s request and, in June, the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) denied her appeal of the Ministry’s decision. Ms. Maloney is now asking that the IPC reconsider its order and that the Ontario Divisional Court undertake a judicial review of the order.
According to Ms. Maloney, the amendment means that “the public is running blind on a government expenditure previously identified as costing as much as 30 to 50 million dollars each year.” Please note that this amount is for the province of Ontario alone.
Ms. Maloney argues that data about medical trends and publicly funded medical procedures should be publicly available and notes the lack of similar restrictions on the release of general data for other medical procedures.
In her August 22nd Ottawa Citizen op-ed piece “Ontario’s information isn’t free,” Ms. Maloney stated that she requested “totals of abortions performed, and dollars billed by doctors for the ‘Medical management of non-viable fetus or intra-uterine fetal demise between 14 and 20 weeks gestation … broken down by hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ office.’” She observed that “abortions are paid for by taxpayers. Regardless of whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, shouldn’t all of us know how and where our tax dollars are being spent?”
Ms. Maloney emphasized that the data she requested is aggregate information, meaning non-identifying data: “I was not asking for any personal data like patients’ names, doctors’ names or even hospital names. ” She also stated that her research indicated the change to FIPPA occurred with no debate in the legislature or public consultation. She wrote, “It raises the troubling question: if the government can at the stroke of a pen exclude abortion services from our scrutiny, what else might they exclude in the future?”