Judging by the explanation for its decision to restrict public access to abortion figures, Ontario’s government should now be preparing a lengthy list of other statistics that are too dangerous to be shared with the public.
Questioned as to why it had begun making it harder to obtain figures related to the number of abortions performed in the province, a practice that has been increasingly evident to researchers for some time, the provincial Ministry of Health responded in a statement to the National Post: “Records relating to abortion services are highly sensitive and that is why a decision was made to exempt these records.”
The exemption referred to is an amendment last year to Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). The act is intended to “increase the financial accountability of organizations in the broader public sector,” in part by making statistics publicly available. Abortion figures are excluded from the act.
Why? Well, because they’re “sensitive.” And indeed they are. As are figures on gun crime, incest, spousal abuse, child abuse, rape, infanticide – crime of all sorts, as a matter of fact. You’d also have to concede that information related to racial, cultural or ethnic issues can be, and often is, highly sensitive. Is anything more delicate, given the cultural, religious and political ramifications, than the issue of honour killings? Should Ontarians be allowed access to figures related to immigration, given how touchy the matter can be? Perhaps data related to education and health care should be lumped in as well, given the heated arguments that often break out over policies and practices related to those topics.The government has seen fit to exclude none of those from its legislation, however. Only abortion. Of all the tender matters in which it is required to be involved, abortion is the only one it feels is too hot for the public to handle.
Why it has made this exception can only be guessed at, since the government has not seen fit to elaborate. The most likely reason may relate to concerns over individual privacy, and the targeting of abortion clinics and doctors by anti-abortion groups. Abortion is a deeply personal decision, and, as with other medical matters, people have a right to make it in privacy. Similarly, the use of violent tactics as a tool against abortion is no more acceptable than the violence on the unborn that is fundamental to the procedure itself.
But it is difficult to see how the mere provision of statistics related to abortion would contribute to either of these dangers. Researchers are not asking for the name and address of individual abortion patients, nor are they seeking any other information that might intrude on their privacy. Protesters already know where the abortion clinics are, which have in any case been assisted by often heavy-handed police and prosecutorial tactics in keeping abortion opponents at bay. Linda Gibbons, a 63-year-old grandmother, has been jailed for more than nine years over two decades just for standing too close to several Toronto abortion clinics and handing out pamphlets.
That being the case, it is difficult not to conclude that the government simply wants to make an exception in the case of abortion in order to prevent researchers or opponents from continuing to assemble the kind of numbers that may make some Canadians uncomfortable. There are thousands of tax-funded medical procedures carried out on a daily basis in Ontario, many of them of a similarly sensitive nature. Singling out abortion as the only exception to the rule of public access suggests the government’s real motivation is a desire to stifle debate and avoid having to answer the difficult questions that arise from Canada’s easy and unquestioning approach to the provision of abortion.