The Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) reported 23,746 abortions in the province, but government figures released in a factum information to the court show the number of abortion services billed to OHIP totalled 45,471 in the fiscal year 2014-15.
The numbers emerged as lawyers representing an Ottawa pro-life blogger asked an Ontario Superior Court judge on Feb. 1 to strike down an Ontario law censoring the release of abortion-related statistics.
Justice Marc Labrosse reserved decision in the case brought by the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada and pro-life blogger Patricia Maloney.
Constitutional lawyers Albertos Polizogopoulos and ARPA Canada in-house counsel John Sikkema argued in court that the prohibition impairs the Charter rights of free expression — including freedom of the press — for those wishing to engage in a meaningful discussion of an important public policy issue.
The statute in question is Section 65 (5.7) of the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). This provision, added in January 2012 with no recorded debate, says: “This Act does not apply to records relating to the provision of abortion services.”
“Clearly, open reporting of abortion statistics can co-exist with taxpayer-funded abortion on demand,” said ARPA Canada’s Director of Law and Policy André Schutten in a statement. “How can Ontario justify dropping the cone of silence on anonymous statistics regarding a procedure legally performed on the public dime?”
“One of the government’s arguments was that I can already have meaningful debate on abortion without accurate abortion numbers, and that there is other information out there on abortion,” Maloney said on her blog after the hearing.
“This is the second time the Ontario Government has given me abortion data in the past five years,” she said. “And both times it was litigation that made them release it. Yet they tell us that I can ask for abortion information outside of FIPPA, and I will get it.”
The CIHI reported 23,746 abortions, based on figures from hospitals and clinics.
“It also goes to show how important open, transparent and accountable government is,” she said. “We are paying for these abortions so it’s our right to know how many there are and what we are paying for them.”
The information Maloney is seeking includes the total number of abortions in Ontario; the cost to the health care system; whether the abortions take place in a hospital, a private clinic or a doctor’s office; how many abortions are taking place at differing gestational stages, and the age of women who obtain abortions, among other data.
The Ontario government’s lawyer, Daniel Guttman, contended meaningful discussion on abortion is not impaired since obviously ARPA and Maloney are continuing to discuss abortion. Guttman also argued the information Maloney seeks is available through other avenues than through Freedom of Information requests, such as through CIHI or directly asking the Health Minister for the statistics.