B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner will soon decide whether to hold a hearing to determine whether abortion statistics should be released to the public.

The organization Campaign Life Coalition B.C., which opposes abortions, is demanding the hearing so it can challenge provincial legislation that prevents hospitals from releasing information such as how many abortions they perform each year.

Campaign Life Coalition B.C. spokesperson Ted Gerk says their ultimate goal is to have the law overturned. In the meantime, they want the privacy commissioner to agree to a hearing, so the group can make its case that releasing the information is in the public interest.

"Abortion is a public policy issue. As such it needs to be debated, but it's hard to debate what's going on locally if we don't know specific statistics," he said.

Campaign Life Coalition B.C. initially applied to see numbers from two hospitals, but both Vancouver General and Kelowna General refused, in compliance with the law.

The hospitals have also opposed the group's request for a hearing, saying the issue was already been settled by previous privacy commission rulings.

A spokesperson for the commission told CBC News that Thursday was the final deadline for government agencies seeking to oppose the release of the information to file their submissions, but declined to say when a decision would be made.

Locations are public but numbers are not

The province does publish a list of which hospitals perform the procedure, but Gerk says knowing how many each performs is equally important.

"The facilities we're asking for, it's already documented that they provide the service. It's not a secret to anyone — to anybody in these communities. Our own provincial government publishes the name of these institutions, so how can you make one topic off-limits in a democratic society?" Gerk said.

Section 22.1 of B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act makes abortions the only medical procedures taking place in hospitals that are subject to secrecy.

The law was brought in back in 2001 after staff at some abortion facilities were targeted in violent attacks by anti-abortion groups in the 1990s.

Corrections

  • A decision from B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner on whether to hold a hearing to determine if abortion statistics should be released to the public was not expected on May 13, 2010, as was originally reported.
    May 13, 2010 9:00 AM PT