Privacy laws and late term abortionPosted: April 22, 2011
I really don’t understand this. Privacy seems to have become a favourite thing of the courts these days. Super-injunctions abound, from protecting big corporations (Trafigura) to preventing people kiss-and-telling even many years after the events (Howard Donald) or even protecting children from finding out their Dad’s a cheater (unknown actor).
And yet, the high court have now decided that women seeking late term abortions, and the doctors treating them, aren’t deserving of privacy. The court aren’t denying that releasing these “statistics” would identify the women and doctors involved. There’s no public interest argument, as the group seeking the information (ProLife Alliance) are openly campaigning against ALL abortion in the UK. There’s no public interest as we already know this covers just 130 cases per year. And the government aren’t trying to deny the statistics, they are just aggregating them either by type or time period (e.g. 5 years of stats in one go) to avoid identifying individuals.
And yet, these same courts that will happily prevent the privacy of famous men who can’t keep it zipped, will deny privacy to women undergoing a hugely difficult decision under medical advice.
I’m sure this is largely a money issue. Big companies and the rich and famous can afford expensive lawyers. But I can’t help feeling there’s a lot of misogyny at work here too. I think the court judges can sympathise with men who shouldn’t be publicly flogged for a small slip in judgement anyone could make. But a woman, choosing to control her own body, to save her own life or prevent the suffering of her child. Well…
The line between privacy and freedom of speech is always a difficult one to toe. And that, I thought, was why the UK courts were encouraged to use the “public interest” test. Now just because public interest is distasteful, doesn’t mean that any sordid secret should automatically not be public interest. Yet at the same time, it’s in the public interest to defend vulnerable people – and women and families having to take the decision to have a late-term abortion are vulnerable. And it’s in the public interest to keep the sanctity of doctor-patient confidentiality. Which releasing these figures would undermine.
This argument isn’t actually about the rightness or wrongness of late term abortion (where I clearly disagree with the ProLife Alliance). This is about the courts acting fairly. Court judgements shouldn’t go to the highest bidder. But especially, men and women should be assured that they are being treated equally as citizens before the law.
And I really don’t see equality in this decision.