Request for individual totals of abortions reported in 1997 for certain licensed institutions

Official Information Act 1982
Section 9
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Official Information Act 1982, s 9(2)(a)
Abortion Supervisory Committee
Sir Brian Elwood
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Request for individual totals of abortions reported in 1997 for certain licensed institutions—established privacy interests not outweighed by countervailing public interest, subject only to release of further statistical information

The requester sought from the Abortion Supervisory Committee the individual totals of abortions reported for 1997 for each of the licensed institutions for which totals were not listed separately in Table 2 of the Committee’s 1998 annual report. The Committee released the totals for four of the twelve institutions concerned but, in reliance upon section 9(2)(a) of the OIA, refused to provide individual totals for the remaining eight institutions, releasing instead only an overall total. 

The Committee’s principal concern was that if the information were released, the low number of abortions undertaken at the eight institutions concerned might enable the identification of the women who had undergone the procedure.  The requester rejected this view contending that the women concerned would not be identifiable and that the information at issue did not therefore raise privacy interests. 

After considering the information at issue, and following consultation with the Privacy Commissioner, it was accepted that there were privacy interests in the information which required protection and that section 9(2)(a) applied. 

It was then necessary in terms of section 9(1) of the OIA to consider whether there were any considerations favouring disclosure in the public interest which outweighed the identified privacy interests. In this case, the view was formed that there was a strong public interest in the ongoing confidentiality of patient medical records.  It was considered that the public interest in the release of reliable abortion statistics had been largely satisfied by the Committee’s release of the aggregate number of abortions carried out at the eight institutions concerned.  However, it was suggested that a further release of the number of these institutions at which five or more abortions had been carried out during the 1997 year, without disclosing the names of the institutions or the individual totals of abortions carried out at each institution, would fully meet that public interest. 

The Committee released the additional information. 

This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989.  It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case.  It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.

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