Ashcroft Subpoenas Medical Records of Women Who Had Abortions

The Department of Justice has issued a series of subpoenas to hospitals in several major cities demanding the medical records of women who have undergone certain abortion procedures. US Attorney General John Ashcroft is requesting these records in conjunction with legal challenges to the federal abortion procedure ban, signed into law last November. Hospital administrators are resisting turning over the medical records based on patient privacy concerns.

The DOJ is specifically demanding the records of patients whose doctors are involved in the three legal challenges to the abortion procedure ban. A federal judge in Manhattan has allowed the subpoenas to go forward, even threatening to lift a temporary stay he had imposed on the abortion procedure ban, according to the New York Times. A federal judge in Chicago, however, blocked Ashcroft’s demand for the records of 40 patients of a doctor involved in the New York City legal challenge to the law, ruling that Illinois’ strict medical privacy laws protected the patient records. US District Judge Charles P. Kocoras wrote in his 16-page opinion that, most importantly, the patients are not involved in the lawsuits; rather, their doctor and the federal government are, the Chicago Sun Times reports. The Justice Department is considering an appeal of this decision.

Women’s rights and health advocates and members of Congress have condemned the DOJ demand for patient medical records. “It is clear from both federal and state laws that strong privacy restrictions are in place to prevent the kind of intrusive breach of medical privacy that these actions represent,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), according to the NY Times. “Americans will be shocked to find out that the Bush administration has taken the position that there is no right to medical privacy,” Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. “To assert that the government has an unfettered right to root around in our private medical records is beyond appalling.”

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New York Times 2/12/04, 2/13/04; Chicago Sun Times 2/11/04; NARAL statement 2/12/04

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