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Supreme Court Refuses to Consider Abortion Privacy Case

The US Supreme Court yesterday refused to consider a case challenging a South Carolina regulation that allows records of women who have had abortions to be copied and removed from clinics by state officials, with no guarantee of privacy for the women. Representing several clinics and an abortion provider in the case, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) reports that health inspectors could obtain and copy records for any reason, even based on anonymous or unsubstantiated claims. Anti-abortion activists will be able to use this regulation to harass clinic patients and staff.

This contested regulation has been on hold since it was passed by the state legislature in 1995 as part of a group of TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) laws. Shortly after the regulations were adopted, abortion providers sued the state, charging that in order to comply with the costly regulations, doctors would have to raise the cost of abortions by as much as $368. The economic impact of the regulations has already caused one of the plaintiffs in the case, Dr. William Lynn, to close two offices in the state, according to United Press International. A federal judge sided with the doctors, stating the regulations violated the US Constitution, but a federal appeals court upheld the state’s regulations. The case then moved to the US Supreme Court in 2001, where it was rejected. The case went back to trial court, where a judge ruled that all the regulations were constitutional except the one about medical records, which the judge said violated patients’ right to privacy, according to UPI. The case then went to the Supreme Court, where it again refused to review the case without comment yesterday.

“Patients seeking reproductive health services in South Carolina can no longer be guaranteed of the confidentiality of their health care decisions of their medical records,” said Bonnie Scott Jones, an attorney with CRR, in a press statement. “If you put this information out there, anti-choice activists are going to get hold of that information and use it. It poses a very great danger to women,” she told the Associated Press. Without a Supreme Court ruling, the regulation should take effect shortly. South Carolina is the only state that allows investigators to view, copy, and store medical records without strict confidentiality requirements, according to Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report

Sources:

UPI 4/28/03; Associated Press 4/28/03; CRR 4/28/03; Kaiser 4/29/03