The U.S. Department of Justice continues its quest to obtain abortion records at several clinics and hospitals around the country in response to three lawsuits filed against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban signed by President Bush. DOJ wants the records in order to dispute the plaintiffs’ contention that partial-birth abortions are sometimes “medically necessary.” The lawsuits were filed in New York City, San Francisco, and Lincoln, Neb., and involve Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Federation, and several abortion clinics and hospitals.
On March 1, DOJ filed a motion in a New York federal district court asking it to prevent doctors from testifying in the lawsuit filed there unless the government received the records, which have been subpoenaed. “There can be no question but that the government is entitled to the records, redacted to protect the identity of particular patients, in its defense of the act,” said DOJ.
Even though the abortionists took the initiative in filing the suits, and even though DOJ is allowing clinics to redact all identifying information, the plaintiffs are refusing to turn over the records, claiming that doing so would violate medical privacy rights. Planned Parenthood Federation President Gloria Feldt went so far as to write a letter February 27 to all “Planned Parenthood clients.” “You may have seen media reports that Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, in a sweeping invasion of medical privacy, is trying to obtain medical records from Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is taking every step within the law to resist this move. . .,” she wrote. “Mr. Ashcroft’s intrusion into confidential medical records is the direct and predictable result of allowing government invasion into private, medical decision making.”
Said Monica Goodling, DOJ spokeswoman, “The department believes that we can obtain the information needed to test the plaintiffs’ claims of medical necessity while also protecting the privacy rights of individuals by having the hospitals or doctors delete information that would identify specific patients prior to releasing their records.” Pro-life activists believe that the records could shed light on the nature and frequency of partial-birth abortions in America. Abortion clinics are not required to report details of their procedures to any regulatory body.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has said that partial-birth abortion is never medically required, and Congress also declared that the procedure is never needed in the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act that Bush signed on Nov. 5, 2003.
Judge Richard Casey, who is presiding over the New York case, is not tolerating the abortionists’ refusal to comply with the subpoena. In that case, abortionists claimed that their affiliation with a local hospital meant that they did not have to produce records. DOJ released a partial transcript of a February 5 status conference in which Casey said, “I will not–hear me out loud and clear–I will not let the doctor hide, not let the doctors hid behind the shield of the hospital. Is that clear? I am fed up with stalls and delays. . . . You cannot prevent this discovery being accomplished by stalling this or by hiding behind, as I say, the shield of the hospital.”
But U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras in Chicago ruled last month that Illinois’ privacy law means that abortionists there do not have to produce records.
“We sought from the judge authority to get medical records to find out whether indeed the allegation by the plaintiffs, that it’s medically necessary, is really a fact,” said Ashcroft February 12 in defending the subpoenas.