Bush Administration Defends Seeking Partial-Birth Abortion Records
by Steven Ertelt
February 12, 2004
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — The Bush administration has come under attack from abortion advocates after news reports surfaced that the Justice Department has attempted to subpoena the medical records of women who have had partial-birth abortions. Attorney General John Ashcroft is actively seeking patient records on partial-birth abortions in order to defend the federal ban on the abortion procedure.
The Bush administration is not seeking to identify patients, but is looking to verify what pro-life groups and some abortion advocates have admitted — that most partial-birth abortions occur on healthy women and healthy babies.
"Congress has enacted a law with the president’s signature that outlaws this terrible practice," Ashcroft said at a press conference Thursday. "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."
The effort has abortion advocates upset. They complain that women’s medical histories shouldn’t be exposed to the either the government or public.
"People’s medical records should not be the tools of political operatives," pro-abortion Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat told the Associated Press. "All Americans should have the right to visit their doctor and receive sound medical attention without the fear of Big Brother looking into those records."
But Ashcroft says the Justice Department will accept the patient records in edited form that will conceal the identities of the women.
The Department of Justice has subpoenaed patient records from seven abortion practitioners and at least five hospitals — including Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and the University of Michigan medical center. The hospitals also say the patient information should be kept confidential.
A Chicago judge quashed the subpoena preventing Northwestern from having to divulge the information. Ashcroft hoped to obtain the records of some 40 women who had partial-birth abortions at the hospital in the last two years.
U.S. Chief District Judge Charles Kocoras wrote a 16-page opinion citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and Illinois’ medical privacy law as reasons why the information couldn’t be divulged.
Ashcroft said the Justice Department is considering appealing the ruling.
He said abortion practitioners opposing the ban should be prevented from testifying unless their medical records are turned over.
In one case, the Justice Department is worried a party to the lawsuit against the ban doesn’t have standing to participate.
A University of Michigan medical center staff member is part of the pro-abortion suit seeking to overturn the abortion ban. UM OBGYN Department Chairman Dr. Timothy Johnson joined the abortion practitioners in opposing the law even though he may not have performed any of the abortions.
Ashcroft is seeking to establish that Johnson is not a legitimate party to the lawsuit because he doesn’t perform the abortion procedure himself.
Ashcroft has the sympathetic ear of U.S. District Judge Richard Conway Casey of New York.
In November, Judge Casey temporarily blocked the partial-birth abortion ban from taking effect. However, he supports the Justice Department’s efforts to obtain the records.
Casey has scheduled for a hearing on March 29 in the federal New York Southern District Court.
Dr. Joe DeCook, vice president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told AP that he supports the efforts to use the medical records to defend the pro-life law.
"If there’s a law, it should be followed," DeCook said. "It can be enforced without embarrassing the woman by dragging her name out in public."
The Bush administration is seeking patient records from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, the University of Michigan medical center, Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp.; Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital — both of which are part of the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System; and an unidentified San Francisco-area hospital.