If you read the entire article it states that this is a lawsuit by physicians who are trying to overturn the Partial Birth Abortion Ban that was signed into law. The Justice Department has the right to subpoena all information they need regarding how many Partial Birth Abortions were done and for what reason. All personal identifiers will be removed so no one's privacy will be violated. I don't have a problem with this as it is standard operating policy in law. Maybe those of us who have a problem with some of John Ashcroft's decisions let his name go to our head and had a knee-jerk reaction (remember I have a problem with some of the Patriot Act's provisions). Some of you who are upset about this story were in favor of banning partial birth abortion. So why get upset when the Justice Department is only trying to respond to a lawsuit and keep the ban in place? The impression given above is that the Justice Department is going willy-nilly into patient's medical records and not removing all identifiers thereby becoming "Big Brother". Nothing could be further from the truth.
Posted on Thu, Feb. 12, 2004
Justice Dept. Demands Abortion Records
NEW YORK - Under fire from abortion-rights groups, Attorney General John Ashcroft insisted Thursday that doctor-patient privacy is not threatened by a government attempt to subpoena medical records in a lawsuit over the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
At stake are records documenting certain late-term abortions performed by doctors who have joined in a legal challenge of the disputed ban. President Bush signed the act into law last year.
Critics of the subpoenas accuse the Justice Department of trying to intimidate doctors and patients involved in the contested type of abortion.
At least six hospitals have been targeted by subpoenas, including facilities in New York and Michigan which said they are weighing how to respond. Last week, a federal judge in Chicago blocked release of records from Northwestern Memorial Hospital; another judge is considering a similar request from Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.
Ashcroft said the Justice Department will accept the records in edited form, after deleting or masking any information that would identify a patient. Abortion-rights supporters nonetheless depicted the subpoenas as a dangerous intrusion into medical confidentiality.
"People's medical records should not be the tools of political operatives," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. "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."
The federal ban seeks to outlaw a procedure referred to by critics as partial-birth abortion and by medical organizations as "intact dilatation and extraction" - or D&X.
During D&X, a fetus's legs and torso are pulled from the uterus before its skull is punctured. An estimated 2,200 to 5,000 such abortions are performed annually in the United States, out of 1.3 million total abortions.
The doctors targeted by the subpoenas have contended in lawsuits that the ban is unconstitutional because it is overly broad and lacks any exemption for a woman's health.
Ashcroft, at a news conference in Washington, said the subpoenas were needed to enable the government to rebut these claims.
"The Congress has enacted a law with the president's signature that outlaws this terrible practice," Ashcroft said. "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."
In the Chicago case, the Justice Department sought medical records from Northwestern Memorial Hospital relating to abortions performed by Dr. John Hammond.
U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras quashed the subpoena, saying Illinois' medical privacy law superseded the government's need for the records. Kocoras said patients' privacy could be jeopardized even if their names were deleted, because their prior medical history would still be disclosed.
At the University of Michigan Medical Center, spokeswoman Kallie Michels said no records have been turned over. She said the university is waiting to see a new court order requesting data that does not identify patients.
A subpoena also was issued to New York Presbyterian Hospital.
"We place a very high value on our patients' privacy and we are exploring our options in that context," said spokeswoman Myrna Manners.
Another New York hospital, St. Luke's-Roosevelt, also received a subpoena but told the Justice Department that none of the abortion procedures at issue had been performed there in the past couple of years.
Some of the abortion-rights groups engaged in the litigation - including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America - declined comment.
But the chairman of an allied organization, Wendy Chavkin of Physicians for Reproductive Health Choice, said the subpoenas were cause for grave concern.
"Not only is this Justice Department and this attorney general profoundly anti-abortion, but they have a questionable commitment to civil liberties," Chavkin said.
She said the subpoenas seemed to be a tactic of intimidation comparable to a subpoena issued recently in a federal grand jury probe ordering Drake University to turn over names of certain anti-war activists.
Dr. Joe DeCook, vice president of the anti-abortion American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the government should be entitled to get medical records as it enforces federal laws.
"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."
Cook's organization contends that D&X is never medically necessary and supports the partial-birth abortion ban. The larger American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as the American Medical Association, does not encourage use of D&X but says the procedure should not be banned.