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February 13, 2004 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-02-13

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6 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, February 13, 2004

NEWS

Ashcroft defends subpoenas
of doctors' abortion records

Y§ >{ NEW YORK (AP) - Under fire from abortion-rights
groups, Attorney General John Ashcroft insisted yesterday
that doctor-patient privacy is not threatened by a govern-
ment attempt to subpoena medical records in a lawsuit over
the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
At stake are records documenting certain late-term abor-
tions performed by doctors who have joined in a legal chal-
. . . . . .:.. lenge of the disputed ban. President Bush signed the act into
law last year.
Critics of the subpoenas accuse the U.S. Department of
tJustice 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.
The Justice Department also subpoenaed the records of
University of Michigan physician Timothy Johnson, who is
a plaintiff in a legal case against the federal ban.
Ashcroft said the Justice Department will accept the
records in edited form, after deleting or masking any infor-
mation that would identify a patient.
Abortion-rights supporters nonetheless depicted the sub-
AP PHOTO poenas as a dangerous intrusion into medical confidentiality.
Attorney General John Ashcroft speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Bali Regional Ministerial Meeting on "People's medical records should not be the tools of polit-
Counter Terrorism Wednesday. Ashcroft defended his position supporting federal subpoenas of doctors' files yesterday against ical operatives," said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). "All Ameri-
critics who say such subpoenas violate doctor-patient privacy. cans 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 organiza-
tions 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 per-
formed 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 med-
ical records from Northwestern Memorial Hospital relating
to abortions performed by Dr. John Hammond.
U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras quashed the subpoe-
na, saying Illinois' medical privacy law superseded the gov-
ernment's need for the records.
Kocoras said patients' privacy could be jeopardized even
if their names were deleted, because their prior medical his-
tory would still be disclosed.

I
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