Last week Kansas' three abortion clinics were allowed to stay open when one was finally licensed under the state's incredibly strict new regulations, and the others sought an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect. Now that the clinics are temporarily in the clear, pro-choice activists are focusing on another troubling part of the legislation that would give the state health department unlimited access to abortion clinics' medical records.
The Associated Press reports that one of the dozens of new requirements states that "all records shall be available at the facility for inspection" by the secretary of health and environment and his staff. Obviously there are state and federal laws against making confidential medical documents public, but supporters of abortion rights have good reason to distrust Republican Governor Sam Brownback and his administration.
Before Dr. George Tiller was murdered, former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline tried to obtain the records of about 90 women and girls who had late-term abortions at his clinic, in what opponents called a "secret inquisition" and "fishing expedition." (He also wanted to require doctors to report all sexual activity, including kissing, among children under the age of 16.) Eventually Kline obtained the records and filed criminal charges against Dr. Tiller. Kline is now under investigation for ethics violations over how he conducted the investigation. He's accused of illegally copying patients records, discussing their contents during an appearance on The O'Reilly Factor, and having staffers record license plate numbers from visitors to Dr. Tiller's clinic so he could identify patients whose personal information was redacted in the files.
Anti-choice activists claim that allowing the state health department to review medical records is the only way to ensure that the clinics are complying with the law. Julie Burkhart, who worked for Dr. Tiller, counters that, "Based on history, there has not been a lot of integrity put forth regarding patients' private medical records." In a state where the battle over abortion rights has turned violent in the past, knowing that medical records can be rifled through by health department employees may make women hesitant to seek treatment. Presumably most state workers aren't unscrupulous like Kline, but thanks to him women in Kansas have to wonder if the circumstances of their abortion could wind up being discussed on Fox News.
Kan. Abortion Providers Fear Rule Giving State Access To Records Will Endanger Patient Privacy [AP]
Kansas Prosecutor Demands Files On Late-Term Abortion Patients [NYT]
Trial Opens In Challenge To Law Over Teenage Sex [NYT]
Dr. Tiller's Persecutor Faces Ethics Charges [Ms.]
Image by Steve Dressler.