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U.S. Subpoenas Records of Abortion Recipients

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Justice issued subpoenas for the medical records of hundreds of women who have had abortions at six Planned Parenthood clinics across the nation, including the group’s offices in Los Angeles and San Diego, Planned Parenthood officials said Thursday.

A Justice Department official Thursday confirmed the subpoenas, first reported by ABC News.

The unusual attempt to review medical records stems from a federal lawsuit that Planned Parenthood filed last year in San Francisco in an attempt to overturn a law banning the medical procedure critics call “partial-birth abortion.”

That law, signed in November by President Bush, prohibits certain procedures that involve removing an intact fetus from the womb before destroying it, often after the first three months of pregnancy.

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Planned Parenthood officials have argued that the procedure is sometimes medically necessary and, therefore, that the ban violates a woman’s right to have an abortion under the U.S. Constitution.

The subpoenas are “something that’s very broad and something that we feel is really out of bounds,” said Elizabeth Toledo, vice president of communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“This is the predictable result of a law signed by President Bush that said the government can intrude on a relationship between a patient and doctor,” she said.

There are two other ongoing lawsuits seeking to stop the law. One was brought by a group of doctors in New York state, the other by doctors in Nebraska.

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The Justice Department is defending the U.S. government in all three cases.

It has argued that it is necessary to review the medical records to learn if there are, in fact, instances when this type of abortion is medically necessary.

Earlier this year, the department issued subpoenas for patient records of doctors in the New York case. That subpoena involves at least six hospitals.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft has insisted that any personal information will be redacted from the records before Justice Department officials review them.

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In a statement issued two weeks ago about those subpoenas, Justice Department spokeswoman Monica Goodling said:

“In defending the law prohibiting ‘partial-birth abortion,’ the department has sought to ensure that sensitive patient information remains private. 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.”

Toledo of Planned Parenthood said the group would file a motion against the subpoenas and would not surrender the records.

Earlier this month, U.S. Chief District Judge Charles Kocoras in Chicago halted an attempt to subpoena records of about 40 patients who had received abortions at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

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He said the subpoenas violated federal and Illinois medical privacy laws.

Dr. Cassing Hammond, one of the doctors in the New York suit against the abortion law, practices at the hospital.


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