ACLU Asks Iowa Supreme Court to Block Disclosure Of Patient Records at Planned Parenthood Clinic

August 13, 2002 12:00 am

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ACLU Asks Iowa Supreme Court to Block Disclosure Of Patient Records at Planned Parenthood Clinic FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 15, 2002

DES MOINES-Seeking to preserve patients’ privacy rights and the confidentiality of medical records, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a “”friend-of-the-court”” brief asking the state supreme court to block the disclosure of pregnancy records at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Storm Lake.

“”This case is not only about the vital issues of medical and reproductive privacy – it is about the scope of government power,”” said Ben Stone, Executive Director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union. “”A law enforcement subpoena is not, after all, a license to engage in a fishing expedition that discloses intimate and personal details of the lives of hundreds of innocent people.””

At issue is a June 24 subpoena ordering Planned Parenthood to provide the Buena Vista county attorney with the names and addresses of every woman who had had a positive pregnancy test at the clinic over a nine-month period. The office sought the information as part of an investigation into the death of a newborn child.

Planned Parenthood went to court to resist being compelled to turn over the records, saying that the broad order invaded the privacy of its patients. On July 15, a judge ruled against Planned Parenthood.

The Iowa Supreme Court granted a stay of that ruling on August 6. The ACLU brief asks the court to continue that stay and to accept the case for review.

Joining the ACLU’s brief was a woman identified only as “”Janice Roe.”” To protect her privacy, Roe’s positive pregnancy test at a Storm Lake clinic not connected to Planned Parenthood was disclosed to law enforcement officials.

According to the ACLU’s brief, when Ms. Roe took a pregnancy test last September she was thrilled to learn that she was pregnant. Six weeks later, she was devastated when a routine ultrasound revealed the fetus had no heartbeat.

After her loss, “”Ms. Roe was extremely upset by the prospect of receiving a telephone call from law enforcement concerning their investigation, and felt betrayed by her private medical clinic,”” the ACLU said in its brief. “”Because she and her husband are desperate to avoid the pain and intrusion into their private lives that will result if they, or couples like them, are subjected to governmental investigations into their sexual and reproductive history,”” Ms. Roe is supporting the legal effort to block further disclosure of patient records.

“”The injury to the privacy of these patients and the destruction of their faith in the medical community will be beyond repair once their records are handed over to the sheriff,”” said Jennifer Dalven, an attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and an author of the legal brief. “”The disclosure and any investigations that result will breach the confidentiality of these women and, particularly for those in abusive or dysfunctional relationships, can present a real threat to the health and safety of such patients.””

The ACLU’s brief acknowledges that the state can and should investigate the tragedy that prompted this search, but said that compelling clinics to turn over information about every woman in the community with a positive pregnancy test is not an effective way of doing so.

There is no evidence that the mother of the child sought any type of care for her pregnancy or was even from Storm Lake, the ACLU noted in its brief, and allowing the police to rummage through the medical records of hundreds of innocent women is extremely unlikely to further the investigation.

The appeal, filed in the Iowa Supreme Court, is Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa, Inc. v. The Iowa District Court of Buena Vista County. Lawyers for the ACLU brief include Dalven and Jaya Ramji of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Randall C. Wilson of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union; and Catherine K. Levine, attorney for Ms. Roe.

The ACLU brief is available online at

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