ACLU Asks Iowa Supreme Court to Protect Confidentiality of Patients' Medical Records

September 30, 2002 12:00 am

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ACLU Asks Iowa Supreme Court to Protect
Confidentiality of Patients’ Medical Records FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, September 30, 2002

DES MOINES–Seeking to preserve a woman’s right to confidential reproductive health care, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief today asking the state supreme court to prevent law enforcement from obtaining pregnancy records at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Storm Lake.

At issue is a subpoena issued in June 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.

“”This case represents a misdirected and grave abuse of government power,”” said Ben Stone, Executive Director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union. “”Enforcement of the subpoena will reveal the private information of hundreds of innocent women, violating their right to privacy, and is unlikely to yield any information at all about the person responsible for this tragic act.””

Planned Parenthood went to court to resist turning over the records, saying that the broad, indiscriminate order invaded the privacy of its patients.

“”Critical to a woman’s decision to seek health care of all kinds, and reproductive health care in particular, is the belief that the information related to the care will be kept confidential,”” said Jennifer Dalven, an attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and an author of the brief. “”Allowing the police to rummage through medical records will drive women out of the health care system.””

According to the ACLU’s brief, “”the County Attorney’s subpoena has already deterred Iowa women from seeking medical care.”” Records at the Storm Lake Planned Parenthood Clinic reveal that the number of patients seeking pregnancy tests dropped by at least 70 percent in July.

Joining the ACLU’s brief was a woman identified as “”Janice Roe.”” Roe’s identity, contact information, and positive pregnancy test at a Storm Lake clinic not connected to Planned Parenthood was disclosed to law enforcement officials under a similar subpoena.

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, notes the ACLU’s brief.

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. Consequently, she is now reluctant to share private information with her doctor for fear that the information too might someday be disclosed to others.

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 http://archive.aclu.org/court/pp_iowa_amicus.pdf

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