Give me those abortion records!

Should an individual family be able to force Ohio Planned Parenthood to release all of its records of abortions given to minors over the past 10 years?

Published August 28, 2007 7:45PM (EDT)

Here's some good news from the Cincinnati Enquirer: The Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals just overturned a ruling that would have required Cincinnati Planned Parenthood to turn over all its records of abortions given to people under 18 to the lawyers of a family whose teenager had an abortion there.

The basic story: In 2005, a couple identifying themselves as John and Joan Roe filed a lawsuit saying that their daughter -- who'd been impregnated by a 21-year-old man who claimed to be her stepbrother -- had gotten an abortion from a Planned Parenthood clinic without parental consent. (Ohio law requires an unmarried minor to get at least one parent's consent, and that there be a 24-hour wait period between meeting with a physician and actually having the abortion.) Wanting to prove that Cincinnati Planned Parenthood had a history of violating the law, the parents and their lawyer demanded that Planned Parenthood turn over all its records of abortions given to minors over the past 10 years. A pretty bold demand -- and one that Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Dinklelacker agreed to in 2006. The defendants appealed, and on Friday, a three-judge panel of the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in their favor. (The family's lawyer said that they would now appeal to the state Supreme Court.)

Think what you want about abortion, but I must say that I agree with the panel's decision for several reasons. First, as Judge Mark Painter pointed out in the decision, "'The potential invasion of privacy rights trumps the probative value of records to this case.'" Second, as this summary of the decision from the Kaiser network reports, the panel said that this specific case is about whether or not Planned Parenthood violated its legal responsibilities to the parents by performing the abortion without their consent. It's not a criminal or class-action case. It's also not supposed to be a general investigation into Planned Parenthood's practices overall. According to Kaiser, "The panel wrote that it found no reason to let the plaintiffs act as 'private attorneys general,' adding that the state could conduct such investigations."

The panel's report is a 16-page paper that "'speaks with clarity and elegance,'" Planned Parenthood's lawyer is quoted as saying. But those 16 pages can be reduced down to this paragraph by Painter: "'Are abuse reports and medical records of minors under the age of [18] receiving abortions discoverable, in an identity-cloaking format, by private civil plaintiffs when the records are not necessary to develop the plaintiffs' claims?'" he asks. "'We think not.'''

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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