We'll just need your private medical files, ma'am

Kansas abortion case tests freedom to subpoena.


Lynn Harris
April 9, 2008 10:26PM (UTC)

First we discussed doctors who won't do their jobs. Now over to Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kan., who's just trying to do his. Tiller, as you may be aware, is one of the few physicians in the country who will, under certain circumstances, provide late-term abortions. Over the past two decades, perhaps needless to say, he has made a few enemies, whose less elegant tactics have included publicizing photos of his patients and flooding and bombing his clinic.

Now Kansans for Life and Operation Rescue has turned its attention to the nearly one in five Kansas children who lives in poverty has dug up an 1887 law that allows citizens to impanel a grand jury to launch a criminal investigation. Result: A grand jury was convened on Jan. 8 in order to investigate whether Tiller's abortion practices violated Kansas law. They have now subpoenaed the medical records of every patient 22 weeks pregnant or more who saw Dr. Tiller from July 1, 2003, on. That's about 2,000 women.

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Not so fast, say lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights, who argued Tuesday before the Kansas Supreme Court that the subpoenas are a "profound intrusion on the patients' privacy" and on their ability to make reproductive health care decisions "without unwarranted or unconstitutional interference." Hmm. You think?

"Seizing patients' private records is beyond the pale, even for anti-choice extremists," said Nancy Northup, president of the center. (Similar subpoenas have been attempted in other abortion-related cases over the past couple of years.) "If the court ultimately decides in this grand jury's favor, it will not only be setting a very alarming legal precedent, but arming opponents of a woman's right to choose with a dangerous weapon in their crusade." Stay tuned.


Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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