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Kansas Abortion Provider Ordered to Turn Over Medical Records

Posted Aug 25 2008 3:17pm
What do you consider identifying personal data in your medical records? It's not a trick question, but a genuine one based on the ruling, earlier this week, that a Kansas abortion provider must turn over 2,000 patient records - the records of all women who have had late term (21 weeks or later) abortions in the past five years.

In Kansas, citizens have a right, based on an obscure 19th century law, to convene grand juries when they feel the government isn't enforcing a law. As far as I can trace back, the two citizen subpoena's are based on two separate laws that Kansas for Life feels are not being enforced , and that these records are necessary to prove it. The first law requires reporting sexual abuse in minors (and they argue that 11 and 12 year old's are receiving late term abortions without the 'abuse' being reported), while the second prohibits late term abortions unless they are medically necessary.

In other words, it's a wide dragnet to investigate abortion in Kansas.

Now, to be clear, I'm not basing this conclusion on who is behind the subpoena, or even the stated goals of the prosecuting attorneys. I'm basing it on the argument that they are looking for signs of abuse, or medical necessity - in health records that are supposedly going to be redacted of name, age, and identifying medical history .

If you take away name, age, and identifying medical history - exactly what do you have left, that allows the investigation of either of these laws that Kansas for Life says are not being enforced?

Further indications that this is a wide dragnet hidden behind other laws is the fact that they also want the records of any woman who was 22 or more weeks pregnant who came in and even consulted about an abortion, even if she didn't have one. Where's the necessary information here in enforcing laws? I can't see one - and the request is construed broadly enough that it sounds as if even mentioning abortion (even to say "well, I know it's an option because the fetus has XYZ problem, tell me more about it... mm, I don't think that's for me, but thanks") is enough to flag your record.

So the question then becomes - can you truly redact medical records that will remove personal and identifying information, and still leave meaningful data that will tell them what they want to know about abortions in Kansas? Your medical history is a map across your body, building a record that's unique to each individual. Every scar I have leads the way to a story, every surgery, every break and set of bone, every time my lungs decide to stop working. Every medication taken is a marker along the path, all of which will build to create a single individual.

Yes, in theory Tiller, the abortion provider, will be passing these files to another doctor and attorney to independently review and redact. But I remove identifying data from papers all the time, and I know how easy it is to miss just a single word that clearly flags who the person is. Attempting to redact 2,000 medical records in 68 days? The magnitude of error possible is staggering.

As of yesterday, Tiller's attorneys have filed an appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court, and refused to hand over any files until after the Supreme Court makes their ruling.

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