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Doctors' Abortion Records Wanted

March 02, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department sought Monday to bar doctors from testifying in a lawsuit challenging the Partial-Birth Abortion Act unless the government gains access to their patients' medical records.

The Justice Department motion filed in U.S. District Court in New York also points out that the National Abortion Federation, a professional association of abortion providers, has argued that patient records are essential to determining a procedure's medical necessity.

The Bush administration has been criticized broadly by abortion rights groups and privacy advocates for seeking the records, even though Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft insists that patient names and personal information would be removed before government lawyers got them.

"There can be no question but that the government is entitled to the records, redacted to protect the identity of particular patients, in its defense of the act," the court papers say.

Lawsuits brought in New York, Nebraska and California are challenging a new law barring a procedure referred to by critics as "partial-birth" abortion and by medical organizations as "intact dilation and extraction."

The Justice Department is attempting to persuade federal judges to order at least six hospitals and six Planned Parenthood affiliates to provide the abortion patient records so the government can defend the law. The hospitals and Planned Parenthood are resisting on privacy grounds.

If the five doctors bringing the New York case plan to testify that the procedure is medically necessary, the Justice Department says patient records are needed to show their experiences and the circumstances of each case.

Otherwise, the government motion says, the doctors shouldn't be allowed to testify.

The Justice Department motion also uses a National Abortion Federation document to bolster the government's case.

In a recent "resource guide" describing efforts in Congress to pass the abortion law, the federation asserted that critics were not competent to judge the procedure's necessity because they hadn't reviewed any patient records, the court papers say.

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