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ISSUE 115 VOL 21 PUBLISHED 5/10/2002

Iowa Clinic faces invasion of privacy

By Molly Bayrd
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 10, 2002

Imagine that your whole life is laid out for the world to see.

Picture your past medical histories, your lovers, and your most personal, private truths accessible to anyone who wishes to view them. In Storm Lake, Iowa, the Iowa Supreme Court is laying down the foundation for all of these things to become possible.

On May 30th of 2002, a young boy was found battered and bloodied at a Storm Lake recycling center. The guardian of the infant, who left him to be put through the recycling machine, is as yet unidentified.

After checking five hospitals and finding no likely suspects, local authorities demanded that the Iowa division of Planned Parenthood turn over any records they had of women who had received pregnancy tests from the organization between August of 2001 and May 30th of this year.

A much respected non-profit organization, Planned Parenthood is refusing to disclose the information on the grounds that the records are medical in nature and protected under federal privacy laws.

However, the records were recently ruled by a judge to be "non-medical" and Planned Parenthood may be forced to release the personal information of at least 1,000 women if the Iowa Supreme Court upholds the judge’s decision.

Many pro-life campaigns are using the scandal to provide impetus to a strengthened, anti-abortionist push against the organization under fire.

This conservative tactic dodges the true nature of the issue, which deals more with the ethics of personal privacy than it does with a woman's legal right to an abortion.

Planned Parenthood is not simply an organization that provides birth control and family planning options. According to Sally Keating, former head nurse and nurse practitioner of the Southeastern Minnesota division of Planned Parenthood, the non-profit also deals largely in women’s health.

The organization handles cases of women inflicted with sexually transmitted diseases. Thus, not only would the records released for the investigation reveal the identities of women who took pregnancy tests (and intended to do so discreetly through the Planned Parenthood services), but they would also reveal any histories of STDs or cancer-related problems that those women may have had.

In addition, any previous alcoholism referrals or legal charges of abuse that a Planned Parenthood client may have had would appear on the supplied records. If any such information were to go public, it would irreparably damage the lives and reputations of the women involved.

"The average innocent citizen will never again be assured that their most personal information won't be exposed [if the records go public]," says Sally Keating.

In a small community like Storm Lake, and with an investigative team comprised mostly of Storm Lake citizens, the likelihood of incriminating information being leaked from the case is overwhelming. The repercussions would be devastating.

To add insult to injury, most of the women who consult Planned Parenthood services are uninsured migrant workers, refugees, or welfare-recipients. These women are perhaps the most vulnerable of all those associated with the organization. Many of the religious communities to whom these women belong are adamantly opposed to the use of contraceptives under any circumstances.

Consequently, the underprivileged majority of the Planned Parenthood community would undoubtedly be subjected to further isolation from both the community of Storm Lake as well as the cultural community to which they belong.

Jill June, the director of the Planned Parenthood division under fire, would like to see the suspect caught and be persecuted.

However, she will not forsake her organization if there is no certainty that the records will disclose anything that may lead authorities to the mother (she may face jail time and a fine if she refuses to comply).

Will federal privacy laws ever stand up in court again if Planned Parenthood loses their battle? Will American women be safe from having their most intimate histories revealed to anyone at anytime?

Says Sally Keating: "The entire organization is laden with emotion and the need for confidentiality…this would be the ultimate breach of a citizens' rights, even more so than health care, because people seek out Planned Parenthood specifically for its promise of confidentiality."

Oh, and one more thing…where does the dead child's father fit into all of this?

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