In response to the passage of the Partial
Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, a number of obstetricians, the
American Civil Liberties Union and the National Abortion Federation
have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law,
which prohibits the procedure often referred to as partial-birth
abortion. As a result of this lawsuit, the Justice Department has
attempted to subpoena confidential medical records from medical
centers — particularly hospitals. The Justice Department
argues that these records are necessary to establish the
credibility of the doctors filing suit. These subpoenas, however,
request an unauthorized release of patients’ medical
information, and the University is right to intervene and challenge
Last month, the Justice Department subpoenaed University
obstetrician Timothy Johnson’s medical records, as he is one
of the plaintiffs in the case. Taking action to protect its
patients, the University filed a motion to prevent the release of
The motion cites a Michigan privacy statute preventing the
release of patients’ medical records without their consent.
The Justice Department’s claims that the information will
remain anonymous do not supercede the statute and do not take into
consideration that women could be identified through the uniqueness
of their medical diagnoses and treatments.
Because this Justice Department action could weaken
doctor-patient trust and confidentiality, it could also lead to a
decline in the quality of medical care and treatment. Subpoenaing
medical records sets a bad precedent that would likely have
negative effects on the medical profession and its tradition of
The University also correctly argues that subpoenaing the
medical records of doctors who wish to share their expertise in
court would deter them from offering expert advice in the future.
Doctors have a right to influence public policy without the fear
that their patients’ medical records will be opened.
The courts should side with the University in order to protect
doctors and their patients. Attacking doctors who challenge
legislation is an underhanded way for the administration to further
its pro-life agenda.