The effects of the federal government’s partial-birth
abortion ban just hit a little closer to home.
The U.S. Department of Justice, defending the federal
government’s ban on certain abortion procedures, subpoenaed
the University for the medical records of a physician serving as a
plaintiff in the legal case against the ban.
Obstetrics and Gynecology chair Timothy Johnson, one of seven
doctors working with the National Abortion Federation and the
American Civil Liberties Union on the case, is the subject of the
The case objects to the ban on the procedure anti-abortion
advocates call a partial-birth abortion, which is the extermination
of a fetus as it exits the mother’s womb.
President Bush signed into law legislation banning this
procedure in November of last year, although abortion advocates say
the law would outlaw a number of other abortion practices.
The Justice Department is using the subpoenas to determine the
expertise of those doctors challenging the abortion legislation.
The medical records provided by the University’s health
system could also help the federal government gauge the
circumstances of any abortions Johnson has performed in the past
three years, according to The Associated Press.
University of Michigan Health System spokeswoman Kallie Michels
said the University would comply with the subpoena and release the
information, pending a court order. She said the records will not
contain any information that could identify patients.
“So they’re stripped of all the details that are
linked to a specific patient,” she said, adding that this
information is not necessary to assess Johnson’s
Johnson told UMHS officials that he does not recall having
experience with this procedure in the past three years. Michels
said they have not checked their records to confirm this.
But Michels did not deny that UMHS doctors could have performed
the procedure before the federal government banned it last
“No women is going to be denied appropriate, medically
available care,” she said.
“We provide comprehensive health care for women, including
a broad spectrum of services, and no practitioners are obligated to
perform something that poses a moral, ethical conflict.”
The ACLU would not comment on the specifics of the case, but
ACLU spokeswoman Lorraine Kenny explained that the law’s
language is too broad. It could criminalize a vast number of
abortion procedures and restricts a woman’s medical choices,
Opponents contend that, under the law, physicians are obligated
to only perform the procedure if a woman’s life is in danger
and that the law does not safeguard a woman’s health or her
fertility. They say the law does not include an exception for women
who may risk potential injury owing to continuing a pregnancy.
But the Justice Department website disputes that the procedure
is either necessary or reputable.
“Rather than being an abortion procedure that is embraced
by the medical community … partial-birth abortion remains a
disfavored procedure that is not only unnecessary to preserve the
health of the mother, but in fact poses serious risks to the
long-term health of women and in some circumstances, their
lives,” states a document on the Justice Department’s
This week, a federal judge ruled against a similar subpoena of
one of the plaintiff’s other doctors, Cassing Hammond of
Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
— The Associated Press contributed to this