Abortion opponents dispute claims about patient privacy

Supreme Court to hear arguments today on whether it should block subpoenas issued last year

? Two clinics argue their concerns about patients’ privacy are causing them to fight Atty. Gen. Phill Kline’s attempts to gain access to the records of women and girls who have had abortions.

However, as the Kansas Supreme Court considers the dispute, abortion opponents are questioning the clinics’ commitment to keeping patients’ health information confidential. Anti-abortion activists contend some data the clinics don’t want Kline to see is used in raising money for abortion rights causes.

“I think that they’re very selective when they speak about patient privacy,” Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, said Wednesday.

The state Supreme Court scheduled arguments for 1:30 p.m. today on whether it should block or modify subpoenas issued last year by a Shawnee County judge at Kline’s request. The justices also will consider the clinics’ request to have Kline held in contempt and their allegations that he violated judicial orders, including a gag order.

The subpoenas would compel the clinics to turn over 90 patients’ records to the judge.

The subpoenas went to the Wichita clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller and the Overland Park clinic of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

They contend Kline, an abortion opponent, is on a fishing expedition designed to discourage women from seeking abortions. Kline has said he needs the records to investigate child rapes and whether the clinics have violated a state law restricting late-term procedures.

Planned Parenthood faces similar legal battles in Indiana and Ohio.

Peter Brownlie, chief executive officer of the Kansas and Mid-Missouri group, said abortion opponents are trying to create a diversion by raising questions about the fundraising activities.

“That fundraising issue is bogus,” Brownlie said.

Questions about fundraising arose first in February, when Kansans for Life noted a statement on the Web site for Tiller’s clinic that said fundraising staff for the clinic and a political action committee may receive information about patients and solicit them for money. A clinic spokeswoman called the statement a mistake, and it was pulled.

A privacy notice on the Web site for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri continued to say Wednesday: “We may use health information about you to contact you in an effort to raise money for our not-for-profit operations. Please let us know if you do not want us to contact you for such fundraising efforts.”

Culp said women seeking abortions are vulnerable and could feel coerced into not objecting. Also, she said, many patients may not read the notice.

But Brownlie said: “We don’t have fundraisers outside that we turn anything over to. We do it with staff.”

Brownlie said Kline’s motives in pursuing clinic records were made clear by a lawsuit the attorney general’s office filed last month, asking the Supreme Court to declare that from conception, a fetus is covered by the state constitution’s guarantee giving all men “inalienable rights,” including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The lawsuit specifically attacks a handful of state-financed abortions for poor women, which the officials say are limited to victims of rape or incest or women whose lives are in danger. Kline filed it three years after the Kansas House passed a resolution demanding it.

Furthermore, Culp said, in the records case, Kline is trying to enforce state law restricting late-term procedures.

“They act as though anything Phill Kline does related to the abortion issue is not valid because he’s pro-life,” Culp said.