August 26, 2015 — Abortion-rights opponents increasingly are uncovering personal information about abortion providers and women who have received abortion care in an effort to increase abortion stigma and restrict abortion access, ProPublica/Washington Post reports.
According to abortion-rights supporters, these tactics ultimately are designed to restrict abortion access and endanger patients and providers by disclosing identifying information.
According to ProPublica/Post, antiabortion-rights activists have employed a number of tactics to obtain personal information and public records, which they publish on their websites or use to file complaints with health agencies against abortion providers.
Tactics include accessing 911 call records and data from state health departments and medical boards. In addition, some abortion-rights opponents have searched through clinics' trash for patient information and waited outside of clinics to photograph the license plates of ambulances, staff or patients.
Meanwhile, some health care providers also leak information to antiabortion-rights activists. According to ProPublica/Post, health care providers are required to protect patient information under the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (PL 104-191), or HIPAA, but the law does not apply to advocacy groups if they receive such information.
Tactics Run Result in Unfounded Complaints
Antiabortion-rights groups' efforts to use patient and provide information has resulted in unfounded complaints in some states.
For example, the antiabortion-rights group Operation Rescue and another organization filed complaints with the New Mexico medical board against an Albuquerque abortion provider, after the groups obtained a recording of a 911 call made when a patient experienced a complication. While the physician was exonerated, many personal details about the patient -- including her initials and the location of her residence -- were made public in a transcript of the hearing.
National Abortion Federation CEO Vicki Saporta said, "The woman clearly did not want her privacy violated. She didn't want to talk to anybody."
Operation Rescue estimates that it has 100 pending complaints nationwide.
Privacy Issues at Play
According to ProPublica/Post, disputes over what information about abortions can be made public and what is protected under privacy laws has put the issue before courts across the U.S.
For example, a court agreed with the state of Louisiana when it said that records on abortion care for minors -- including patient ages, the ages of the men involved in the pregnancy and any complications -- were exempt from disclosure. The records had been requested by an antiabortion-rights activist.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood recently sued in a case involving an abortion-rights opponent in Washington state, Jonathan Bloedow, who has asked for information about abortion providers under the state's Public Records Act. Specifically, Bloedow had asked for data from the state health department on age and race of abortion patients, the duration of patients' pregnancies and how many previous abortions patients might have obtained.
According to ProPublica/Post, Bloedow had received the information for one abortion provider and was set to receive additional information when Planned Parenthood sued, noting that sharing the information would violate the state health department's rules and laws on patient privacy.
Laura Einstein -- chief legal counsel of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, which filed suit to block Bloedow's request -- said, "I don't think there's any margin for error here," adding, "These women came to a private health center to have a private health procedure, and that's just not anybody's business" (Ornstein, ProPublica/Washington Post, 8/25).