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IN THE COURTS | Ohio Supreme Court Rulings Deny Request for Clinic Records, Address Mifepristone Use

IN THE COURTS | Ohio Supreme Court Rulings Deny Request for Clinic Records, Address Mifepristone Use
[July 2, 2009]

The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a clinic operated by Planned Parenthood-Southwest Ohio Region does not have to release 10 years of child abuse reports and medical records of minors who received abortions, the AP/Middletown Journal reports. The lawsuit was filed by parents of a 14-year-old girl who allegedly had an abortion at the clinic in 2004 after being impregnated by a 21-year-old man (Cornwell, AP/Middletown Journal, 7/1). The clinic provided the girl's medical records in the case but refused the parents' request to release records on other patients, citing physician-patient privilege. Ohio law at the time required parental notification for minors, and the girl provided the phone number of the man, who pretended to be her father. The state now requires parental consent.

The court, in a split decision, ruled that the need to protect confidentiality of medical records "trumps" the parents' claims that Planned Parenthood "systematically ignored claims of sexual abuse by its patients," according to the Columbus Dispatch (Nash, Columbus Dispatch, 7/2). The decision upholds a 2007 state appeals court ruling that said other patients' records are not necessary for the parents' lawsuit. The Supreme Court said that the parents may still sue for damages over their allegations related to whether the abortion was unlawful, whether the girl's consent to the procedure was proper and whether the clinic had a duty to report suspected abuse.

Becki Brenner, CEO of PPSOR, said the court's decision reaffirms the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of medical records. She said, "Our perspective is that third-party records of people who are not involved in the lawsuit should not be shared with the plaintiff and their attorney." Brian Hurley, a lawyer for the parents, said that the court's decision not to turn over the medical records "has significantly weakened the protection Ohio has provided to sexually abused children and undermined parents' rights to protect their minor children" (AP/Middletown Journal, 7/1).

Court Rules In Favor of State Restrictions on Mifepristone

The state Supreme Court also ruled on Wednesday that Ohio can restrict the use of mifepristone, which is used in medication abortion, the Dispatch reports. A 2004 Ohio law required providers to comply with FDA guidelines regarding the drug's use, which allow use of the drug up to the seventh week of pregnancy. However, doctors sometimes prescribe the drug up to nine weeks' gestation. The Ohio law has not been enforced pending a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood. The state Supreme Court in its decision interpreted the 2004 law as barring physicians from prescribing the drug beyond seven weeks' gestation and limiting its dosage. The case can be appealed to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to determine if the law is constitutional (Columbus Dispatch, 7/2).