Attorney General Steve Carter’s attempt to seize the confidential records of patients at Planned Parenthood centers in Indiana was blocked last Friday when the Indiana Appellate Court ruled in favor of a Planned Parenthood lawsuit.
In March 2005, an agent of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) of the Office of the Indiana Attorney General attempted to seize the confidential records of Planned Parenthood clients in Bloomington, Franklin and Lafayette. The agent demanded medical information for specific minors who had received reproductive health services. Limited information regarding eight patients was turned over to the agent. But then Planned Parenthood was told that the MFCU intended to seize an additional 73 records from 19 health centers. That’s when Planned Parenthood filed suit to protect patient privacy.
Last week’s ruling by the State Appellate Court issued an injunction preventing agents of the attorney general from obtaining patient records. The Court of Appeals clearly stated that Planned Parenthood of Indiana’s patients have a constitutional right to privacy with respect to medical records and has outlined procedures to protect patient privacy in the future. The appellate ruling went on to state that granting unlimited access is “neither the only, nor the most effective, nor the least intrusive means” ofinvestigating alleged cases of abuse. The case will now be remanded back to the trial court.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana’s CEO, Betty Cockrum, called the ruling “an important victory for the medical privacy of all Indiana citizens.” She went on to say, “This case was a clear-cut abuse of power. The ruling affirms that while the Attorney General’s Office has an obligation to investigate alleged patient abuse and neglect, in this case, it overstepped its authority and its tactics were unreasonable, intrusive and ineffective.”
Many observers saw Attorney General Carter’s efforts to seize Planned Parenthood of Indiana records as an attempt to undermine the very existence of Planned Parenthood itself. Cockrum seemed to implicitly address this suspicion when she said, “With this decision, the sacred doctor-patient relationship which is so important to each and every citizen of this state remains protected. Planned Parenthood of Indiana’s mission to provide reproductive health care and promote healthier families is founded on that tenet. Today, our mission has been validated and our ability to provide our patients with the very best care has been affirmed.”