19 GOP Attorneys General Seek Private Medical Records of Patients Who Obtain Out-of-State Abortions
Written by GRB on 26/07/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
We turn now to a shocking development in the rollback of abortion access in the United States. Nineteen Republican attorneys general are demanding the right for local governments in states where abortion is illegal to access the private medical records of patients in order to see if they obtained reproductive healthcare services, including abortions, out of state. The letter was signed by Daniel Cameron of Kentucky and Todd Rokita of Indiana, among others, and critics say it could intimidate patients from seeking legal healthcare elsewhere. Abortion is set to be banned in Indiana with limited exceptions starting August 1st.
Meanwhile, more than a year after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, abortion providers report many Kentucky residents are crossing state lines to access abortion care due to the state’s near-total abortion ban. To be clear, it’s legal for anyone in the United States to access abortion care in a state where that care is legal.
That comes after related news out of Tennessee, where the state attorney general has demanded Vanderbilt University Medical Center hand over medical records of patients at its clinic for gender-affirming care. A ban on surgical and nonsurgical care that helps people transition toward their self-identified gender took effect in Tennessee.
Meanwhile, in Nebraska, the teenager who used abortion pills to terminate her pregnancy was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Police charged 19-year-old Celeste Burgess and her mother, Jessica, who assisted her in getting the pills and disposing of the fetus, after Facebook handed over their private messages to each other. Celeste was just 17 when her mother got the pills online. The events took place before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. At the time, abortion in Nebraska was banned after 20 weeks. Earlier this year, Governor Jim Pillen signed a 12-week ban into law.
For more on all of this, we go to Louisville, Kentucky, and we’re joined by Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Why don’t you begin with this first story of attorneys generals, Republicans attorneys general, demanding medical care records of people who have gone to other states for abortion? And what exactly is happening in your state of Kentucky, Tamarra?
TAMARRA WIEDER: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
No, it’s really troubling. Daniel Cameron, our attorney general in Kentucky, along with 18 other attorneys general, have demanded that states turn over medical records, entire medical records, in states where abortion is legal, to hostile states. And this is deeply troubling. This goes against HIPAA laws. You know, this is your private medical records being turned over to hostile attorneys general. What else are they going to do with this? It’s likely that they are going to look for a case to prosecute either providers, patients or those helping people cross state lines to where abortion is legal, seeking care.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tamarra Wieder, are they looking for blanket records, or are they wanting the right to look at individual records that they somehow suspect somebody may have violated the abortion bans?
TAMARRA WIEDER: You know, that’s a good question. They are asking for medical records from people, we believe, that are from their state, but they’re asking for the entire record. And that is what’s deeply troubling. Right now, when somebody does have an abortion, there is a terminated pregnancy report, which gives just vital statistics that protects a person’s private medical history and identity. That should be enough statistical information for the state to know how many people from, say, Kentucky are getting an abortion. We know from Indiana’s recent reporting on abortion that over 90% of their out-of-state care for abortion in Indiana went to Kentuckians this last year. That should be enough information for Daniel Cameron. And that’s, you know, across the country with the terminated pregnancy reports. But they’re asking for your entire medical record. And that is going to be scrutinized. Every decision your doctor has made for you over your entire medical history is going to be scrutinized, and that is deeply troubling. And everybody across the country should be concerned and alarmed that your medical history, your choices, your provider’s choices are up for grabs.
AMY GOODMAN: Has the Attorney General Daniel Cameron of Kentucky demanded this information from a Planned Parenthood clinic?
TAMARRA WIEDER: Not yet, to my knowledge. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. And he is running for governor, so we hope that he does not seek that information. You know, right now no Planned Parenthood in Kentucky, of course, is providing abortion, because we are under the ban.
AMY GOODMAN: And I wanted to ask you about what’s happened in Nebraska, this astounding story of Facebook handing over the private communication between a mother and a 17-year-old daughter who was seeking an abortion. The mom got abortion pills for her daughter, and the daughter took these pills. Now both the mother and daughter — the daughter, what, faces — she’s 19 now — 90 days in prison.
TAMARRA WIEDER: Yeah. No, it’s deeply troubling that, you know, communication that we’re having, in times where we don’t know what is legal in our communities around healthcare, if we’re just asking questions, if we are seeking out healthcare advice, can be used against us. This information, be it text messages, Facebook messages, search histories, should not be turned against us as we are seeking healthcare.
And people are scared. They are desperate. They need healthcare. And if you are asking questions, if you are searching for support, this should not be turned against anybody. But this is what happens when healthcare is politicized and it is criminalized. People become scared and desperate. Healthcare should be safe for people to search and demand respect from. They should be able to get healthcare from their providers and, you know, talk to their parents about. They should not be criminalized for seeking support.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And to go back for a second to this request by these Republican attorney generals, you mentioned the HIPAA law. That’s a federal law. Shouldn’t any judge just throw this out of court, saying that federal law trumps any efforts by local states to access these records?
TAMARRA WIEDER: You know, I hope we’ll find relief from the courts, but the courts have become more politicized in the last decade, you know? And so, there is fear that as we go forward in, you know, relief, if they seek judicial — if they seek the courts to uphold what they are seeking on these records, you know, we don’t know what circuit they’ll go for. Will they go to the judge in Texas, Kacsmaryk? We don’t know how this will play out.
But one thing that I think is really important to focus on is this sets a really chilling precedent. This scares patients. This scares providers. I think that that is a big component of this coordinated attack. It is to set a precedent of fear. If I leave my community, will I be arrested? Will my medical records be released? If I am a provider, will I be subpoenaed and arrested in Kentucky? Should I provide care to out-of-state patients from banned states? I think, you know, what this sets is a precedent of fear that’s going to chill care.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a court in Austin, Texas, last week, which heard testimony from women who are suing to overturn Texas’ abortion ban, which put their lives in danger when they were unable to end their pregnancies, even when they were nonviable. In a dramatic moment, plaintiff Samantha Casiano vomited on the stand as she recounted how she was forced to carry out her pregnancy even after receiving a diagnosis of anencephaly, a severe congenital disorder that results in a baby being born without portions of its brain and skull. And this is another plaintiff, Elizabeth Weller.
ELIZABETH WELLER: I was sent home to wait for my baby to die or for my infection to start showing physical symptoms, even though they were already there. But I wasn’t sick enough to get the care that I needed. There is no statement of pro-life in this state when you send me home to wait for my baby to die inside of me and for me to wait for myself to get to a point where I have to gamble my uterus and gamble my life and gamble any future possibility of becoming pregnant. That’s not pro-life. In a sense, it’s almost pro-torture.
AMY GOODMAN: That news conference was held by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of 13 patients and two doctors. If you can tell us, Tamarra, what you think the Biden administration should be doing as state after state, run by Republicans, are cracking down or imposing almost complete abortion bans? What can the federal government do?
TAMARRA WIEDER: Yeah, I know that story all too well here in Kentucky. We have so many that are nearly identical, as we face the same barriers here. And the federal government, you know, needs to do better by us. They need to protect, protect us, protect Kentuckians, protect Americans seeking abortion care. We shouldn’t be fleeing from our homes to access care that we should be able to get at home. You know, now in Kentucky, we’re going to lose our second-closest state for abortion care next Tuesday. Indiana is going to go dark for abortion care on August 1st, and 90% of Kentuckians were going to Indiana this last year. And so, we will have to go further away for care, and it puts more people in jeopardy, especially in emergent needs, where even in medical crisis, we have to leave our state. And so, more needs to be done, because this is all too familiar a story for so many of us across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Tamarra Wieder, we want to thank you for being with us, Kentucky state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.
Next up, we talk to a leading Kurdish American activist who just walked from Washington, D.C., to the United Nations. Stay with us.