Monday, December 1, 2008

Abortion Witch-Hunts: Brazil vs. Kansas

In Campo Grande Brazil, over a 1,200 women are being investigated by police for having illegal abortions. Thus far, 150 women have been charged and at least 30 women have been sentenced to community service. Brazilian law currently restricts abortion to cases of rape or when the life or health of the women is at risk. The investigation of the women followed directly after the closing of a family planning clinic in Campo Grande when the patients’ medical records were seized in 2007.

Women’s rights organizations are outraged by the outcome of the trial and the highly intrusive investigation. According to the BBC News the investigation included “demands for intimate medical examinations,” interviews with the partners of the women, and the mistreatment of their medical information. The investigation was highly criticized for mistreating and humiliating women when thousands of medical records were made available to the public.

Think that this egregious invasion of privacy could never happen in the U.S.? Think again. There is a startling similarity between the practices used in Brazil and the trial involving Kansas abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller. The investigation into Dr. Tiller was instigated by former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline, a well-known opponent of abortion. Kline demanded access to confidential patient medical records, sparking a national debate on the fundamental right to privacy.

Kline is accused of unethical conduct including intentionally misleading judges and state agencies, and releasing patients’ private medical data, according to a Washington Post article. In addition, Kline has been accused of using anti-abortion groups to obtain information on the staff working at the clinic. Dr. Tiller’s trial is scheduled for March, but a special hearing has been ordered to determine if the investigation was lawful. If convicted, Tiller could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and fined $2,500 for each charge.

Privacy is not a privilege. It is a right. It is a right that should not have to be surrendered by, of all people, doctors and women. We need to be vigilant of attempts to violate privacy. As the number of anti-choice supporters in the federal government dwindles, anti-choice advocates are going to be searching for different methods to weaken the right to choose. And what better way to prevent women from getting abortions? Threatening to tell the world about such a private, difficult decision.

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