Victory for Medical Privacy
Kansas Supreme Court Decision Reaffirms Patient Rights and Expectations That Medical Information Remain Confidential
TOPEKA, KANSAS — The Kansas Supreme Court today unanimously reaffirmed the importance of protecting the confidentiality of women's medical records, in a lawsuit filed by Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood and Wichita's Women's Health Services against Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline. The court wrote: "The type of information sought by the State here could hardly be more sensitive, or the potential harm to patient privacy posed by disclosure more substantial." The entire decision can be found at www.ppkm.org.
"This is about protecting medical privacy and the identities of our clients from a politically-motivated inquisition," Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President and CEO Peter Brownlie said. "We appreciate that the court struck a careful balance between competing interests, and affirmed that one of those interests, a woman's right to privacy, must be maintained."
Attorney General Kline and a district court sought to obtain complete confidential medical records of women cared for by the clinics, which then appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court to safeguard the information, the women and their medical privacy. The court ruled that three constitutional privacy rights are threatened by the attorney general's actions and that all patient identifying information be removed from the medical records before any review by the district court.
The subpoena of confidential records flows from the attorney general's investigation of women's health physicians. "The investigation is but one tactic in the Attorney General's long-standing assault on a woman's right to make personal health care decisions," added Brownlie. "As we've said all along, the Attorney General has the right to investigate Comprehensive Health. We don't fear his investigation, because we fully comply with the law. But the Court confirmed today that he doesn't have the right to invade the privacy of our patients."
The Kansas Supreme Court found that the right to privacy, "the right to obtain confidential health care" and the "fundamental right of a pregnant woman to obtain a lawful abortion without government imposition" were at risk in Kline's inquisition. The court ordered the district court to take several measures to ensure that the confidentiality of the medical records was protected from unjustified invasion by government authorities.
In an open letter published on the organization's website, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) Interim President Karen Pearl reiterated Planned Parenthood's commitment to medical privacy. "You should never have to face the possibility of politicians looking at the details of your private medical files," Pearl's letter said. "We will always fight to make sure that everyone who counts on Planned Parenthood can rely on the confidential care we provide."