Privacy Advocates Concerned After Abortion Patient’s Picture, Medical Records Posted on Antiabortion Web Sites
An Illinois woman who suffered a cervical tear during an abortion is suing antiabortion activists for posting her picture and medical records on the Internet, the Los Angeles Times reports. Several antiabortion Web sites have posted a "grainy" photograph of the woman being taken to a nearby hospital after the procedure, along with her medical records and a two-page article detailing her hospitalization. Although her name was not released, an article on the Web sites lists several pieces of her personal information, including her age, her medical history and a description of her family and hometown. Her information was posted "next to pictures of Adolf Hitler and dismembered limbs as a cautionary tale about the alleged dangers of ending pregnancies," the Times reports. This week, the woman sued the hospital that treated her after the abortion, claiming that her medical records were released without her authorization. The woman is also suing the activists who posted her picture on the Internet, accusing them of "publicly humiliating her" and claiming "severe emotional distress" over the incident. Officials at Illinois' St. Elizabeth Medical Center, where the woman was treated, did not comment on the case, stating only that they are "careful to protect confidentiality" (Simon, Los Angeles Times, 7/6).
Antiabortion activist Stephen Wetzel has claimed responsibility for obtaining and posting the woman's records on his Web site, and said that he is confident that he and the other six antiabortion activists named as defendants in the case can "fight off [the woman's] legal challenge" because he "broke no laws" and did not post the woman's name on the Internet (Mannies, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7/4). But Neville Johnson, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in privacy law, said that "personal humiliation can be enough to win a lawsuit for invasion of privacy" (Los Angeles Times, 7/6). Legal experts stated that although there are no federal laws against posting personal medical information on the Internet, some states, including Missouri and Illinois, have statutes restricting the release of medical records without the permission of the patient or his or her family. Ted Ruger, an associate law professor at Washington University, said that the hospital is likely to face the largest "potential legal risk" because Illinois law prohibits "willful and wanton disclosure" of records by hospitals or their employees" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.