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March 14, 2004 International Women's Day, HIPPA, and guns...

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Last Monday, the 8th, was International Women's Day - marked by women's groups around the world.  It was, of course, commemorated at the United Nations and is designated in many countries as a national holiday.  Not here. 

Patt Morrison writing the next day in the Los Angeles Times gives us a hint why. 

See Ashcroft Gunning for Peek at Private Medical Records
Patt Morrison, The Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2004

Morrison simply notes a difference in how we handle gun laws, where the buyer’s privacy is of critical importance, and how we handle one of the other big moral issues.  Here’s her opening.  


Wrap your mind around this one. 

It's the law now: If you buy a gun on, say, Monday morning, then by the time you've had breakfast on Tuesday, the record of that sale will be in the shredder — gone. 

Don't thank me — thank John Ashcroft, your attorney general. 

The man is an absolute guard dog when it comes to sticking up for the privacy of gun owners.  He wouldn't even let his FBI agents use the agency's own database to find out whether any of the 1,200 people it detained after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had bought any guns lately.  They might be arrested, they might be jailed until the crack of doom without seeing a lawyer or a loved one — but we'll never know whether they bought a gun. 
Now Ashcroft, the man who won't let the sun go down on gun-buying records, has sent out process servers to go knocking on the doors of six of the nation's Planned Parenthood offices — one of them in Los Angeles and another in San Diego — with subpoenas demanding those most private of records: medical data on thousands of patients, because he's being sued over a new law making so-called partial birth abortion a federal crime.


Yeah, well, as someone who has been involved in hospital systems work, I can tell you we were told we had to take HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) really seriously.  The patient owns the records.  No one can be given the possibility of accessing these without the patient’s permission, ever. 

I guess that excludes the government. 

Morrison does point out that women go to Planned Parenthood clinics for lots of reasons: for birth control, for prenatal checkups, for treating sexually transmitted diseases — which she claims is ninety percent of the visits — and for abortions. 

And when Morrison went to Planned Parenthood's offices Monday, International Women’s Day, she found that these subpoenas not only demand records of late-term abortions — which Planned Parenthood doesn't perform anyway — but “the language is so vague and broad that it could sweep up files on virtually any abortion of a pregnancy of more than fourteen weeks.

Of course the Justice Department says they will black out any patient identifiers.  But Morrison points out that what's not blacked out would be the doctors' names. 

I suppose that makes them better targets for the anti-abortion guys with rifles attempting to bring justice to the world.  Mass murder must be stopped?  Yeah, some of them have that idea, and some doctors are now dead.  The usual defense of such shootings is that the shooter was making a necessary intervention to stop a capital crime, or multiple capital crimes.  Thus it’s not murder or assassination or anything like that.  And to be fair, no court has let any of the shooters off the hook based on that logic. 

But Ashcroft’s inquiry is having the effect on suspects he really intended – it is scaring women away from clinics.  Morrison reports that at Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, patients have already called asking, "Should I use a false name?"  In San Diego, patients have wondered whether they should take their records home. 

It goes like this:


Diane Delille is San Diego's director of clinic training, and she took one call herself.  The woman was scheduling an abortion and said, "I'm hearing things on the news [about confidentiality]; I'm reading things in the paper.  I'm really terrified about coming to Planned Parenthood."

None of the Planned Parenthood offices even considered handing over any records.  Last week, a San Francisco federal judge backed them up, saying flatly that the subpoenas violate patients' privacy, full stop. 

The way San Diego's Planned Parenthood director Mark Salo sees it, "There's a variety of opinion about abortion, but not a variety of opinion about whether medical records should be private.  This should be alarming to Americans who take the right to privacy seriously, whatever their views on abortion."


Well, buyers of guns get privacy.  Women?  That’s different. 

Morrison does refer to White House press release dated April 14, 2001.  In it George Bush says that HIPAA protects "the right of every American to have confidence that his or her personal medical records will remain private….  Improving our healthcare system while protecting the confidentiality of patient records will continue to be an important goal of my administration."

Yeah, and in defense of the subpoenas for the records of any woman who has had an abortion at these clinics Ashcroft’s Justice Department argued this - "federal common law does not recognize a physician-patient privilege," and, in another matter, "individuals no longer possess a reasonable expectation that their histories will remain completely confidential."

Well, the Ninth Circuit Court out here didn’t agree with the administration.  No wonder Bush and Ashcroft hate the courts so very much. 

But here's a thought... 

If the Justice Department thought this all along, what were my systems analysts doing working on firewalls and data scrubbing algorithms and data transfer protocols?  Someone should have told us no one had a “reasonable expectation,” any longer, that personal medical records could be kept private, really.  We all could have gone out and had a beer. 


Well, in case you missed it, late in the day Tuesday, after the press had put the next day’s issues to bed and the primetime news shows had wrapped, the Justice Department announced they had decided that, well, maybe that effort to obtain all those private medical records hadn’t been such a hot idea after all.  They were abandoning that particular effort to shame patients and expose doctors by naming them in public documents.

You see, the administration actually knew International Women’s Day was important.  They did their public relations carefully.

Well, "carefully" is a relative term.  Consider this:

Bush praises man in speech on women's rights
Reuters, Friday, March 12, 2004


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bus has marked International Women's Week by paying tribute to women reformers -- but one of those he cited is really a man.

"Earlier today, the Libyan government released Fathi Jahmi. She's a local government official who was imprisoned in 2002 for advocating free speech and democracy," the president said in a speech at the White House on Friday.

The only problem was that, by all other accounts, "she" is in fact "he".

"Definitely male," said Alistair Hodgett, spokesman for the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International, whose representatives tried to see Jahmi in prison during a recent visit to Libya.

The U.S. House Committee on International Relations listed Jahmi as a 62-year-old civil engineer who was sentenced to five years in prison "after he reportedly stated during a session of the People's Conference ... that reform within Libya would never take place in the absence of a constitution, pluralism and democracy."

In remarks before a VIP audience, Bush cited Jahmi as a courageous reformer along with Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate living under house arrest in Myanmar.

All told, the president made references to more than a dozen other women ranging from his wife, first lady Laura Bush, to last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi of Iran.  He also mentioned four men including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who were both present.

"The advance of women's rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately inseparable," the president said.  "We stand with courageous reformers."


Well, it is good to stand with courageous reformers, of course.  One of these courageous women was actually a man?  Oops.  Well, these guys do get the general idea.

Male?  Female?  Whatever.


This kind of reminds me of Bush's interview with Diane Sawyer - as he said then about the actual Iraqi WMD (not there, really) and the intent of Saddam to one day, eventually, maybe, get some WMD (there, of course) – "What's the Difference?"   He doesn't do nuance.


But he does really know the difference between men and women.  He must.  After all he wants that constitutional amendment "to keep it all straight" in matters of marriage, and the legal benefits of marriage.  And there is no nuance there.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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