A U.S. District Court judge in Chicago quashed a federal subpoena seeking medical records for 40 patients who underwent partial-birth abortions at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago over the past two years, Modern Healthcare has learned. Northwestern spokeswoman Kelly Sullivan said the hospital argued that both the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and Illinois law required it to protect patient records. "Patients are not party to the litigation and we cannot produce the medical records of nonparties," Sullivan said. "The judge agreed and quashed the subpoena request." A member of Northwestern's staff and medical school faculty, obstetrician/gynecologist Cassing Hammond, is one of several doctors and groups challenging the constitutionality of the partial-birth abortion ban signed into law last year. A hearing on three challenges is set for March 29.
In his decision, Chief Judge Charles Kocoras said the records "appear to have been sought for the purpose of testing the assertions in Dr. Hammond's declarations. At best, the government is seeking possible impeachment material." U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Monica Goodling said the department does not comment on ongoing cases. Northwestern is one of an unknown number of hospitals that have received subpoenas from U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft seeking records on partial-birth abortions. -- by Mark Taylor