U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft defended his pursuit of patient records of abortions at six hospitals as a legitimate tactic in the government's battle to preserve a ban on so-called "partial birth" abortions. Several physicians and abortion rights' organizations have challenged the constitutionality of the 2003 ban, arguing it makes no exception for protecting the life of a pregnant woman. "The basis upon which they have challenged the law is to say that sometimes this practice is medically necessary," Ashcroft said in a news conference yesterday. "Medical records and medical activities of people in the United States should not be the subject of publicity. But we do need ... to look at medical records to find out if indeed there was medical necessity." Ashcroft said that "every precaution possible" would be taken to mask the identities of patients involved.
A federal judge in Chicago last week quashed Ashcroft's subpoena for medical records on partial-birth abortions from Northwestern Memorial Hospital, saying that Ashcroft's only purpose in seeking the information was to gain a foundation for impeaching the doctor involved. Attorneys for Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia also have moved to suppress the subpoena, while hospitals in New York and Michigan have not yet responded to the subpoenas. -- by Mark Taylor