U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft withdrew his request for patient records on certain late-term abortions from two New York hospitals, most likely signaling the end of what has been a controversial pursuit. Ashcroft subpoenaed seven hospitals for records on so-called partial-birth abortions performed by specific doctors. The doctors are among the groups who have challenged the constitutionality of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Three of the subpoenaed hospitals proved such procedures weren't performed at their facilities. The two hospitals in New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System last week succeeded in delaying at least until May a contempt citation that would have compelled them to produce the records. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, and Hahnemann University Hospital, Philadelphia, separately won court orders quashing the subpoenas.
The Justice Department hasn't explicitly stated it won't continue pursuit of the Northwestern and Hahnemann records. But that seems unlikely as the department has said it hopes to close its arguments in a few days in the trial on the doctors' challenge. Debate over the subpoenas has delayed resolution of the ban's constitutionality and thus its implementation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheila Gowan in New York said in the court transcript that the U.S. withdrew its request for the New York records because of "an important and substantial public interest" in resolving the issue quickly. -- by Mark Taylor