Should Indiana’s abortion records be public?

NOW: Should Indiana’s abortion records be public?

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- Indiana’s near-total abortion ban, one of the first in the country since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, went into effect last August.

And, as of January, the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) stopped releasing individual terminated pregnancy reports (TPRs), while still releasing quarterly aggregated data. 

That move was to great dismay for anti-abortion advocates. 

“If the health department thought this was an issue, they could potentially redact some information from the TPRs," said Melanie Garcia Lyon, executive director of Voices for Life. "We believe their motivation is to protect abortion providers from further evaluation into violations against abortion law.”

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is hoping to reverse this course of action, arguing that his office has enforcement authority over doctors, and they need the public to access the records. 

“In really every sense we have to rely on the public," the Republican AG said. "The public has to rely on evidence. The evidence comes from what has always been publicly available, terminated pregnancy reports.”

His full press conference can be watched here.

But IDOH argues that individual reports in their entirety should be kept private, as they are medical records and deserve protection. 

"If you're able to get an abortion in Indiana right now, under the current ban, under the very narrow exceptions, the last thing you need is for the attorney general to be following up on your case," said Karen Nemes, acting director of Pro-Choice South Bend. 

The IDOH asked Luke Britt, the state’s Public Access Counselor, to weigh in, and in an informal opinion from December, he wrote in part, "given that the report is populated with information that could be reverse engineered to identify patients—especially in smaller communities—you argue that the required quarterly reports should suffice in terms of satisfying any disclosure and transparency considerations. This office agrees."

His full opinion can be found here.

Organizations like Voices for Life act as watchdogs, looking to ensure Indiana’s near-total ban is being followed.

 “With significantly more abortion regulations, we were curious to see whether the ban was actually being followed,” Garcia Lyon said.

To them, this data is vital to those efforts. 

“The public having access to this data is crucial in enforcement because, under Indiana statutes, the AG and his team cannot investigate or submit complaints based on data that comes from a TPR, they can only follow up on complaints that come from the public,” Garcia Lyon said.

This argument, though, is not holding a lot of water for folks on the other side of the aisle, saying the ban is already enforced on the front end; women can only access abortion care in the first place if they meet one of the law's exceptions.

"I think that the attorney general right now is just trying to add more fear and confusion to the conversation. And I find it especially ironic that he's pushing aside concerns about patient privacy," said Nemes.

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