General Articles

Debate Continues Surrounding Kansas Attorney General’s Subpoena for Medical Records: Women’s Right to Privacy at Forefront

In 2004, Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline (R) issued a subpoena for the complete, unedited medical records of approximately 90 women who sought abortions after 22 weeks gestation at two Kansas clinics in 2003. If the subpoena is enforced, the documents provided to Kline would include "each patient’s name, medical history, birth control practices, psychological profile, and sexual history."1 In response, the clinics recently filed a brief with the state Supreme Court in defense of their patients’ right to privacy.

Advocates see the subpoena as just another tactic in Kline’s on-going work to undermine access to abortion in the state. In 2003, Kline issued a statement requiring abortion providers to report abortions performed for girls under the age of 16 based on a Kansas law that deems any sexual intercourse with a girl under that age illegal. In early 2004, a U.S. District Judge responded by granting a temporary restraining order on behalf of health professionals who filed a class-action lawsuit in an attempt to block the enforcement of the law, citing physician-patient confidentiality.2

Kline based his demand for the medical records on similar premises claiming he was pursuing a "search for evidence of crimes, including possible violations of laws limiting late-term abortions and requiring mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse."3 Representatives for the clinics, however, say that Kline’s argument regarding suspected child abuse holds little merit, as two thirds of the records in question were those of adult women.4 In addition, the Kansas City Star reported that the legal documents filed by Kline in March "make little mention of child predators, and instead indicate that the legal battle centers on the clinics themselves and whether doctors are following the law in performing late-term abortions."5 Further, advocates argue that if Kline were truly seeking to prosecute cases of underage sex and/or child abuse, he would pursue avenues of information in addition to abortion clinics, including other health workers and minors who have given birth.6 In fact, Kline’s 51-page response to the clinics’ most recent brief "makes ‘little mention’ of child abuse," showing that the investigation may indeed be more concerned with prosecuting abortion providers than with prosecuting child abusers.7

"What we are witnessing today is an alarming and escalating attack on medical privacy across the country," said Karen Pearl, interim president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in response to this and similar subpoenas.8 Members of the Kansas Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice echoed this concern. Led by Rev. Bill Ester of a local United Methodist Church , the group expressed its criticism of Kline’s actions in late February 2005 stating, "we call on Attorney General Kline to vacate the subpoenas and end his harassing investigation of these women, their physicians and the clinics that serve them." He continued, "if this breach of medical privacy is allowed to go forward, no one of us, man or woman, can have confidence that our medical records can be held as private."9

William Smith , vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. stated, "actions such as Kline’s are merely intimidation tactics aimed at preventing women from having abortions and diminishing their trust in the health care system." Smith continued, "Kline’s insistence that the clinics provide complete medical records infringes upon the doctor-patient confidentiality each of us values. If this infringement is permitted, what violation will be next?"


1 "Clinics Ask State Supreme Court to Block Kansas AG’s Investigation Involving Medical Records of Women Who Had Abortions," Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report , 25 February 2005, accessed 25 February 2005, <

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 "Kansas Supreme Court Lifts Gag Order in Case Involving Attorney General’s Subpoena of Abortion Medical Records," Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report , 11 March 2005, accessed 11 March 2005, <

5 " Documents show focus of Kline’s inquiry," Kansas City Star, 4 March 2005, B1.

6 "Washington Post Profiles Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, Examines His Subpoena of Abortion Medical Records," Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report , 21 March 2005, accessed 21 March 2005, <

7 "Kansas AG Defends Investigation Into Abortion Medical Records, Files Brief in Response to Request He Stop Search," Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report , 4 March 2005, accessed 4 March 2005, <

8 " Pro-Choice Group Says Privacy is Under Siege, – Prosecutors are Trying to Seize Patients’ Records to Prevent Women From Seeking Abortions, National Officials With Planned Parenthood Say," Wichita Eagle, 24 March 2005, 1B.

9 " Religious Group Pans Kline Subpoenas, – Abortion-Rights Advocates Accuse the Attorney General of "Harassing" Women and Their Doctors," Wichita Eagle , 1 March 2005, 1B.