08.12.10 - (PRESS RELEASE) This afternoon, a federal judge issued an order blocking enforcement of provisions of an ordinance restrictingabortion in Fort Wayne-Allen County that significantly threatened to undermine patient confidentiality. Under the pretext of protecting the safety of patients in emergency situations, the ordinance requires that out-of-town doctors secure a "physician designee" and provide various officials and medical entities with that physician's name as well as around-the-clock emergency contact information. Doctors must also allow unjustified review of their patients' medical records by the health department. Since the requirements apply only to doctors who practice in the county, but happen to live outside of the area and not have privileges to admit patients at local hospitals, the measure specifically targets the plaintiff in the case Dr. Ulrich Klopfer, Ft. Wayne's only provider of surgical abortions. The injunction will be in place until the case is resolved.
"We are extremely pleased with today's ruling. This ordinance would have risked the confidentiality of women seeking abortion in Fort Wayne and potentially endangered their safety," said Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU Indiana. "Our client Dr. Klopfer has safely provided abortion in the county for many years. There's no justification for suddenly imposing additional requirements on him, especially when they harm his patients and practice."
The ACLU Indiana and Center for Reproductive Rights filed a challenge to the ordinance on behalf of Dr. Klopfer in May. The ordinance allows a health official to review patient medical records, without removing any identifying information, whenever a complaint that anyone violated the ordinance is lodged. The official is not required to keep the names of the patients confidential. That provision puts the patients' confidentiality at risk and because women who seek abortion are often subjected to harassment by anti-choice extremists, it may very well prevent them from seeking services in the first place. The court "call[ed] into question the need for county health officials to leaf through medical records," and found "the security measures in the ordinance assuring the confidentiality of patient identifying information...vague at best."
Dr. Klopfer, owner of Fort Wayne Women's Health, the only provider of surgical abortions in Allen County and within 100 miles, the ordinance would place a significant burden on his practice and prevent him from providing confidential medical care.
"Today's ruling exposes this ordinance for the assault on patient privacy that it is. The ordinance does nothing to protect patients. Instead, it would allow the government to invade patients' confidential relationships with doctors and threatens the availability of safe and legal medical services," said Suzanne Novak, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.