Another Invasion of Privacy

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Oklahoma State House Passes Abortion Legislation

The Oklahoma state House approved a bill known as the Statistical Reporting of Abortion Act on Wednesday in an 88 to 6 vote that bans sex-selective abortions and increases reporting requirements by doctors who perform the procedure. According to Tulsa World, the questionnaires would personally identify patients, list the source of funds for the procedure, and the reason for the procedure.

Critics of the bill are saying that expenses involved with the questionnaires are unnecessary and that the reporting requirements would intimidate women seeking abortion services. Democratic state Representative Ryan Kiesel said “We’re going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of it for data….Have any of you looked at the form doctors already fill out? I have. There is already a questionnaire,” reported Tulsa World.

The bill’s author, Republican State Representative Dan Sullivan said in a press release: “The reporting will allow us to know exactly how many abortions are being performed in Oklahoma and why they are occurring so we can possibly adjust policy to further reduce the number of abortions in our state.”

Source: Ms. Magazine’s Feminist Wire Newsbriefs.

This bill is a bad idea on many different levels.

For one, if there is already a questionnaire that covers the information the government wants to know, then why is this bill necessary? Could the proponents of the bill have a hidden agenda? I know that they openly state that they want to gather information that will enable them to reduce the number of abortions being performed. But what if the questionnaire itself is a form of intimidation?

Another point that needs to be considered is, how do they know that people will tell the truth about why they want abortions? Would you admit that you just don’t like the sex of the fetus? Or that you just want an abortion, for no particular reason? Of course not. So how useful are these questionnaires?

A third point is that the questionnaire is an invasion of privacy. What if they made you fill out questionnaires about any kind of medical treatment you are receiving? What if there is a mental health issue that you don’t want divulged? What if you don’t want to admit that you didn’t intend to get pregnant, that you didn’t use birth control? (As if you would admit that–see my point above.)  I have the biggest problem with the fact that the doctors are going to be required to personally identify their patients who have abortions.

That seems to be a direct violation of the 1996 HIPAA Privacy Rule to me. This rule is an amendment to the 1974 Privacy Act. However, it is important to realize that neither piece of legislation completely protects a person’s privacy. There are some exceptions, like U.S. Census data collection, but personal identification is avoided if at all possible.

The bottom line is we’re in a war between those who want to control women and those who are fighting to retain their personal liberties. Whose business is it why I have an abortion? Do I want that information to be out there where it could be accessed or leaked? Medical records are reasonably (but not totally) safe, but the results of a questionnaire might be easier to obtain.

I saw a Gallup Poll the other day that said that, for the first time, more Americans are pro-life than pro-choice. But what if you asked a different question? What if you asked people if they were willing to have their personal liberties curtailed in order to cut down on the number of abortions? Men might say that’s all right with them–because they’re not the ones whose privacy is being invaded. But women ought to be more sensitive to the issue. They may not think that they will ever have an abortion, but does a woman ever know for sure what she’ll do until such a situation arises? And do they really want to be controlled by others (especially by men, to whom the whole issue of abortion is just an abstraction)?

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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