Protecting privacy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

A judge in Iowa upheld a decision yesterday that may well effect the privacy of every US citizen. The case dealt with a baby, whose body was found in the garbage, and the closed records of the area's Planned Parenthood organization. In the search for the mother of the infant, the police had requested a look at the records held Planned Parenthood, who, of course, refused. The organization stated that those were medical records and confidential. The judge said otherwise.

The premise the police are assuming is that the mother of the victim may have visited the clinic. By finding all of the women who had positive pregnancy tests during the last 10 months, they hope to find the "culprit."

The judge's decision is disturbing. It violates privacy and common sense. Are all pregnant, or once pregnant, women in Iowa now suspects, simply by the virtue of their fertility? Those women who miscarried must now relive their grief, and suffer the suspicions of the police as well.

We have to wonder about these tactics. When the police of Storm Lake, Iowa, get a report that an African-American man has robbed a store, do they then get warrants to search the home of every African-American male?

Our Constitution prevents illegal search and seizure. We have also been promised doctor-patient confidentiality. Yet neither of these rights seem to concern the police.

We understand their driving need to solve this crime - the death of a child brings a visceral reaction, a drive for justice. We have a burning need to prevent such things from happening again. But exposing women who may have already had to deal with difficult choices or heartbreaking loss to suspicion and yet more grief is unnecessary and borders on cruelty, especially since those once-sealed files will probably not reveal the information they need. Pregnancy tests are cheap and easily obtainable, and it is doubtful that a woman who has hidden a pregnancy and birth will have visited Planned Parenthood to begin with. With a fruitless paper chase, the Storm Lake police and an Iowa judge have delivered a damaging blow to our rights to privacy.