Ashcroft’s demand
for abortion records
a violation of privacy


The Justice Department is telling hospitals to turn over the records of women who had a type of late-term abortion.

A DISPUTE in a lawsuit challenging the new law banning certain abortion procedures reveals how politicians and government officials seek to interfere in medical decisions for which they have no expertise and that could breach the patients' privacy rights.

The Justice Department directed by Attorney General John Ashcroft, an outspoken opponent of abortion, has issued subpoenas for confidential medical records from at least six hospitals in various parts of the country where women have undergone a type of late-term abortion.

The subpoenas were the department's response to a lawsuit filed by physicians to overturn the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which was signed last year by President Bush. The law, essentially a vehicle for asking the Supreme Court to dismantle Roe vs. Wade, was placed on hold when three federal judges issued orders to keep it from taking effect.

Hospitals are opposing the subpoenas, but the dispute has resulted in conflicting orders, with one judge rejecting the government's search and another allowing the subpoenas to go forward.

The department's demand that it be allowed to cull through hospital documents so it can determine whether a procedure is medically necessary would allow government to insert itself into the middle of decisions that rightly belong to women and their doctors.

Ashcroft contends that women's privacy would not be violated since "identifying characteristics," which would include names, addresses and Social Security numbers, would be removed from the confidential records. The subpoenas initially would net hundreds of records from which a smaller number would be culled. These would still contain markers the department says it needs to determine medical necessity, such as dates of procedures, hospitals, doctors' names, racial backgrounds, ages, health conditions and other data -- enough information to pinpoint identification.

The new law was fashioned after the Supreme Court struck down a similar Nebraska law, with the court ruling that any abortion ban must make an exception for a woman's health. Congress tried to get around that ruling simply by saying the procedure is never essential to a woman's health, a cynical and fallacious claim.

Ashcroft's fishing expedition represents a significant imposition upon privacy that would supply data of limited value in determining the law's constitutionality. As a tactic for intimidation, however, it is profound.


Perspective counts
in economic ratings


A study of government size, taxes and labor market ranks Hawaii 39th among U.S. states.

HAWAII has been bashed once again for being unfriendly to business, this time for being short on "economic freedom." As with other hits, the report should be viewed from its perspective, in this case the standards set by a scholar tied to the libertarian-conservative Cato Institute. Hawaii ranks 39th among states in the level of government regulations and taxation, the least regulation being considered the best.

In recent years, Hawaii has taken knocks from a small-business organization as being the most unfriendly state to its members, from a conservative study ranking Hawaii 43rd in ability to attract new business and helping existing companies grow, and from Forbes magazine, which carried an article calling Hawaii "The People's Republic of Hawaii."

Each of these studies should be viewed in regard to what the authors or sponsoring organizations regard as idyllic and what the people of the state have decided is in the public good.

The latest comes in a report, "Economic Freedom of North America," issued jointly by the National Center for Policy Analysis and Canada's Fraser Institute. It rates states and Canadian provinces based on co-author and Cato Institute scholar James D. Gwartney's premise that "an index of economic freedom should measure the extent to which rightly acquired property is protected and individuals are engaged in voluntary transactions."

The report concludes that Canada's "fiscal federalism," which "transfers money from relatively free provinces to relatively unfree provinces," compares poorly to the United States. It measures "freedom" by the size of government, tax policies and labor policies.

Many employers would agree with the report's assertion that "high minimum wages restrict the ability of employers and employees to negotiate contracts to their liking" and that "workers should have the right to form and join unions, or not to do so." Hawaii has a fairly generous minimum wage and provides for union shops -- demerits against the state in this report.

When the Small Business Survival Committee ranked Hawaii the worst state to do business, then-Gov. Ben Cayetano dismissed it as "very, very conservative. They see unionism, for example, as a negative for business." Public policy in Hawaii has been quite the opposite, and the state is not about to change it.



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