New NC abortion requirement raises privacy concerns

Posted December 30, 2015 5:08 p.m. EST
Updated December 31, 2015 11:49 a.m. EST

— A state law that takes effect Friday is raising privacy concerns.

The law, which appears to be unique nationwide, requires doctors who perform abortions more than 16 weeks after conception to submit ultrasounds taken before the procedure to the state Department of Health and Human Services for review, regardless of whether the woman consents.

North Carolina law bans abortions after 20 weeks, and doctors are already required to take an ultrasound to verify the age of the fetus before any procedure.

Anti-abortion advocate Tami Fitzgerald said she believes many doctors perform illegal abortions later than 20 weeks, and the new reporting requirements will help state regulators catch them.

"The state is guaranteeing that the abortion industry is abiding by that law, that babies past 20 weeks have the right to live unless there's a medical emergency," said Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition. "Any time a child is murdered past 20 weeks, this law will make sure that the abortion industry is held accountable."

Melissa Reed, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic, said doctors aren't required to send any other medical images to the state. Also, regulators already have access to patient files and ultrasounds during yearly inspections, and abortion providers report statistical data.

"They already have access. There is no reason for us to have to send them to the state for stockpiling and storage," she said.

Reed said the real goal of the law is to make doctors less willing to provide abortions due to fears of being second-guessed by regulators.

"This is really a violation of women's privacy and their ability to make deeply personal decisions without interference from politicians," she said.

The law does include protections to shield the identities of patients involved in the ultrasounds, and the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act includes an exception for state health departments to collect statistical data.

The new state law also requires any doctor who performs a late-term abortion due to a medical emergency to report it to DHHS, along with a detailed explanation of the emergency.

"This is not a normal issue," Fitzgerald said. "This is not a pregnancy. We're talking about abortion."

DHHS officials didn't respond to requests for comment on Wednesday, so it's not clear who will be reading the ultrasounds or how and how long the agency will store them.

"It is very concerning knowing that this agency does have a poor track record of protecting privacy and not knowing how the records are going to be utilized or stored," Reed said, adding that she hopes Gov. Pat McCrory would issue an executive order delaying implementation of the law until such questions are resolved.