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Indiana limits abortion data for privacy under near-total ban, but some GOP candidates push back

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana allows so few abortions that health officials stopped releasing individual reports to protect patient privacy — a move some Republicans are now fighting to reverse.

The Republicans, including prominent candidates for office this year, want access to reports detailing each abortion still performed in the state. Advocates for abortion rights and some state officials warn that would jeopardize the privacy of physicians and patients who can only receive abortions under strict circumstances.

The state bans abortions except within limited time frames in cases of rape, incest, lethal fetal anomaly and serious health risks to the patient. Like many states, Indiana has long collected data on abortions, but the Department of Health last year decided to keep the individual reports from public record and only release its regular summary data four times a year to make it harder to potentially identify patients.

Indiana law requires physicians to submit “terminated pregnancy reports” with demographic and medical history information to the health department. The reports do not name patients but can list their zip code and county of residence, and they’re rarely released in states that collect them, according to experts.

In the days following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, an individual record obtained by the Indianapolis Star through a public records request confirmed an abortion provided to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio.

The topic has gradually become a political football as Indiana’s competitive primary for governor approaches in early May.

In January, Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Attorney General Curtis Hill called on the health department and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to allow the release of individual reports. Republican Lt. Gov. and gubernatorial candidate Suzanne Crouch pledged in a March post to X to make the reports public record if she is elected.

And on Thursday, Attorney General Todd Rokita, who is running for reelection, issued an advisory opinion arguing the reports should be public record. The opinion doesn’t change any practices but was in response to an inquiry from state Sen. Andy Zay, a congressional candidate, Rokita’s office said.

Voters should ask the field of gubernatorial candidates to take a stance, Rokita said during a Thursday news conference.

After Rokita released his opinion, the health department said the reports are not public record, and pointed to an informal opinion written by an appointed open records official in December.

Rokita argued the reports are not medical records and could show whether an abortion was performed legally. Without the reports, he said, “there is no effective way” to enforce the state’s near-total ban.

The Legislature should act next year if the department doesn’t, Zay said Thursday.

“We can use them as tools to hold those around the periphery of abortion clinics and abortion doctors accountable,” Zay said of the reports.

The individual reports ask patients for information including zip code, age, race, ethnicity, educational attainment, marital status, previous pregnancies, the date of their last period and the father’s age, according to the most recent quarterly summary. Patients may refuse to answer questions, the department said.

Physicians report information on the type of procedure, the reason for the abortion and an estimate of the length of the pregnancy. The individual reports also include the name of the physician, the name of the facility and the date of the abortion.

Indiana’s ban went into effect in August. From October to December, 46 terminated pregnancy reports were filed with the health department compared to 1,724 in the same period in 2022.

It is not common for states to release individual abortion reports, said Rachel Jones, principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, a science-based research group that supports abortion rights.

Jones said seeking individual reports is an effort to intimidate health care providers and patients.

“There’s no public health or even legal purpose for trying to impose this,” Jones said.

Rokita denied that the small number of reports makes it easier to identify patients and said that the health department can redact some information before making reports public.

The attorney general has taken up multiple legal battles focused on abortion. He gave a televised interview criticizing an Indianapolis OBGYN who provided an abortion to the 10-year-old from Ohio. The Indiana Supreme Court found last year that some of Rokita’s statement violated rules of professional conduct for attorneys.

Rokita is weaponizing the reports, said Rebecca Gibron, CEO of the Planned Parenthood region that includes Indiana.

“Denying abortion as health care is an abuse of power, aiming to stigmatize vital services for political gain at the expense of Hoosier’s access to essential health care — even now when it is only accessible in the rarest of circumstances,” Gibron said in a statement.

Isabella Volmert, The Associated Press



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