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New Parnell regulations are an invasion of medical privacy

Posted: January 14, 2014 - 12:00am

The Parnell administration recently announced new abortion regulations that require unprecedented disclosure of personal medical records. Under the new rules, some women obtaining an abortion will have to submit a form listing medical conditions such as “renal disease,” “diabetes,” “cervical dilation” or “a psychiatric disorder.” This intrusion into our personal medical records is unprecedented and inconsistent with the Alaska Constitution.

The Alaska Constitution includes strong protections for personal privacy. Article 1, Section 22 reads “The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed.” This Constitutional language reflects Alaska’s frontier ethos and skepticism about intrusive government. It is hard to imagine a more profound violation of privacy than the requirement that individuals turn over private medical records to the government.

Not surprisingly, non-partisan lawyers with the Legislative Affairs Agency say that Parnell’s new regulations are likely to be found unconstitutional. The regulations “create a new and restrictive state standard for determining when abortion services are ‘medically necessary’ without applying this same standard to coverage for other types of medical care services,” according to the agency.

It is troubling that the administration moved forward with these regulations despite legal counsel noting their likely unconstitutionality. Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell certified the regulations despite the contrary opinion from Legislative Affairs Agency. While Treadwell may have strong personal opinions against abortion rights, in his role as lieutenant governor he should respect constitutional protections for Alaskans’ privacy.

Many of us can recall an era when abortion was illegal in most states. Such prohibitions on abortion only forced women to consider illegal and often unsafe procedures, or travel to states where abortion was legal. If we’re serious about reducing the number of abortions, then we should focus on reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies, and making each child that is born welcomed and cared for with a quality health care system, nutrition and education.

Forcing women to turn over medical records to the government will not reduce the number of abortions, though it will surely contribute to the growth of state bureaucracy. At a time when state budget deficits have swelled to over a billion dollars per year, we can’t afford to be creating more bureaucratic red tape and paperwork.

The Parnell administration issued these abortion regulations because similar legislation (Senate Bill 49) failed to pass in the state legislature. Senate Bill 49 failed to pass because it was controversial and legislators had concerns about privacy and the bill’s constitutionality. In response, the governor rammed through regulations to accomplish the same goal. To date, he hasn’t even released public comments on the regulations that now are law.

This kind of intrusive government oversight into women’s most personal health decisions, and bullying women at the most vulnerable moment of their lives, has no place in Alaska. Parnell’s regulations are inconsistent with Alaskans’ support of privacy and limited government. Sadly, they are an affront to women but are unlikely to have any impact reducing the number of abortions. I hope our state representatives consider legislation to repeal these regulations.

• Beverly Serrano is a Wasilla resident and a volunteer with the Alaska Democratic Party.

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