FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CN) – Fort Wayne-Allen County enacted a law that unconstitutionally invades women’s privacy and restricts access to abortion, a women’s clinic claims in Federal Court. Fort Wayne Women’s Health clinic claims the law gives the county unrestricted access to patient records, and illegally restricts doctors who live outside the county from working in hospitals there.
The Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health now requires that “itinerate” physicians submit 24-hour contact information to emergency rooms and urgent care centers in the county, name an alternate “physician designee,” and give the county full access to patient records.
The ordinance, which took effect June 1, restricts the rights of patients seeking “reproductive health care,” who expect that their personal files will remain confidential, the clinic and a co-plaintiff doctor say.
If a complaint arises, the law gives the Allen-County Health Officer the power to review the facility’s records, and gives the officer unlimited access to the records of patients “who have undergone similar care,” according to the complaint.
The law does not require that the patient information then remain confidential, according to the complaint.
The plaintiff doctor says he does not wish to publicize his address and contact information, for fear of the “violence and harassment” to which physicians have been subjected.
He also claims that he is unable to comply with the ordinance since he does not have a “physician designee,” as “he believes that physicians are unwilling to serve in this capacity because of the risk that their name and/or contact information will be publicized.”
The plaintiffs say the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague, and fails to explain the process for filing the information the county demands.
They add adds that “itinerate” physicians are also required to pay an excessive $250 filing fee, which is not explained in the ordinance, either.
The doctor says his practice already is regulated by Indiana law and that the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department exceeded its authority.
The ordinance violates the rights of patients under the Indiana and U.S. Constitutions because it takes away a woman’s right to an abortion in the county if FWWH is unable to comply, since it is the only surgical abortion provider in the county. And the law allows the invasion of patients’ right to privacy and subjects patients and their physicians to unreasonable searches and seizures.
The plaintiffs want enforcement of the law enjoined as unconstitutional.
Their lead counsel is Kenneth Falk with the ACLU of Indiana, in Indianapolis.