updated 2/27/2004 11:01:45 AM ET 2004-02-27T16:01:45

The Justice Department has subpoenaed hundreds of medical records from six Planned Parenthood sites as part of the government’s defense in lawsuits challenging the Partial-Birth Abortion Act.

According to court documents, Justice Department lawyers say the records — which would be edited to remove names and other personal information — are essential to defend the law against the lawsuits brought by Planned Parenthood and doctor groups around the country.

The suits challenge the law that prohibits a procedure referred to by critics as partial-birth abortion but by medical organizations as “intact dilation and extraction.” During the procedure, a fetus’s legs and torso are pulled from the uterus before its skull is punctured.

Planned Parenthood has resisted producing the medical records, which critics of the subpoenas say threatens the privacy of patients and could intimidate doctors and clinics that provide abortions.

“We believe it is an invasion of confidential medical records,” Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Elizabeth Toledo said Thursday. “People ought to have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Toledo said several hundred records were being sought from Planned Parenthood affiliates that serve western Pennsylvania; San Diego; Los Angeles; New York City; Kansas/Mid-Missouri; and the Washington metro area. The Justice Department is focusing on those to produce a geographic sample and because many of Planned Parenthood’s expert witnesses work at the six sites.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, founded in 1916 and based in New York, runs 900 health centers in 49 states and serves about 5 million people each year.

The Justice Department also is seeking similar records from six hospitals where doctors who are challenging the partial-birth abortion law did the procedure. The department is encountering resistance over privacy concerns.

The department recently filed a motion seeking to force Planned Parenthood to produce the records in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The trial is scheduled to begin March 29.

Planned Parenthood and the Justice Department have reached an agreement on how to protect the identities of any records that do become a part of the case. Attorney General John Ashcroft has insisted that the government has no interest in learning the identity of any patient.

The lawsuits claim that the ban on this contested type of abortion is unconstitutional because it is too broad and lacks an exception for a woman’s health.

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