Editorial: Attorney general believes Hoosier women lack right to privacy

We at The Republic, and journalists at news organizations generally, take an expansive view of the public’s right to know what their government is doing. We believe government records, with few exceptions, should be considered public and available to anyone who requests them.

At the same time, because we prize individual liberty, we believe in a right to privacy, especially when it comes to health care. The public has no right to your medical records. Federal law expressly makes those records private.

Which makes it a predictable travesty that Indiana’s far right-wing zealot, reprimanded Attorney General Todd Rokita, recently used his office to advocate against a right to privacy. Especially for women who have abortions in Indiana.

Rokita is just getting warmed up in his anti-abortion crusade. He learned nothing from his Indiana Supreme Court reprimand for public statements attacking an Indiana doctor who provided an abortion to an Ohio 10-year-old. (Rokita faces more potential discipline for wrongly claiming afterward he was vindicated.)

It’s not enough for Rokita that the right to abortion has been all but eliminated in Indiana. Abortion is now illegal here except when pregnancy presents a risk to a woman’s health. Doctors understand that if they violate the law, they may not just lose their license, they might go to prison.

Consequently, abortions have virtually ceased. They declined by some 97% to 98% in the months after the ban went into effect, according to Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) statistics. IDOH said that for last September, it received just 13 termination of pregnancy reports (TPRs) statewide, compared to 737 in September 2022.

As Indiana Capital Chronicle reported, these reports require the “age, education and marital status of the woman, the date of the abortion, gestational age of the fetus, race and ethnicity of the woman, as well as the city and county where the abortion occurred.”

With so few abortions now taking place, these details alone could identify patients. IDOH recognized this and wisely decided these reports should now only be released quarterly, in aggregate. Public Access Counselor Luke Britt agreed in a nonbinding opinion, noting the valid concerns. He found the threat to patient privacy outweighed any public right.

Rokita threw a tantrum in the form of an equally nonbinding advisory opinion saying no, these records — individual ones — should be public.

Let’s be blunt. The motivation here for Rokita — and for State Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, who is running for Congress and requested Rokita’s opinion — is to invade the sacrosanct doctor-patient relationship. This attempt to insert the state into deeply personal, private matters is contemptible.

Our disgraced attorney general continues to abuse his office, demonstrating he is unfit to serve.

Regarding the termination of pregnancy reports, we propose a compromise. Let the IDOH release them, but with every line redacted. That should satisfy Rokita.

After all, that is how the state responded to public records requests regarding how much taxpayer money Rokita has paid an elite Washington law firm to defend his personal law license in his abortion-related professional misconduct discipline cases. That seems fair.