Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said the case "underscores the sensitivity of medical records and the need to keep them private."
He pointed to a 2004 decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that blocked an attempt by the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft to get redacted abortion records from a Chicago hospital for a trial on the constitutionality of late-term abortions. The opinion said opening even redacted medical records was a violation of privacy and that the details could lead to a patient being identified and harassed.
Lynn Hart, the New Mexico Medical Board's executive director, said the panel has authority to open an investigation into any medical case in the state, regardless of who files the complaint. She said it has the subpoena authority to obtain patient records with or without a patient's consent, and it is exempt from federal medical privacy laws.
Sullenger said Operation Rescue had no contact with the patient in the Albuquerque case, and has no interest in revealing patients' identities.
"We are actually about protecting them," she said. "We believe that if these abortionists did not employ these dangerous practices, we would not have these problems."
Sullenger said Operation Rescue has some 100 complaints pending with medical boards around the country based on information it gets from things like 911 calls for ambulance runs to abortion clinics. The group's efforts focus on all abortion clinics, not just those that do the procedure on women in their final trimester.
Its tactics have had varying results. In 2005, for instance, a Kansas judge dismissed a public records lawsuit from Sullenger after she was denied copies of 911 calls involving Tiller's clinic. But the group was successful, through similar complaints, in winning the revocation of the medical license of Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, who provided second opinions for Tiller. She is appealing that decision.
Operation Rescue believes it ultimately would have won the revocation of Tiller's Kansas license if he had not been killed by an anti-abortion zealot. Sella's license in Kansas was cancelled at her request after she moved to New Mexico.