- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The Supreme Court yesterday rejected an abortion clinic's effort to block a South Carolina law the clinic says will allow the state to trump privacy laws and identify women who obtained abortions.
"This is very important and we're very pleased," said Greenville, S.C., lawyer G. Dewey Oxner, the state Public Health Department attorney who defended the law that permits investigators to obtain abortion files for use in public license hearings of clinics, doctors and nurses.
"The clinics felt like it was too stringent and the state was trying to put the plaintiffs out of business," Mr. Oxner said in an assessment seconded by Bonnie Scott Jones, attorney for the Greenville Women's Clinic, which sought to obliterate individual identities from those records.
Miss Jones told the justices the rule's real intent was to frighten women away from clinics, and therefore "unduly burdens" access to abortion in violation of earlier Supreme Court decisions.
"It's an enormous burden to know that if you have an abortion, the public may find out about it, your boss may find out about it, your husband may find out about it," said Miss Jones, who also is associated with the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Federal privacy law bars clinics from releasing patient names and addresses, but does not prevent the state from making it public, Miss Jones said.
The decision, issued with no announced dissent, freed South Carolina to begin enforcing provisions that were put on hold in 2001 when the rest of its 60-page abortion regulation took effect after the high court refused to block other aspects.
Another regulation challenged in the new appeal requires abortion providers to make available for counseling clergy of various denominations, including at least one Protestant. The clinic said that coerces participation in religion in violation of the First Amendment.
South Carolina's new governor, Republican Mark Sanford, did not file a response to the appeal and his lawyer in the case, Charles E. Carpenter Jr., did not comment on yesterday's decision.
Miss Jones said a similar case may return the "informational privacy" issue to the justices, since a federal court in Arizona held a similar law violates privacy rights and amounts to a warrantless search of records.
"They felt like the state had no business inspecting those records. We felt like an agency has a right to inspect," Mr. Oxner said yesterday in explaining the Health Department position.
A South Carolina federal trial judge also decided the law violated privacy rights, but was overruled by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Arizona has asked the 9th Circuit to follow that lead and reverse the Arizona ruling, but if the 9th Circuit refuses, it would create a split of the type the Supreme Court often resolves.
In other decisions yesterday the court:
Turned away Kentucky's appeal from a ruling forbidding display on state Capitol grounds of a granite monument bearing the Ten Commandments. Backed by Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Utah, Kentucky Attorney General Albert Chandler called it premature for courts to decide how a display of historic documents ordered by the Kentucky General Assembly would look or if it would include a donated monument warehoused since 1980.
Refused to consider a case seeking to resolve which courts have jurisdiction over Internet lawsuits, turning away an appeal by Healthgrades.com, a Colorado organization that sought to avoid trial in Washington state after being sued for defamation by a home health care agency distressed by Healthgrade's ratings.

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