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Court Hears Illegal Abortion Case


Hospitals in 1955 were required by the statutory law of New York to report all procedures that involve the termination of a pregnancy. The superintendent of all New York hospitals is required to report each procedure and to subdivide the procedures into categories that reflect the nature of the termination of the pregnancy. In 1955, abortions were illegal in the state of New York. The only permitted abortions were those that were necessary to save the life of the mother. This type of abortion was termed a therapeutic abortion. The only other categories of abortion were natural and illegal. Any time that a woman naturally aborts the fetus, it is called a spontaneous abortion. A Brooklyn Criminal Lawyer said there is nothing that can be done to prevent a spontaneous abortion. Sometimes, nature just detects something that modern medicine cannot and the pregnancy is self terminating. The illegal abortions are called induced. An induced abortion may be caused by actions or omissions by the mother, or by some other person. Some doctors have been known to perform illegal abortions for women in the state.

A New York Criminal Lawyer said New York law requires that the superintendent of a hospital to accurately report the number of therapeutic, spontaneous, and induced abortions that are performed, or that occur in their establishment. In 1955, the prosecutor in Kings county suspected that the superintendent of Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn was not ensuring that his doctors were reporting the numbers accurately. In order to determine if any illegal abortions were being performed in the hospital the prosecutor needed to be able to examine the records of all of the abortions that were performed in the hospital for that year. He demanded that an emergency Grand Jury be convened to demand that the hospital provide all of the medical records of all of the abortions that occurred in the hospital that year.

The superintendent of the hospital refused to provide the records. He claimed that the demand for the records of women who had committed no crimes would be an illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The prosecutor filed charges of contempt of court against the superintendent of Kings Hospital following his refusal to disclose the personal information of innocent women in the state of New York who had not been charged or found guilty of any crime. In fact, there was no probable cause to suspect that any of them had been guilty of a crime. There was little more than a hunch on the part of the prosecutor that someone may have avoided being turned in for an illegal abortion in the hospital. By riffling through innocent American’s personal medical records, the prosecutor hoped to find a few who were guilty of a crime. Many women who had suffered through miscarriages would be forced to have their personal information reviewed by the court. Many who had to suffer through therapeutic abortions to ensure that they survived would have to explain their choices to a prosecutor. The superintendent of the hospital flatly refused to deliver the medical records of the patients of his hospital to the Grand Jury for review.

When the prosecutor charged him with contempt of court, the superintendent filed an appeal under his constitutional rights. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said the Supreme Court of Kings County heard the appeal and determined that the prosecutor and the Grand Jury were overstepping their bounds. The Court determined that the superintendent was correct in refusing to provide the medical records under the doctor and patient privilege. Doctors and patients are provided a privilege that is unique in that one cannot be compelled to reveal information that is given under that relationship. The Supreme Court denied the motion to find the superintendent guilty of criminal contempt of court.

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