By Charles Ornstein ProPublica
This story was co-published with NPR’s Shots blog.
The scene in front of abortion clinics is often tense, with clinic workers escorting patients past activists waving signs and taking photographs.
But increasingly, another drama is unfolding out back. There, abortion opponents dig through the trash in search of patient information.
Using garbage as their ammunition, anti-abortion activists who have sometimes been accused of violating abortion seekers’ privacy are turning the tables. They claim it’s the clinics that are violating patients’ privacy by discarding medical records in unsecured ways.
“Everybody acts like the abortion clinics are this bastion of protection for women’s privacy, and they’re like the chief offenders of just dumping this stuff willy-nilly,” said Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy advisor at Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group based in Wichita, Kansas. “It’s so hypocritical.”
Abortion rights groups counter that while a small number of clinics have improperly disposed of records, the vast majority take strict precautions to protect patient privacy. It’s far more common, they say, for abortion opponents to trespass on private property or try to break into locked dumpsters.