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Unethical, Cruel, and Likely Illegal: Anti-Choicers Make Family’s Tragedy Public Without Their Consent

Emergency Room sign

One family's medical tragedy became a public battle thanks to anti-abortion activists.

Written by Bridgette Dunlap for RH Reality Check.

Anti-choice activist Jill Stanek recently published online the name and photo of a woman who passed away following a late abortion at the Maryland clinic of Dr. Leroy Carhart. The name and picture of the woman, I’ll call her Marie, along with information about her job, marriage, and pregnancy were soon all over the internet. Protesters plastered Marie’s picture on signs and marched outside Dr. Carhart’s clinic and held a “vigil” outside the emergency room where she was treated. Internet commentators characterized Marie’s husband, parents, and sister, who traveled with her from out-of-state for the three-day procedure, as everything from bad Catholics to killers. Beyond being immoral, unethical and unbelievably cruel, making the family’s tragedy public without their consent was likely illegal.

The Information Released

Stanek first revealed Marie’s identity in a post entitled “BREAKING: Carhart’s Victims Identified,” which continues to top Stanek’s list of most read posts. In the post, she explains that clinic protestors, “sidewalk counselors” as she calls them, tracked the visits of Marie and her family members, making “real-time annotations” about how she looked and when the family came and went. Stanek gives us down to the minute details. (“The family returned again on Wednesday,[…]staying nine hours, an extraordinary length of time. They left at 4:35 p.m.”)[1]

Stanek’s scoop also included information about what time Marie was admitted to the emergency room, how many times she “coded,” what time she died, when Dr. Carhart called the hospital, how long a medical examiner looked at Marie’s file, etc. If Stanek’s information is accurate, it would seem to have been disclosed by someone working at the hospital — in violation of HIPAA, the federal law protecting patient privacy.  Stanek says she received Marie’s name from an “impeccable informant.” This is presumably the same source who knew what happened at the hospital, though it could have been a protestor who took it upon herself to search obituaries for women who looked familiar, or someone else. Once Marie’s name was known, her obituary was found. Two protestors confirmed to Stanek that the woman pictured in it had been at the clinic.

For extra journalistic cred, Stanek links to Marie’s baby registry. It was then taken down, presumably by someone who doesn’t want strangers looking at it and has access to the account. One likely candidate would be the other half of the registered couple, Marie’s grieving husband, who I’ll call Kevin. Undeterred, Stanek posts an “UPDATE” with a screenshot of the registry. Stanek’s later posts include a picture of Marie with Kevin mostly cropped out, which she likely pulled from Pinterest since the four versions of it Stanek has saved online include Marie’s Pinterest username in the file names.

Stanek’s scoop is a big deal among anti-choicer bloggers and Twitter users who can now illustrate their claims that Dr. Carhart is a murderer with pictures of an extremely pretty young woman and the warning of a family’s very sad and very public story. They can use Marie’s name and the name the couple had chosen for their daughter as a rallying cry and Twitter hashtag. Lila Rose took advantage of the opportunity to go on Fox News.

Marie’s mother-in-law expressed to a reporter how upsetting the publicity has been and pleaded for her son to be allowed to mourn in peace. Instead, strangers are tweeting pictures of him with his dead wife, photographing him leaving her funeral, making accusations about their decisions, and “remembering” a woman he just lost and they never met.

Anti-choice bloggers have been critical, to put it nicely, of those who have written about the invasion of privacy. Some have pointed to the publicity surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died after being denied an abortion in Ireland, as justification for publishing Marie’s information. However, it was Savita Halappanavar’s family who brought her story to light, not a stranger who learned what happened through likely illegal means. Halappanavar’s husband demanded an investigation into her death and her parents want a reformed abortion law to be named after her.They have chosen to make their loss a catalyst for change. We have no information that Marie’s family believes she received poor medical care, but they were free to make her story public for that or any other reason. It should have been their decision to make. [cont’d.]

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