Legal Voice represents a group of health care providers, researchers, clinic staff, and others who are involved in fetal tissue research programs with the University of Washington’s Birth Defects Research Lab. They fear for their safety if their personally identifying information is disclosed in public records requested by anti-choice extremists. As one of our clients explained, “I fear that having my identity and personal information released to the public would lead to harassment, threats, or violence directed against me or my family.”
Last November, we won protection for our clients when the trial court ordered their names and other personally identifying information be redacted from the records. But our opponents appealed the decision that kept our clients’ information out of their hands. Last month, we appeared before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to defend the protections granted by the trial court, arguing that there is a basis for protection from disclosure when the disclosure is likely to cause harm, based on the First Amendment and the right to privacy.
In its recent order, the Ninth Circuit agreed that the First Amendment protects identifying information in public records from disclosure when such disclosures would likely result in threats, harassment, or violence. However, the Court sent the case back to the district court to make more specific findings as to how different individuals or groups qualify for this protection.
We are pleased that the Court affirmed our legal theory and left the protections in place for 120 days, thus allowing the district court the opportunity to make more specific findings. In the meantime, we will be preparing additional filings to support the continued protections for our clients, so they remain safe from any potential targeted harassment or violence based on their involvement with fetal tissue research. .