01 May 2005

L.G., Rush Limbaugh and our right to privacy

This past week, the media reported gross violations of the constitutional rights of two Floridians. L.G. is a young girl in the care of the Florida Department of Children & Families who is seeking an abortion but is being denied this right by Governor Jeb Bush. The other is Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio host who is the subject of a criminal drug investigation, whose constitutional right to privacy may have been violated by the state when his medical records were seized. Unfortunately, Floridians are so engulfed in raw partisanship that those who stand with L.G. are gleeful over the misfortunate of Limbaugh and those that decry the acts against Limbaugh refuse to voice their concerns over the state's treatment of L.G. Only the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has shown any consistency and sided with both parties in defending their rights under the law. It is a shame that more Floridians don't exercise the same consistency and choose to not necessarily side with either L.G. and Rush Limbaugh, but join both in the fight over protecting the constitutional rights of all Floridians.

L.G. is a 13 year old girl who has been in the care of DCF for many years. During this time, DCF lost L.G. five times, a pattern that reminds Floridians of the tragic Rilya Wilson case. The last time that L.G. was lost by DCF, she was gone for approximately one month. DCF never made any significant effort to find L.G. during that time, and unfortunately during this time, L.G. became pregnant. When L.G. returned and discovered that she was pregnant, she consulted her DCF case worker. Together, they decided that it would be in L.G.'s best interest to terminate her pregnancy. Under Florida law, a female patient, regardless of her age, has the right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not. Even under the parental notification legislation that is currently being debated by the Florida Legislature, a minor patient would never need consent before terminating a pregnancy. If the pending legislation were in effect today, L.G. would have satisfied its requirements because her guardian, the DCF case worker, has been notified.

Governor Bush, who adamently opposes a woman's right to reproductive freedom, has decided to ignore Florida law and has sued 13 year old L.G. to stop her procedure. Regardless of how one feels about the issue of abortion, all Floridians must recognize that the governor is violating the law in order to push his own political agenda. Just as he used Terri Schiavo as a political pawn last month, Governor Bush appears to have no qualms with using a 13 year old girl for his own political purposes as well. The silence by conservatives, who typically oppose frivilous government intervention into private affairs, is absolutely deafening.

The issue with Rush Limbaugh is slightly different, but still should cause concern to those Floridians who believe in protecting the constitutional right to privacy. In October 2003, Limbaugh's former housekeeper revealed that she had been supplying her boss with large quantities of prescription pain killers. Shortly thereafter, Limbaugh admitted that he was addicted to drugs and underwent treatment for his addiction. Subsequently, the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office began an investigation into whether Limbaugh violated Florida law. Limbaugh is accused of violating the Florida statute which prohibits doctor shopping, the act when one visits numerous doctors to fill the same prescription. Upon commencement of their investigation, State Attorney Barry Krischer's office obtained a warrant and seized Limbaugh's medical records. Limbaugh was never given the opportunity to challenge the validity of the warrant. On this basis, Limbaugh's attorney filed a motion to exclude the medical records, stating that the prosecutor's action violated his clients right to privacy under Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution. Last October, the Fourt District Court of Appeals ruled against Limbaugh, and this week the Florida Supreme Court upheld the decision.

If the facts show that Limbaugh violated the law, he should be given some type of punishment for his crime. However, law abiding citizens should also recognize that violating Limbaugh's constitutional rights was not the proper way for the prosecutor's office to proceed with this investigation. Liberals tend to strongly support the right to privacy; therefore, while they may gain some satisfaction over the downfall of Limbaugh, they should be up in arms over the far reaching ramification posed by the courts' flawed decision. Howard Simon, Executive Director for the ACLU of Florida said, "The consequences of this ruling affect the privacy of medical records for every person in Florida. Some of the most personal things in our lives are contained in our medical records and if they're not related to what a government agency is investigating, then it should remain nobody's busines."

Unfortunately, the extreme partisanship that have taken over this country has prevented liberals and conservatives from realizing that they have a great deal in common. As more and more Americans hope to see bipartisan cooperation on issues that matter most to the country, liberals and conservatives should join one another in denouncing the abuses of Jeb Bush and Barry Krischer and fighting to preserve freedom from government for all Americans.

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