CHICAGO, May 31 - Planned Parenthood of Indiana has to show state investigators the medical records of some of its youngest patients, a judge ruled on Tuesday. The judge rejected the organization's contention that disclosing such records could have a chilling effect on patients across the state.
Since March, Attorney General Steve Carter has been seeking the records of more than 80 patients younger than 14, saying his Medicaid fraud unit is trying to determine whether children have been neglected because molesting incidents were not reported to the authorities as required. Under Indiana law, anyone under 14 who is sexually active is considered a victim of sexual abuse, and health providers are required to report such cases to the state authorities.
In his ruling, Judge Kenneth H. Johnson of Marion Superior Court denied the Planned Parenthood request for a preliminary injunction against Mr. Carter's office, which has obtained parts of 8 patients' records and is seeking the records of 76 others.
"The great public interest in the reporting, investigation and prosecution of child abuse trumps even the patient's interest in privileged communication with her physician, because in the end, both the patient and the state are benefited by the disclosure," Judge Johnson wrote in a 23-page decision.
The chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, Betty Cockrum, said it would fight the ruling and continue to protect the records of clients - the more than 100,000 patients who went to the 40 Indiana health centers last year.
"It's surprising and disappointing," Ms. Cockrum said in a telephone interview. "Patients beyond Planned Parenthood's are looking at this decision with some anxiety. People believe their medical records are sacred."
Kenneth J. Falk, a lawyer for the Indiana Civil Liberties Union who is representing Planned Parenthood, said he was seeking a stay of the ruling and would take the case to the state court of appeals if necessary.
Nationally, Planned Parenthood officials and other supporters have likened the situation in Indiana and a similar request for medical records in Kansas to fishing expeditions and say they fear that it is part of a strategy to intimidate providers of reproductive health services.
Ms. Cockrum also questioned the nature of the investigation by the Medicaid fraud unit, saying most of the cases dated from several years ago and hardly seemed to be the emergency that Mr. Carter has portrayed. She said no case involved abortions.
"If we're really concerned about sexual predators, I'm pretty sure this is not the most efficient and effective way to deal with that," she said. "The most recent case was from 18 months ago. Show me the sense of urgency on this."
Staci Schneider, a spokeswoman for Mr. Carter, a Republican, said the Medicaid fraud office was simply pursuing an issue it was required to pursue, the possibility of wrongdoing by a Medicaid provider - Planned Parenthood, in this case - for failing to report child abuse.
"We have a job to do and we need to investigate alleged wrongdoing," Ms. Schneider said, adding that the office had conducted 1,000 investigations in the last year that required some reviews of medical records. "This is part of the process."
She said the investigators would not try to seize the rest of the records immediately, but would wait until any appeals were completed and a final decision was reached.
Doctors and clinic workers who fail to cooperate with Medicaid fraud investigators can be removed from the program.
"That," Ms. Schneider said in the Planned Parenthood case, "is an extreme remedy and one we would hope to avoid."