For an attorney general in an administration that trumpets the virtues of limited government, Treg Taylor sure seems to be working hard to push the state’s reach into the most private and difficult choices Alaskans face. After his co-signing of a letter that effectively bullied Walgreens into ceasing plans to carry the abortion drug mifepristone, despite its legal status in Alaska, Taylor has appended his name to an even more egregious invasion of Alaskans’ privacy.
This time, Taylor co-signed a letter from Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch to federal Health and Social Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, claiming that states should have the right to investigate and compel other states to furnish their residents’ medical records for abortions or gender-related procedures — even if the abortions in question are legal in the states where they are performed.
The basic thrust of the letter is simple: If you leave Alaska and seek an abortion or gender-affirming care, Treg Taylor wants to know about it so he can determine if it’s legal or not. As he said in the letter, “The conclusion whether such care is lawful depends on state authorities’ ability to make an informed determination based on relevant evidence …” In this case, he considers your private medical records his “relevant evidence.”
It’s hard to envision a type of information that government should have less of a right to access. What business does a state have poking around in its residents’ medical data, much less health care procedures that took place beyond its own borders? This is especially the case when the stated purpose of receiving that information is to be able to prosecute individuals for receiving that medical care.
Under the model of state government envisioned by Fitch and endorsed by Taylor, states would have the power to amass vast quantities of sensitive information on their residents, and to compel other states to turn that information over regardless of their own laws about privacy, abortion or other matters. Sen. Cathy Giessel, herself a Republican who is personally opposed to abortion, nonetheless recognized the danger of Taylor’s position. “Health information is about the closest personal property that anyone has,” Giessel told the ADN earlier this week. “We’re all Americans and personal property is a key right that we all hold.”
If Taylor can’t see the terrifying precedent that scenario raises, he is willfully ignorant of its logical extensions beyond issues related to abortion and gender-affirming care. Imagine, for instance, if California could compel Alaska to turn over records of firearm purchases here because of gun bans in that state. Imagine if Utah passed harsh anti-vice laws against traveling to other states to gamble and required Nevada to supply them with records of Utahns’ trips to Las Vegas. There are any number of issues where states could seek to control their residents’ behavior beyond their borders, and nearly all of them involve massive violations of privacy and huge increases in states’ surveillance powers.
That’s a problem in every state, of course, but it’s especially antithetical to our values here in Alaska, where residents’ right to privacy is enshrined directly in the state constitution. Alaskans’ support of that right even extends to topics as divisive as abortion, where more than 60% of Alaskans answered in the affirmative when polled about the issue by the Pew Research Group. Put simply, Alaskans all along the political spectrum, regardless of party affiliation, don’t want government intruding into their personal affairs more than is necessary.
Why, then, does Attorney General Taylor persist in signing on to causes that would expand government’s ability to monitor Alaskans’ behavior? Is he doing so at the direction of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, or is he acting without the governor’s blessing? These are questions that Taylor and Dunleavy should both answer to Alaskans’ satisfaction. For his part, the governor refuses to answer it.
The answer Taylor has given so far — that he recognizes Alaska’s constitutional right to privacy would preclude our state from snooping into residents’ medical data, but he wants to preserve other states’ ability to do so — is ludicrous. The head of Alaska’s Department of Law can’t possibly be so bereft of work that he embarks on crusades on behalf of other states that fly in the face of our own constitution.
The bottom line: Alaskans expect and deserve their privacy, and should bristle at the prospect of the surveillance state that Attorney General Taylor seeks to enable.