City of Chicago and Illinois Department of Public Health Risk Women’s Health and Safety
Thomas More Society Files Complaints for FOIA Non-Compliance Involving Abortion Clinics
Contact: Tom Ciesielka, 312.422.1333, [email protected]
(May 19, 2016 – Chicago) Today, the Thomas More Society filed complaints against the City of the Chicago and the Illinois Department of Public Health for refusing to release information that is rightfully available under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIA. The actions arise from requests by the Pro-Life Action League and private citizens for records that were legitimately requested in accordance with FOIA and have not been fulfilled. Both FOIAs were filed regarding matters involving the health and safety of women at abortion clinics.
Thomas Olp, attorney with the Thomas More Society, explained, “Both the City of Chicago and the Illinois Department of Public Health have acted unreasonably and unlawfully in withholding the requested public records. These FOIAs were filed seeking information regarding abortion clinics at which women’s health and safety may be at risk. In both cases, the legitimate public interest in seeking the records is provable and compelling. Yet neither the city nor the health department has complied with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act which declares the public policy of the State of Illinois to be that ‘all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government.’”
He added that the Illinois FOIA law raises a presumption that “all records in the custody or possession of a public body are …open to inspection or copying.” While private information may be exempt from public disclosure (if it is “highly personal or objectionable to a reasonable person and in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information”), the burden of proving the exemption rests squarely on the agency asserting the exemption. In neither case, Olp maintained, has the city or health department met the burden of proving that its refusal to disclose public records was justified.
Pro-Life Action League & Jansen v. City of Chicago
The Pro-Life Action League employs John Jansen to monitor abortion clinics. In this capacity Jansen submits FOIA requests for information related to 911 emergency calls pertaining to patients at abortion clinics who may be transported to hospitals due to health complications arising during an abortion procedure. The purpose is to alert women to clinic safety issues and to protect them from clinics which may be unsanitary, dangerous or use unsafe practices.
Jansen is not interested in the identity of any patient but is seeking the patients’ medical conditions as described in the 911 data and patients’ ages. A request made July 2, 2014, sought “records and audio recordings of any and all 911 calls originating from 2744 N. Western Avenue.” Another made on October 13, 2014, asked for “all audio recordings, transcriptions, notes, logs, reports, memoranda and all other files” related to any 911 calls that brought Chicago Fire Department personnel to Family Planning Associates, 659 W. Washington, on the morning of October 11, 2014.
The city refused to disclose the information requested on the grounds that the federal HIPAA law prohibits its disclosure and that it is exempt from disclosure because it contains private and personal information. Jansen appealed to the Public Access Counselor of the Illinois Office of the Attorney General, who found that there was no “clear and convincing evidence” for exemption and that the requested information should be disclosed. Still, the City of Chicago declined to comply, requiring the filing of the suit.
Pro-Life Action League & Crocco v. Illinois Department of Public Health
Jean Crocco is a retired nurse who investigates the safety of abortion procedures and cleanliness of abortion clinics across the country. Her FOIA requests in Illinois and other states are filed to gather information about clinics which have failed to satisfy safety standards as disclosed in inspection reports, and to identify clinics which employ unlicensed workers or have staff under investigation. Crocco’s end goal is to protect women from clinics which may be dangerous or unsanitary.
In responding to Crocco’s August 26, 2015, and subsequent FOIA requests, the Illinois Department of Public Health departed from longstanding practice and redacted from the disclosed public records the names and professional license numbers of clinic professional employees, something it had not done in the past. Its refusal also flies in the face of settled Illinois FOIA precedent holding that such public information (names and professional license numbers) are not exempt and must be disclosed.
Read the complaints filed in Pro-Life Action League & Jansen v. City of Chicago [https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Jansen_Complaint_and-Attachments.pdf] and Pro-Life Action League & Crocco v. Illinois Department of Public Health [https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/05092016-FOIA-Complaint-and-Exhibits.pdf].