January 8, 2015 — The NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Foundation has filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to require the Ohio Department of Health to release public records related to the department's communication with an antiabortion-rights group, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
The suit asks the court to mandate the release of records originally requested by the foundation on Oct. 27, regarding phone calls and emails between ODH and Ohio Right to Life (Ludlow, Columbus Dispatch, 1/7).
The Oct. 27 request asked ODH for one year's worth of records of calls between two telephone numbers that belong to Ohio Right to Life and two years of emails between ODH and the antiabortion-rights organization.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said, "What we're really trying to find out is how frequently staff that is involved with decisions involving reproductive health care -- most notably abortion clinics, but reproductive health care in general -- how often they're communicating with Ohio Right to Life." She said that her group is attempting to see whether Ohio Right to Life has had any special influence or access (Higgs, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1/6). The state has recently passed several abortion restrictions and the number of abortion clinics in the state decreased from 13 in 2013 to eight now, according to the Columbus Dispatch (Columbus Dispatch, 1/7).
ODH denied the records request on Nov. 19, writing in a letter that the request was "overly broad" and did not include sufficient information for the department to gather the requested records. NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio filed the lawsuit on December 24 (Sanner, AP/Washington Times, 1/6).
Subodh Chandra, an attorney representing NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, called ODH's argument that it could not produce the records "silly," adding, "They're either clueless or trying to hide something" (Columbus Dispatch, 1/7).
Case Referred to Mediation
The state Supreme Court on Tuesday referred the case to mediation, which could delay litigation but also make it easier to resolve the dispute, Chandra said.
ODH has not submitted a formal response to the suit in court. An ODH spokesperson declined to comment on the case, adding that the department is reviewing the lawsuit (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1/6).
Ohio Right to Life Response
Meanwhile, Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis said that while his group communicates regularly with ODH officials, it does not have special influence with the department (Columbus Dispatch, 1/7).
Gonidakis pointed to a decision by ODH in December granting a Cincinnati abortion clinic an exception from a state law requiring clinics to have a transfer agreement in place with a local hospital (AP/Washington Times, 1/6). He said, "If I was able to have any undue influence, I would have closed that clinic (in Cincinnati) last month. That is proof positive we don't have the influence NARAL thinks we have" (Columbus Dispatch, 1/7).