CHICAGO – A Chicago-based conservative public-interest law group is prepared to appeal complaints against the city and the Illinois Department of Public Health filed last week to obtain information from two health care facilities that perform abortions, the group's attorney said.
"We will pursue our remedies on appeal, if necessary," Thomas Olp, attorney with the Thomas More Society, said during a recent Cook County Record email interview. "We hope an appeal will not be necessary on our part."
Both complaints rose from failed Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the Pro-Life Action League (PLAL) and two league employees, Jean Crocco of McHenry County and John Jansen of Cook County.
"FOIAs were filed regarding matters involving the health and safety of women at abortion clinics," The Thomas More Society said in a press release about the complaints.
The FOIA requests, including those made July 2, 2014; Oct. 13, 2014; and Aug. 25, 2015, were attempts to obtain different information from the city of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) and the Illinois Department of Public Health, Olp said. Eight FOIA requests were made to the Illinois Department of Public Health over several months, Olp said.
"All asked for inspection reports, plans of correction, and applications and/or application renewal requests for Pregnancy Termination Specialty Centers, and Ambulatory Surgical Treatment Centers," he said.
Pro-Life Action League routinely issues such FOIA requests to monitor health care facilities that provide abortions, Olp said.
"With respect to the City of Chicago OEMC FOIA request for 911 emergency response records, the PLAL wants to monitor the medical incidents that are occurring in abortion clinics, which prompt the clinic to call an ambulance to take the clinic patient to the hospital," he said. "The PLAL is not interested in identifying the patient, but in the nature of the medical incident giving rise to the emergency call. To accomplish this, the FOIA response must disclose information related to the nature of the medical emergency, if it exists in the emergency response record. This is exactly the information that has been redacted."
Olp said the PLAL also monitors the functioning of all six PTSCs in Illinois; and about six other ASTCs, under the regulation of the IDPH.
The FOIA responses provide information that can be used in several ways, Olp said.
"First, the information could disclose conditions that would prompt a complaint to the IDPH or to the Healthcare Services Review Board regarding the standard of care given in the clinics," he said. "Second, the information could disclose that professionals required to be on staff at the clinics are not on staff, or that their professional license status is expired or faulty. Third, the information indicates turnover rates and other information that could reveal the quality of the clinics. PLAL needs names of the professional employees and their professional license numbers in order to complete the assessments described."
Cook County Record requests for comment to the city of Chicago went unanswered, while a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Olp cited exhibits and attachments filed with the complaints that seem to explain the city's and IDPH's reasons for not complying with the FOIA requests.
"The City of Chicago and its Office of Emergency Management and Communications take the view that the 911 response records, the audio record and the written forms that are created during the 911 call response by the police and Chicago Fire Department EMTs, constitute medical information exempt under HIPAA and under FOIA under Section 7(1)(a)," Olp said.
The IDPH denial of the FOIA seems to be based on the department's interpretation of state law that exempts the release of personal information, Olp said, citing the exhibits and attachments in the complaints.
Pro-Life Action League has received 911 emergency call records, with patient identifiers redacted, upon request to other public bodies, including the city of Aurora, Illinois' second largest city, according to exhibits and attachments filed with the complaints.
"With respect to the IDPH FOIA request, the IDPH itself disclosed names and license numbers of professional employees until it abruptly changed its policy in August 2015," Olp said.
Pro-Life Action League makes FOIA requests in other states besides Illinois, Olp said.
"PLAL does make similar FOIA requests in various states," he said. "FOIA responses differ from state to state based on the state's FOIA law."
The Pro-Life Action League's FOIA request complaints are not the only cases in which the Thomas More Society has taken an interest. The society presently is handling more than 90 cases and its caseload increases daily.
"We’re litigating for pro-lifers and people of faith who face crises of conscience, filing friend-of-the-court briefs in support of other significant court cases, and building a pro-life, pro-family infrastructure by providing organizational and legal support for 31 other non-profits," the society's website says.