By Leo Hohmann
A case making its way through the Maryland courts could have a chilling effect on the pro-life movement’s ability to obtain public-record documents about abortion clinics.
The case of Andrew Glenn is drawing attention on both sides of the abortion battle.
Glenn, director of the Maryland Coalition for Life, requested public documents on the licensing of abortion clinics in his state. He had a hunch that some abortionists were operating illegally or without licenses.
Rather than turn over the documents, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sued Glenn.
The basis of the agency’s claim is that the abortion clinics and their doctors could be subjected to “harassment and violence” if the information became public.
That claim is absurd, said Francis Manion, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing Glenn.
“Their whole argument is there have been doctors who have been targets of violence over the years,” he said. “But I countered that by asking, ‘In any of those cases has there ever been a case where someone made a public records request and used that to target a doctor?’ So we have to balance that concern.”
Manion said there is a lot at stake in the case.
“This is how these guys get away with literally murder and also malpractice. They just flit in and out of states, and nobody knows they’re there and the government protects them,” Manion said. “The government claims that they’re protecting the public interest by not disclosing this information to Glenn. They are shielding people.”
Manion said even pro-choice advocates should side with Glenn in the case, since any abortion clinic operating within the law would have nothing to worry about in any public documents.
“Forget what you feel about abortion. Presumably, everyone thinks it’s wrong to maim or even kill women who seek abortions but here they’re letting them do both. If there’s an interest in stopping illegal clinics from operating then let’s find out where and who they are and shut them down. But it’s the abortion industry that’s behind all of this.”
Cheryl Sullenger of the pro-life group Operation Rescue also is watching the case.
She said pro-life activists such as Glenn stand to lose a key weapon in their arsenal if state governments are allowed to take public records offline.
“In Maryland we’ve filed several complaints based on public records that resulted in disciplinary action and also in license suspension, so I think we’re seeing an effort by the health-care bureaucracy to protect these people, especially those that are breaking the law,” Sullenger said. “It’s not about harassment. They’ve even acknowledged it’s not about that from Andrew, but yet they sued him.”
Operation Rescue conducted investigations and compiled documentation that showed Mehrdad Aalai and Harold O. Alexander, a former associate of Florida’s notorious abortionist James Scott Pendergraft, were both operating illegal abortion businesses in Maryland. Operation Rescue released the documentation to the public in two special reports.
Complaints filed by Operation Rescue staff ultimately resulted in the closure of both men’s illegal abortion clinics, the surrender of Aalai’s medical license and the suspension of Alexander’s license for a second time.
“It is likely due to the success of pro-life watchdog efforts, which benefit from access to public documents, that the DHMH filed suit to keep information from pro-life activists like Andrew,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, on the OR website Friday.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing efforts across the country to prevent pro-life activists from obtaining information that has always been considered public,” he said. “We are confident that Glenn and the ACLJ will be successful in protecting our rights to access public records that help us expose wrong-doing and hold accountable abortionists who break the law.”
Sullenger believes pro-choice forces within the government apparatus could be looking for a silver bullet, using the “violence and harassment” claim as an end-run around open records laws.
If a judge issues a ruling saying the state didn’t have to release public documents, that could be the basis of a policy change shutting down all public records involving abortion clinics.
“More and more we are seeing this,” Sullenger said. “I was sued in Iowa for asking for documents. The state medical board notified Planned Parenthood of my request and then Planned Parenthood sued me, but in the end I got the documents and they dropped their suit.”
Manion said abortion is one of the country’s few “politically protected” medical practices, where medical malpractice is often ignored because of political pressures.
“I don’t understand how anyone who’s pro-choice wouldn’t be on the side of Andrew, because presumably everyone would be against unlicensed doctors and unsafe practitioners operating abortion clinics,” he said. “Let’s find out who and where they are.”
He said he was pleased with Friday’s court hearing before Judge Emanuel Brown in the Eighth Circuit Court in Baltimore.
“I thought the judge was very tough with them in his questioning. He really came down hard on them. Now that’s not saying heβll rule in our favor, but he was not as tough on us,” Manion said.
Sullenger said other states will be watching the case carefully.
“That’s why they try to keep from us these documents because they don’t want to see people find out what’s going on inside these abortion clinics,” Sullenger said. “Hopefully Andrew will prevail in this lawsuit, and I think that will go a long way toward preventing this tactic from being used in other jurisdictions. It will show them that this won’t be tolerated.
“If it works in Maryland, then other states will use the same tactics, and if Andrew prevails then they’re not going to waste their time,” she added. “So there is a lot at stake here. We find out a lot about the abortionists through the open records requests.”
Previous requests have uncovered everything from abortion doctors who have criminal backgrounds and drug use to rogue abortionists operating without any medical training or licenses.
In California, Operation Rescue found out, partially through public records, that the owner of a chain of clinics was personally performing abortions “and she had no medical license whatsoever,” Sullenger said.
“It was completely illegal, and she went to jail. She had at one time 11 abortion clinics, and now all have been shut down,” she said.
“But, yeah, open records are an important part of what we do.”
Manion noted that a decision on DHMH v. Glenn is expected in two to four weeks. He said the ruling likely will be appealed regardless of which way Brown decides the case.
“This is a long way from being over,” he said.