NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio sues Ohio Department of Health over access to records

The Northeast Ohio Media Group (via Cleveland.com) and the Columbus Dispatch report that NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio has sued the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) for failing to respond to a public records request the organization made this fall. NARAL (the National Abortion Rights Action League) had requested records of the agency's communication with Ohio Right to Life, including records of contact with two phone numbers belonging to the nonprofit and emails between ODH employees and the organization.

According to the article on Cleveland.com, Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, has expressed that their organization wants to find out how often ODH staff that are involved with reproductive health care decisions are communicating with Ohio Right to Life to help determine whether the nonprofit is obtaining special access to the state agency or exerting undue influence. A spokesperson for the Dept. of Health would not comment on the pending suit, but the attorney for NARAL has stated that ODH had refused to fulfill the records request because the agency claimed that it was too broad.

According to the Dispatch, President of Ohio Right To Life Mike Gonidakis has stated that his organization does regularly communicate with the Health Department “to ensure abortion mills are being regulated,” but does not have any special influence or access rights. Gonidakis cited the fact that ODH granted a variance in December allowing Planned Parenthood's clinic in Mt. Auburn to remain open as evidence that Ohio Right to Life does not exert any undue influence. The Health Department had threatened to shut down the clinic, but granted the variance after Planned Parenthood filed suit in federal court.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio filed this case against the Health Department as a mandamus action with the Supreme Court of Ohio, and the court has referred it to mediation. The online docket for the case is available, here.