COLUMBUS: The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed a public records dispute on Monday after an abortion rights group said it had received the information it was seeking from the state’s health department.
The NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Foundation had asked the court in December to order the Ohio Department of Health to release public records detailing certain communication between the state health officials and leaders of Ohio Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization.
The court had referred the case to mediation in January, where the two sides recently resolved issues over the public records request. NARAL received the records in late March and asked the court to dismiss the case last week.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said the organization was disappointed it had to go to the state’s high court to get the information.
“Public records requests should be filled when they meet the criteria,” Copeland told the Associated Press on Monday. “Hopefully, this won’t be necessary again.”
Health department spokeswoman Michelle LoParo declined to comment on the lawsuit’s dismissal.
At issue in the case was a public records request that NARAL had made in late October seeking a year’s worth of landline and cellphone records from the health department reflecting communication with specific Ohio Right to Life numbers. It also asked for two years of emails between any department employee and any individual with an email address ending in “@ohiolife.org” relating to regulating abortion facilities.
The department declined the request, saying in part that it was “overly broad” and lacked enough information to allow the agency to identify such records based on how they were organized.
NARAL filed its lawsuit in late December claiming the department was improperly withholding the records.
Copeland had said at the time the group wanted to know who has access to state officials’ decision-making process as they regulate women’s health.
The records request was made as abortion rights advocates had continued to criticize a 2013 change in Ohio law banning publicly funded hospitals from having patient-transfer agreements with abortion providers. Such agreements are required for clinics to be licensed, amounting to what abortion rights groups say is a de facto restriction on abortion.
Copeland said the group was still going through the records. She questioned the hour-plus length of some of the phone calls between the agency and Ohio Right to Life.
“I think that we will be pursing more information,” Copeland said.
LoParo declined to comment on the nature and length of the phone calls.
Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis said the release of the hundreds of documents shows his organization is doing its job and questioned how well NARAL was doing its work.
“I’m quite surprised that they don’t have the same level of communication with the department of health,” Gonidakis told AP.