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Court: Risks justify redacting Pa. abortion clinic worker names

Written by Mark Scolforo/The Associated Press | Jul 11, 2019 11:49 AM
Anti-abortion protest Philadelphia.jpg

Ashley Garecht speaks as anti-abortion protesters rally near a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia, Friday, May 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

This story has been updated with additional details.

(Harrisburg) -- Security risks for people who work in abortion clinics justify a decision to redact their names and license numbers before making government records available to the public, a Pennsylvania court ruled Thursday.

A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel said the state Health Department acted properly when it removed professional license numbers and the names of people on abortion clinic facility applications.

"Allowing the redaction of names, even of private individuals, is rarely permitted" under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law, wrote Judge Robert Simpson. "However, given the allegations of significant harm to individuals who serve abortion providers in some capacity, application of the security exception is warranted."

The court ruled against Jean Crocco, an Illinois woman affiliated with the Pro-Life Action League who told the court she did not have a nefarious intent but sought the names and numbers to ensure patients are receiving proper care.

Thomas Ciesielka, a spokesman for the Thomas More Society in Chicago, which has represented Crocco, said the decision was under review and offered no immediate comment.

Crocco asked the Health Department for information regarding all non-hospital abortion facilities in the state, leading the agency to redact the names and license numbers of doctors, medical directors and nursing directors, as well as people in leadership position at the clinics, such as administrators, owners, trustees and board members.

She appealed that decision to the state Office of Open Records, which upheld the Health Department's redactions, and then sought the Commonwealth Court's review.

The Health Department, Simpson wrote, provided evidence of past physical attacks and harassment of people at clinics, including information about protests, harassing calls, threats, vandalism, fire bombings and assaults on patients and volunteers.

The judge wrote that there is evidence that service to abortion facilities "entails certain security risks. There is no evidence refuting this commonality."

Simpson said the court has rarely extended the Right-to-Know Law's personal security exception to names, although it previously permitted redaction of the first names of prison correctional officers. The judges said that the redactions in this case were justified by unusual circumstances and an extensive record.

Crocco's contention that she does not constitute a threat to people who work at the clinics does not mean their safety is not at risk, Simpson said.

"Although this particular requester may not pose a danger to the individuals whose names she seeks, once the information is deemed public, it is in the public domain and accessible to everyone on the same basis," Simpson wrote.

An earlier version of this story appears below.

(Harrisburg) -- A Pennsylvania court says security risks for people who work in abortion clinics justify a decision to redact their names and license numbers before making government records available to the public.

A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel said Thursday the state Health Department acted properly when it removed professional license numbers and the names of people on abortion clinic facility applications.

The court ruled against Jean Crocco with the Pro-Life Action League, who told the court she didn't have a nefarious intent but sought the names and numbers to ensure patients are receiving proper care.

The judges say redaction of names under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law is rarely permitted, but it's allowed in the case of abortion clinic workers because there's evidence they've been threatened, harassed and physically assaulted.

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