Anti-abortion activist sues DHH for access to abortion records

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Pastors Flip Benham and Rusty Thomas, of the North Carolina-based Operation Save America, protested abortion at a clinic, LSU and the State Capitol on Thursday during a week-long swing through Louisiana.
Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Pastors Flip Benham and Rusty Thomas, of the North Carolina-based Operation Save America, protested abortion at a clinic, LSU and the State Capitol on Thursday during a week-long swing through Louisiana.

Local anti-abortion activists used the protest of a national group to announce a lawsuit against the Jindal administration for access to mandatory reports detailing each pregnancy termination performed in Baton Rouge.

About 150 demonstrators waved disturbing color photos of aborted fetuses at people driving down Goodwood Boulevard, while more than dozen police officers lined the streets. Protesters from Operation Save America rallied in front of Delta Clinic of Baton Rouge, which performs the heavily regulated but legal procedures. The clinic was closed for the day.

During a series of speeches conducted over a megaphone, Richard Mahoney announced legal action to overcome the state Department of Health and Hospitals’ refusal to make public records he had requested three years ago. The lawsuit, which was filed late Wednesday in Baton Rouge and was assigned to be heard by 19th Judicial District Judge Wilson Fields, asks the court to order DHH to turn over the documents.

When asked for a comment, DHH spokeswoman Olivia Watkins wrote in an email late Thursday that the department had just received a copy of the lawsuit and is reviewing the allegations.

In responses to Mahoney’s October 2011 request and in earlier interviews, DHH officials maintained that law specifically forbids disclosures of patient information gathered by physicians.

Physicians are required by law to fill out “The Report of Induced Termination of Pregnancy” on each patient. The information is used to calculate statistics on abortions. Individual records use a code number to identify patients, not a name.

The documents would show how many minors receive abortions and how many of the procedures lead to complications, information Mahoney said could cause the immediate shutdown of the remaining three or four abortion clinics in the state.

Mahoney pointed to a trash bin by the clinic and said that he had collected copies of the reports that had been thrown out. A review of the discarded documents led him to believe that physicians filled out the reports prior to seeing the patients, Mahoney said.

The Baton Rouge nurse is a frequent picketer at the Delta Clinic.

Rusty Thomas, a minister for nondenominational church in Waco, Texas, made a special trip Thursday and brought about 150 campaigners. He is director of the Operation Save America, which as Operation Rescue helped organize and man protests in the 1990s that led to the closure of several abortion clinics. It’s the memory of those fractious protests that probably led to police presence, he said.

The group is staying at motel in Kenner, protested in New Orleans and Metairie on Wednesday, and is sending a contingent to Shreveport later in the week. They hope to raise awareness and to pressure the closure of the handful of abortion clinics in the state.

Wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses, the muscular father of 13 says the event was designed to tell local governments that they are under no obligation to enforce immoral laws when the federal government goes too far.

Flip Benham, a pastor from Concord, N.C., said he was arrested the last time he visited Baton Rouge in the early 1990s.

“We have to open up the window to show moms (coming to the abortion clinic) that there is an alternative. So many moms feel like they have no choice,” Benham said.

After a couple of hours, the group continued protesting at LSU and at the State Capitol. The handful of local protestors went to work.