September 22, 2007
This week, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle refused to order the City of Aurora to allow an abortion clinic to open there. He was right to do so. He was also right to make clear that abortion opponents won’t be able to stonewall a final decision on the fate of the clinic.
Last fall, Planned Parenthood applied for permits in Aurora to build a medical office building. It applied under the name of a subsidiary, Gemini Office Development LLC, in an attempt to keep from tipping off abortion opponents about its efforts.
The question is whether Planned Parenthood also tried to keep Aurora officials in the dark about its plans.
It used a subsidiary company name. In an application for a building permit, Gemini listed the building’s tenants as “unknown.” A representative for Gemini told city officials at a November hearing that it didn’t have a tenant.
An honest answer? It certainly wasn’t a full answer. The intended use of the building was clearly known to Gemini/Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood CEO and President Steve Trombley didn’t help himself when he suggested in July that he’d gotten away with something. “Frankly, I’m surprised we were able to keep it a secret for so long,” he said.
Was Aurora deceived? There’s reason to think city officials knew what was going on. The city issued a temporary occupancy permit for the clinic weeks after the Tribune wrote in July about it. The story made clear that abortion would be one of the services available there. Planned Parenthood officials say they made numerous efforts to meet with the mayor of Aurora to talk about the project, and that the city’s development director knew and approved of the project several months ago.
So what did Aurora know and when did it know it? The city says it needs time to sort that out, so it has delayed the opening of the clinic while it investigates.
Now all this has been swept up in abortion politics. Opponents are putting heat on the city to block the clinic, and Planned Parenthood says its constitutional rights are being violated by the city.
Norgle wisely said, everybody catch your breath. He denied, for now, Planned Parenthood’s request for an order to allow the clinic to open. But he also said that Planned Parenthood could amend its request with more evidence in the next few days.
“By no means is this case over,” he said. “By no means.”
Planned Parenthood’s $7.5 million clinic was scheduled to open Sept. 18. Norgle said the delay in opening the clinic does not yet create harm of constitutional magnitude. But, he added, “That could change.”
In other words, Aurora : Hurry up.
City officials should get their investigation done quickly. It can’t drag on forever as a back door way to prevent the clinic from opening. Aurora officials informed Gemini on Aug. 31 that they intended to have their investigation completed by Sept. 18. But as anti-abortion protests mounted, the city dispatched a letter revising that statement. Aurora is now on its third attorney investigating the case.
If there is evidence that Planned Parenthood/Gemini intentionally withheld information or deceived city officials, Aurora will have reason to stop the project in its tracks. But the city can’t and shouldn’t stop the clinic because it wants to avoid political controversy over abortion. The city must treat this as it would any other business enterprise that comes before it.
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune