Pro-Life Group Wins Bid to Keep Membership List Private

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 16, 2011   |   4:52PM   |   Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahomans For Life has won a legal battle against a pro-abortion group seeking to have it turn over its private membership roles — in what could have been a dangerous precedent for pro-life organizations nationwide.

As part of their lawsuit seeking to overturn a new pro-life law in Oklahoma that allows women a chance to see an ultrasound of their baby before an abortion, pro-abortion activists were also threatening Oklahomans for Life. The abortion industry sent its high-priced lawyers after Oklahomans For Life with an invasive court subpoena which would require the pro-life group to divulge countless internal documents, communications, email lists, and mailing lists.

Tony Lauinger, the state director of the organization, told about the problems earlier this month and now reports that it wont its effort in court to defeat the abortion-industry subpoena.

“The subpoena attempted, under penalty of contempt of court, to force us at Oklahomans For Life to turn over our internal documents regarding strategy, our email communications, letters, mailing list, email list, and other information — potentially thousands of documents,” he said. “The subpoena was issued by the abortion-industry plaintiffs in their lawsuit against the State of Oklahoma, in which the abortion industry is trying to nullify Oklahoma’s law providing mothers an opportunity to view their baby by ultrasound prior to having an abortion.”

“The subpoena was a politically harassing “fishing expedition” to try to chill our free-speech rights,” he said. “Clearly, the abortion industry knows that we are at the center of pro-life efforts in Oklahoma, and that Oklahoma is at the forefront of pro-life efforts among the 50 states. The abortion industry undoubtedly viewed this subpoena as a way to inflict serious damage to pro-life efforts nationwide.”

However, Judge Bryan Dixon, the presiding judge in the case, appeared unimpressed with the argument from the abortion industry that the subpoena against Oklahomans For Life was valid because the group pressed for the ultrasound bill in the legislature. The judge ruled that Oklahomans for Life doesn’t have to give any information to the abortion practitioners in the case.

“Needless to say, we are very thankful to the Good Lord for shielding us from this political harassment by the abortion industry,” Lauinger said. “And we are deeply grateful to all of you who have poured out your prayers, help, encouragement, and support these past few days, and for so many years.”

Lauinger says the victory is more important because it provides a legal precedent against future attempts to secure mailing and membership lists form pro-life groups involved in supporting legislation to stop abortions.

“By winning this battle today, we may have nipped in the bud what could be a trend by the abortion industry to try to harass pro-life advocates nationwide,” he explained. “A pro-abortion conference earlier this year focused its attention on the question of how pro-life advocates, working with state legislatures, are succeeding in passing laws defending unborn children. The abortion industry apparently singled out Oklahomans For Life and National Right to Life as the most immediate threats to unfettered elective abortion, and sought to use the legal system to force us to divulge confidential information about our pro-life efforts.”

In May 2010, a judge suspended the ultrasound law and granted the injunction sought by a Tulsa-based abortion business and Norman-based abortion practitioner. The Center for Reproductive Rights sued to stop enforcement of the pro-life law in Oklahoma County District Court.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Nova Health Systems, which operates an abortion center in Tulsa and has filed lawsuits against pro-life legislation over the years. Larry Burns, who does abortions in Norman, also is a party on the lawsuit.

The suit claims the ultrasound measure is unconstitutionally vague, violates women’s and abortion practitioner’s constitutional speech rights, is an impermissible special law, and “impermissibly burdens the fundamental rights of plaintiffs’ patients to terminate a pregnancy and avoid unwanted speech in a private setting.”

“In addition, the Act exposes abortion providers to an array of intimidating civil and administrative penalties to which no other health care providers in the state are exposed,” the lawsuit complains.

Violations are also punishable by fines of $10,000 for the first offense of an abortion practitioner failing to give a woman a chance to view the ultrasound of her baby. There is a $50,000 fine for the second offense, $100,000 for the third, and more than $100,000 per offense thereafter.

The defendants are Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson; Greg Mashburn, the district attorney for Cleveland, Garvin and McClain Counties; Lyle Kelsey, director of the State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision; and Dr. Gordon Laird, president of the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners.

Mary Spaulding Balch, an attorney who is the director of the Department of State Legislation at the National Right to Life Committee, talked with about the bill after the Oklahoma Senate vote.

“This is a victory for the women of Oklahoma and their unborn children. Abortion is a business, the least time spent with a woman, the least information given to her, the more sales made,” she said.

“This law protects a mother’s right to know something about her developing unborn child. It gives her a window to her womb. It helps to prevent her from making a decision she may regret for the rest of her life and it empowers her with the most accurate information about her pregnancy so that she can make a truly informed ‘choice’,” Balch added.