Pennsylvania Health Department Denies FOIA Request about Abortionist Charged with Capital Murder

By Melanie Hunter-Omar | April 11, 2011 | 3:41 PM EDT

In this undated photo released by the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, Dr. Kermit Gosnell is shown. Gosnell, 69, a family practice physician, was arraigned Thursday, Jan. 20 2011, on eight counts of murder in the deaths of seven babies and one patient. Nine employees of his Women's Medical Society clinic also have been charged, including four with murder. (AP Photo/Philadelphia Police Department via Philadelphia District Attorney's Office)

( – The Pennsylvania Health Department has denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by regarding conversations between the department and abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell regarding his practice at the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia.

Dr. Gosnell has been charged with capital murder for the death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, a Virginia woman who – according to the grand jury – died after unlicensed staff members gave her too much anesthesia. Dr. Gosnell is also charged with allegedly killing seven babies with scissors after the babies were born alive. contacted the health department on Feb. 4, 2011 requesting all correspondence between Dr. Gosnell and the department regarding his practice at the Women’s Medical Society.

Diane Thorn, Agency Open Records Officer, for the health department replied on March 14, 2011, with a letter indicating that the request was “denied due to insufficient specificity insofar as ‘all [records] that refer or relate to … conversations between the Pennsylvania Health Department and Dr. Kermit Gosnell regarding his practice at the Women’s Medical Society’ are requested, which is not sufficiently specific to enable the Department to ascertain which records are being requested.”

The letter claimed that the “request does not identify a particular record that you seek, nor does it specify a time period, employees of the Department with whom the conversations allegedly occurred, or a specific topic of such conversation. Instead, you broadly seek all records that refer or relate to a generally described matter.”

“Further, Department inspection records are exempt from disclosure under section 708(b)(17) of the RTKL as they are records relating to a noncriminal investigation. Your request is also denied as far as it relates to the records of the internal, predecisional deliberations of an agency specifically exempt from disclosure under section 708(b)(10)(i)(A) of the RTKL,” Thorn wrote, referring to what is considered the Right to Know Law in Pennsylvania.

“Your request is denied to the extent that it falls within the attorney-work product doctrine or relates to attorney-client privileged communications that are excluded from the definition of ‘public records,’” she added.

Thorn wrote that the request was also denied “to the extent that the Department’s records contain medical or other private health information” and “to the extent that it seeks the identity of employees or agents of the abortion facilities or of the employees of the Department involved in the inspections of the facilities.”

When contacted Thorn by email for clarification of why the request was denied, she wrote, “We are not treating your current e-mail communication as a RTKL request, as it is asking for clarification and provides a phone number for a response, rather than asking for records. Further, we have no responsive public records that would satisfy your inquiry.”

“The final response that we sent to your RTKL request of March 14, 2011, specified the grounds for our denial, as is required by the RTKL. We are not able to provide you with legal advice as to additional clarification, but would refer you to the legal bases contained in our response, as well as to cases provided in the website maintained by the OOR, which provides copies of its Final Determinations,” she added.

When contacted by phone, Thorn referred to her emailed response, saying, “I don’t know how to respond, I mean it was denied because of legal grounds, and I don’t know how else to respond.”