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Judge says Aurora clinic cannot open yet
Planned Parenthood hasn't shown city unfairly targeted it, judge says
By Amy Boerema | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/21/2007 12:41 AM

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Aurora's Planned Parenthood cannot open until the city's outside review of the clinic's permit process is finished, a federal judge said Thursday.

The controversial far-east-side center failed to make the case it was unfairly targeted by the city because it would offer abortion services, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle said.

But he also said Planned Parenthood could refile an amended request providing comparisons with other businesses that show how it was singled out.

"By no means is this case over," he said to a packed courtroom.

Clinic officials said after the ruling they intend to do just what the judge suggested. Their center still will open; it's just a matter of when, said Steve Trombley, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area.

In the meantime, the delay means "more women go without pap tests, birth control supplies and breast exams," he said. "These are critical services that this community has been lacking."

Clinic officials sought a federal court order allowing the center at Oakhurst Drive and New York Street to open immediately. But city leaders wanted to finish an independent review of their application process first.

Aldermen launched the review after abortion opponents claimed the clinic deceived the city by hiding its true identity in its permit applications. Planned Parenthood applied as Gemini Development, a subsidiary.

Officials are pleased the court upheld the city's right for a full review, city spokesman Carie Anne Ergo said. They feel it's their responsibility to investigate any allegations of fraud, she said.

"While this has become a highly politicized issue, for the city of Aurora, this has always been about making sure all local laws were followed in the development of this facility," she said.

The ruling means the soonest the clinic could open is early October -- and that's assuming the city's review shows there was no deception in obtaining permits.

The probe has had its own share of bumps.

Both the first and second attorneys chosen by officials to do the independent investigation have faced potential conflict of interest issues.

Aldermen this week decided Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti will review the reports of both lawyers.

The briefs should be in his hands by the end of the week, Ergo said. It will take him another week to review. At that point, the documents will be made public and aldermen will choose their next step, she said.

In court on Thursday, Planned Parenthood attorney Chris Wilson said the clinic never misled the city.

Though it did initially try to keep things quiet so opponents wouldn't harass and intimidate its workers, it complied with all required public disclosures, he said.

It was only after a firestorm of protest that aldermen singled out their clinic, placing special obstacles in its way, he said. "We are being treated entirely different than any other medical center in Aurora," he said.

Though this case's circumstances are unique, Lance Malina said on behalf of the city, aldermen have every right to step back and ensure the permit process was properly followed.

A step back, he said, does not mean the clinic's opening has been denied. But because the center wasn't initially upfront about its identity, he said, aldermen didn't get a chance to publicly discuss the issue.

"The city was deprived of that opportunity," he said. "Any delay Planned Parenthood is talking about is its own fault."

Norgle said there's "a dearth" of evidence of discrimination against Planned Parenthood. Clinic officials gave no specific cases for comparison, referring only generally to medical centers, he said. "That mere assertion is not enough to support an argument of unequal treatment," he said.

The clinic's biggest foe, Chicago's Pro-Life Action League, held a celebratory dinner Thursday, spokesman Eric Scheidler said. "It's an unprecedented victory," he said at the courthouse. "For once, the side of life is winning against the side of death."

The Illinois National Organization for Women and the National Abortion Federation also weighed in, saying they were disappointed.

"This is a sad day for women," said Illinois NOW President Bonnie Grabenhofer. "(We're) outraged that a wasteful and mean-spirited political process is preventing women from accessing reproductive health care."