A suburban Planned Parenthood clinic prohibited from opening after anti-abortion activists raised questions about how it received its building permits will stay closed for the near future.
U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle on Thursday rejected a motion that could have allowed the clinic in Aurora to open as soon as Friday and predicted a long legal fight for Planned Parenthood.
“By no means is this case over. By no means,” Norgle said.
The 22,000-square-foot, $7.5 million building — located about 35 miles west of Chicago in the state’s second-largest city — stands finished but empty. It was supposed to open Tuesday.
Aurora officials however would not provide occupancy permits while the city tries to determine if local laws were followed when Planned Parenthood applied for building permits under the name of a subsidiary.
Christopher Wilson, representing Planned Parenthood, told Norgle that the clinic is being targeted for extra scrutiny because abortions will be performed there, among other medical services.
The fact that Planned Parenthood would be occupying the clinic became public knowledge in late July, but city officials granted it a temporary occupancy permit in August, Wilson pointed out.
Official claims unequal treatment
Wilson claimed that city officials are only expressing concern now about how the complex was approved because of political pressure from anti-abortion groups.
“We are here because we are being denied equal protection under the law,” Wilson said.
Norgle said he denied Planned Parenthood’s motion in part because the group needs to provide more proof that the city is treating the clinic differently than they have other businesses.
That’s something the organization’s attorneys could do in future filings, the judge said.
The chapter that will run the facility — Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area — applied for permits under the subsidiary name Gemini Office Development, but it was not an attempt to defraud city officials, they said.
Planned Parenthood said that decision was made to protect the clinic’s staff and construction workers from the types of round-the-clock protests happening outside the clinic now.
City attorney Lance Malina argued that the mayor and city council did become concerned after the temporary occupancy permit was issued.
But, he said, that was only because some anti-abortion activists brought to their attention instances where Planned Parenthood could be viewed as giving potentially misleading answers.
One instance, Malina said, occurred at a November 2006 planning and development committee when an alderman asked: “Is this building being specifically built for a client?”
'A victory for life'
A man not identified in the meeting minutes, but who Malina said was a Gemini official, replied: “We’re in negotiations with a tenant; we do not currently have a lease but we will want to move ahead.”
Norgle said the delay “is not at this point of constitutional magnitude.”
“That obviously could change,” he added.
Steve Trombley, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area, said the group would indeed amend its complaint. “As the judge himself said, this case is far from over.”
Outside court, Eric Scheidler, spokesman for Pro-Life Action League, which helped organize protests at the clinic, said people in Aurora should have a choice about what kinds of businesses are located there.
He called the judge’s ruling “a victory for life and a victory for choice.”
A statement issued by an Aurora spokeswoman said a final report from the city’s review could be completed as soon as the end of next week.