CHICAGO - The death of Tonya Reaves, a 24 year-old who died after an abortion at Planned Parenthood's Loop Health Center in Chicago, has remained a mystery because employees at the Chicago Office of the Medical Examiner failed to comply with the Life Legal Defense Foundation's request for Reaves' autopsy report. The controversial manner of Reaves' death on July 20th triggered a hailstorm of calls for abortion provider regulation in Illinois, one of the few states that allows abortion providers to function virtually unfettered with little or no oversight.
Attorney Allison K. Aranda, Senior Staff Counsel for the Life Legal Defense Foundation, stated that a formal public records request for Reaves' autopsy report was made in writing on July 23rd by a staff member of Operation Rescue, who received a denial of her request via telephone. The caller, from the medical examiner's office, informed Operation Rescue that their request was denied because they did not have family authorization or a subpoena.
Illinois law specifically states that all records in the custody or possession of a public body are presumed to be open to inspection or copying, and nowhere does the state exempt autopsy reports from compliance. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Guide for Law Enforcement published July 12, 2012 by the Attorney General's Office specifically states that autopsy reports are public records and should be released. A 2010 Illinois Public Access Counselor review also stated clearly that autopsy reports in the files of the medical examiner are within the provenance of FOIA and concluded that, "the reports are public records and should be released."
"The medical examiner's office has no basis to deny my client's request for the autopsy report involving the deceased Tonya Reaves," explained Aranda, who called for immediate compliance from the medical examiner. In the event that Operation Rescue's lawful request for this public document is not met, Aranda promised legal action. She also noted that the medical examiner is already in violation of Illinois law, which provides that, "Each public body denying a request for public records shall notify the requester in writing of the decision to deny the request, the reasons for the denial, including a detailed factual basis for the application of any exemption claimed, and the names and titles or positions of each person responsible for the denial." Operation Rescue received none of this required due process of law in their valid FOIA request for the autopsy report of Tonya Reaves.
The Life Legal Defense Foundation's letter to the Office of the Medical Examiner is here.