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Gibson Dunn Sues Trump State Department Over Reproductive Rights FOI

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's offices in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher has sued the U.S. State Department on behalf of the Center for Reproductive Rights, as part of the group’s effort to unearth details of the Trump administration’s alleged changes to regularly issued government human rights reports.

Wednesday’s complaint comes after the organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request in October 2018 in an unsuccessful effort to learn more about how the 2018 Human Rights Reports are being constructed. It’s the group's second FOIA suit against the department in just a few months regarding the changes to a subsection that was included in prior iterations of the report, titled “Reproductive Rights.” Gibson Dunn brought the first complaint on the center’s behalf in September.

The Obama administration included that subsection the annual report, detailing concerns about abortion restrictions, the availability of contraception, and rates of maternal mortality in various countries, according to the complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The 2017 Human Rights Report looked different, the complaint contends, and featured a subsection labeled, “Coercion in Population Control” regarding forced abortion, involuntary sterilization and other coercive population-control techniques.

Troubled by the Trump administration’s approach and the prospect that information incorporated by the Obama administration would be “erased” from forthcoming reports, the center submitted FOIA requests, the complaint said. When the federal government failed to satisfy the center’s most recent request, the center turned to Gibson Dunn, including partner Katherine Smith and associates Wendy Miller and Mia Donnelly.

“The DOS’ apparent decision to remove the ‘Reproductive Rights’ subsection and replace it with a ‘Coercion in Population Control’ section undermines the credibility and integrity of the reports, which are purportedly comprehensive,” the center’s complaint argued. “The Center is particularly concerned that this demonstrates a shift away from protecting and advancing women’s reproductive rights in line with a broader effort to backtrack on decades of law and policy protecting women and girls’ rights to basic health care at home and abroad.”

The complaint calls on the court to compel the Trump administration to satisfy the center’s request by a yet-to-be-determined date and to award the center attorneys’ fees.

Gibson Dunn’s latest human-rights-focused litigation follows scrutiny it received for representing the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia amid the October killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Through its U.S. embassy, the Saudis agreed in September to pay Gibson Dunn $250,000 to lobby the U.S. House of Representatives, but the Gibson Dunn team—including partner Theodore Olson Jr.—cut ties with the kingdom one month later after Khashoggi’s killing raised human rights concerns. Gibson Dunn’s decision to represent the Saudis spawned the firm’s first registration under the Foreign Agents Registrations Act in more than 20 years, since the firm registered to work for the Saudis in the mid-1990s.

Another short-lived business venture involving Gibson Dunn’s Washington, D.C., office attracted attention last week when Nicole Saharsky, former co-chair of the firm’s appellate and constitutional law practice, jumped ship. Saharsky quit Gibson Dunn to join Mayer Brown after one year.


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