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Kansas abortion provider is charged unexpectedly

The attorney general, a Democrat, files 19 counts against Dr. Tiller.

June 29, 2007|From the Associated Press

TOPEKA, KAN. — A doctor who performs abortions was charged Thursday with violating Kansas law on late-term procedures, a surprise move from a Democratic attorney general who recently unseated a prominent antiabortion Republican.

Atty. Gen. Paul Morrison filed 19 misdemeanor counts alleging that Dr. George Tiller, one of the few U.S. physicians performing late-term abortions, got second opinions from a doctor who was not financially and legally independent from him. The law requires second opinions from independent doctors.

Morrison's predecessor, Phill Kline, had unsuccessfully prosecuted the same doctor for different reasons.

At a news conference Thursday, Morrison described the allegations as a "technical violation" of a 1998 law restricting late-term procedures. "And it's my job to enforce the law," he said.

Kline filed 30 misdemeanor counts against Tiller in December, after Morrison defeated him but before he left office. He alleged that Tiller performed 15 illegal late-term abortions in 2003 on patients as young as 10.

A judge quickly threw out those charges over jurisdictional issues. Morrison launched his own review after taking office in January.

Kline and other abortion opponents had predicted that Morrison wouldn't prosecute Tiller, given that Tiller helped finance tens of thousands of dollars' worth of anti-Kline advertising last year.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Morrison said he would not pursue 15 charges Kline had filed that were related to reporting requirements.

Morrison, who supports abortion rights, said Thursday that Kline's charges were "incorrect and based on a political agenda." Morrison said his own case was "not about politics or pursuing a personal agenda."

"During our review of Kline's 30 mistaken charges, we found a pattern -- a pattern of referrals from one physician," he said.

The abortions in question involved cases in which patients were more than 21 weeks pregnant and the fetuses were potentially able to survive outside the womb.

Under such circumstances, Kansas law requires two independent doctors to conclude that continuing the pregnancy could cause the patient's death or "substantial and irreversible" harm to "a major bodily function," which has been interpreted to include mental health.

If convicted, Tiller could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine on each charge, Morrison said.

Tiller's attorneys, Lee Thompson and Dan Monnat, issued a written statement declaring their client's innocence.

"Today's announcement simply involves a difference of opinion between lawyers regarding unusual technicalities in Kansas abortion law procedure," the statement said.

According to Morrison, Tiller listed the second doctor as Ann Kristin Neuhaus. Morrison said they had a financial relationship but did not elaborate. Neuhaus did not return messages Thursday.

Kline fought a two-year battle to get the records of patients from two clinics that perform abortions, including Tiller's, saying he was trying to prosecute rapists, sex offenders and doctors who were involved in illegal abortions or failed to report sexual abuse.

Abortion-rights supporters' complaints that Kline was invading patients' privacy grew stronger days before the election, when Fox News host Bill O'Reilly described parts of the medical records on his TV show.

Kline was interviewed by O'Reilly during the segment.

A Kline spokeswoman denied that he was the one who leaked the documents.

Kline, now a county prosecutor, said at a news conference that he felt vindicated because Morrison's charges were based on medical records obtained by Kline.

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