The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday blocked plans to seat a grand jury next week to investigate the activities of Wichita abortion provider George Tiller.
“We will not start a grand jury on Tuesday as scheduled,” Sedgwick County Chief Judge Michael Corrigan said.
Corrigan said the Supreme Court granted an indefinite stay in the proceedings so it can consider a variety of legal issues raised in a legal petition filed by Tiller’s attorneys.
The order by Chief Justice Kay McFarland said it was issued “by virtue of the unique circumstances of this case and to allow full consideration of the petition.”
Anti-abortion groups forced Sedgwick County to call a grand jury to investigate Tiller by collecting nearly 7,900 signatures on a petition accusing him of violating a 1998 law that restricts late-term abortions.
Tiller’s attorneys repeatedly have denied the allegations. In their petition to the Supreme Court, the attorneys argued:
• That the grounds for the grand jury petition were derived from the illegal distribution of women’s health care records.
• That the attempted empanelment of the grand jury constitutes a bad-faith harassment of Tiller by political groups that are opposed to abortions.
• That the seating of the grand jury would interfere with a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.
Dan Monnat, one of Tiller’s lawyers, said Friday’s ruling suggests the Supreme Court will take a serious look at those issues. He said he expected it to take a year or longer for the court to rule on the matter.
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said abortion opponents sought a grand jury because of Tiller’s influence in state politics and because potential violations of the law have been ignored for years.
“We don’t expect a lot out of this court when it comes to this issue, so I’m not overly surprised,” she said of Friday’s ruling. Culp’s group was heavily involved in the petition drive.
The grand jury Tiller wants to quash would be the second one that abortion foes have forced Sedgwick County to create in 18 months.
Last year, a grand jury returned no indictments after reviewing the case of a Texas woman who died after having an abortion at Tiller’s clinic.
Attorney General Paul Morrison, a Democrat, filed 19 misdemeanor charges against Tiller in June in Sedgwick County. Morrison alleges Tiller failed to get a second opinion on some late-term abortions from an independent physician, as required by state law.
Many abortion opponents believe Morrison should have focused on allegations that Tiller violated restrictions designed to limit late-term abortions to medical emergencies.
Sedgwick County isn’t the only place anti-abortion groups are using the grand jury power. Abortion opponents submitted a petition Friday asking Johnson County officials to form a grand jury to investigate a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park.
Contributing: Associated Press
Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or [email protected].
By HURST LAVIANA