A citizen-petitioned grand jury investigating Wichita abortion provider George Tiller has heard from abortion opponents who want to close Tiller’s clinic, according to a spokeswoman for an anti-abortion group.
Jurors this week heard from David Gittrich, state development director for Kansas for Life, and Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue. Grand jury testimony is secret, and the two anti-abortion activists have sworn an oath not to discuss their testimonies.
Operation Rescue spokeswoman Cheryl Sullenger said Gittrich testified Monday and Newman testified Wednesday. She showed the Associated Press the contents of binders the group was preparing for each grand juror before Newman’s testimony and said later the grand jury allowed the binders in.
The binders — which included dated, blurred photographs of women purportedly in their late pregnancies — were designed to prompt the grand jury to subpoena their medical records, Sullenger said. The medical records obtained earlier by former Attorney General Phill Kline were of 2003 abortions, and the group wants the grand jury to look at late-term abortions still being performed at the clinic.
“We are not going to have prosecution of late-term abortion without them subpoenaing medical records,” Sullenger said.
Tiller’s defense attorneys, Lee Thompson and Dan Monnat, issued a statement Friday denouncing the grand jury investigation as a “grandstand for anti-choice zealots” when told by the AP of the testimony and binders.
“It’s hard to think of anything more telling of the true nature of this grand jury proceeding than having the self-appointed leader of Operation Rescue testify. What is supposed to be a legal proceeding has now devolved into a bonfire for religious and political zealots by which to preach against women’s right to abortion,” the attorneys said in a joint statement.
Tiller’s attorneys contend the grand jury has been “poisoned” by Newman’s rhetoric and anything it does now lacks credibility and any semblance of a fair and impartial deliberation.
Gittrich declined to discuss his grand jury testimony other than to tell the AP he provided jurors with his own documentation. “All I can say is they seemed a pretty conscientious group of people seeking the truth,” he said.
Among the contents of the binders Newman gave the grand jury were copies of the thwarted criminal complaint filed by Kline against Tiller, as well as information from Paul McHugh, the former director of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Kline hired McHugh to review patient records before that case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.
The binders also included copies of the citizen petition that formed the grand jury, showing a request for an independent prosecutor to lead the investigation. Abortion opponents had demanded a special prosecutor because of what they claim is Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston’s failure to investigate Tiller’s abortion practices.
Also in the binder were photos of women apparently in the late terms of their pregnancies. The photos were taken by telephoto lens as the women went into the clinic. The photos were dated from Sept. 4 to Nov. 13 of last year. The women’s faces were blurred in the photos to protect their identities.
“We can feel sorry for these women because of their situations, but it is not legal,” Sullenger said. The group plans a news conference Monday to publicly release the photographs.
“That Operation Rescue would make public photos of women seeking health care, shows its utter disregard for the privacy rights of women and demonstrates that it will stoop to any level to forward its political agenda,” Tiller’s defense attorneys said.
Kansas law restricts abortions performed after the 21st week of pregnancy, when a fetus can survive outside the womb. In those cases, two doctors must conclude that a woman faces death or “substantial and irreversible” harm to a major bodily function.
Sullenger conceded the photographs given to the grand jury do not prove the late-term abortions performed on those women were illegal.
“What we are doing is drawing a circumstantial-evidence case,” Sullenger said.
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By ROXANA HEGEMAN