TOPEKA – It wasn’t the criminal trial abortion opponents had hoped for, but a legislative committee on Thursday allowed them to air a case against Wichita abortion provider George Tiller that was tossed out of court last year.
Anti-abortion groups also staged a small rally during a lunch break. About 40 people marched to the building that houses Attorney General Paul Morrison’s office, chanting for him to enforce a 1998 state law restricting late-term abortions and to resign for not being vigorous enough in prosecuting Tiller.
Morrison has filed 19 misdemeanors against Tiller in Sedgwick County, alleging the Wichita doctor didn’t obtain a second opinion on late-term abortions from an independent physician, as required by the law.
Many abortion foes say Tiller, one of a few U.S. doctors performing late-term abortions, should be prosecuted instead for performing such procedures for “trivial” reasons, not medical emergencies. Morrison’s predecessor, Phill Kline, brought such a case in December, only to see it dismissed for jurisdictional reasons.
The legislative committee reviewed a DVD recording of an interview with abortion opponents’ star witness, who said the mental health problems Tiller saw in patients couldn’t justify aborting viable fetuses.
A Wichita-area psychologist later said that assessment was wrong, though anti-abortion members of the committee were skeptical.
Meanwhile, Morrison’s office said playing the DVD could make it harder to find an impartial jury.
“I don’t know what, if any, repercussions that’s going to have,” Morrison said. “We’ll have to talk about it.”
Morrison didn’t attend the legislative hearing.
Tiller’s attorneys have repeatedly said he is innocent.
“This is just another attempt to dredge up the dismissed case peddled by Phill Kline,” said attorney Dan Monnat. “Dr. Tiller has fought for years to protect the privacy of the women’s medical files. It’s sad that once again, these women have to continue to wonder whether the content of their files is going to be exploited for political gain.”
The legislative committee’s hearing became the arena for reviewing allegations against Tiller because it is reviewing the 1998 late-term abortion law. It may recommend changes.
The law applies after the 21st week of pregnancy and when a fetus can survive outside the womb. For an abortion to be performed, two doctors must conclude that if the pregnancy continues, a woman or girl could die or face “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function.” Also, the two physicians cannot be legally or financially affiliated.
Abortion opponents believe the law was meant to prevent doctors from aborting viable fetuses unless there was a medical emergency. More than 2,600 late-term abortions have occurred in Kansas since the law took effect.
Kline alleged that Tiller performed 15 abortions in 2003 when his patients suffered from conditions such as anxiety or single-episode depression.
Before Kline left office, he paid Paul McHugh, the former chairman of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins University, to review records from Tiller’s clinic. McHugh would have been an expert witness for the state had Kline’s case gone forward, and he’s still listed as a potential witness in Morrison’s case.
In June, two weeks before Morrison filed his charges, McHugh sat for a 44-minute interview arranged and recorded by abortion opponents.
“There’s no psychological condition for which abortion is the cure,” he said during the interview.
“We’re talking about the loss of a life, the life of a pain-feeling, sensory-feeling, fully organized human being,” he said of the late-term abortions. “These are the very kinds of little babies that are being taken care of in ICUs all around our country.”
After the committee reviewed McHugh’s interview, psychologist Douglas Mould of Benton testified that McHugh trivialized some of the mental problems women with unwanted pregnancies face. Mould said some potential problems, such as postpartum depression, could be serious enough to justify an abortion.
Abortion opponents also want to revive Kline’s case in court. On Wednesday, they presented a petition with more than 7,800 signatures, almost three times the number necessary, to force a grand jury to convene in Sedgwick County to investigate Tiller.
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