George Tiller will learn today when he’ll be scheduled for trial, after a judge ruled Monday that prosecutors can proceed with 19 misdemeanor charges against the Wichita abortion provider.
Sedgwick County District Judge Clark Owens denied a motion by Tiller’s lawyers to dismiss the charges, brought more than a year ago by the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. Owens will meet with lawyers today to decide scheduling.
Dan Monnat, one of the lawyers who represents Tiller, said he expects arguments to continue over the abortion records from Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Services clinic, which led to the charges.
Tiller has denied that he had an inappropriate professional relationship with a doctor who gave second opinions.
A 1998 Kansas law requires women seeking certain late-term abortions to get an independent medical opinion. Before a woman can terminate a pregnancy on a potentially viable fetus, the law requires two doctors to agree that the abortion is necessary to preserve the life and health of the mother. Courts have determined this includes mental health.
Prosecutors say Tiller had a financial relationship with Ann Kristin Neuhaus, a Nortonville doctor who provided second opinions on Wichita abortions in 2003.
Owens ruled that the state’s requirement for a second opinion doesn’t put an “undue burden” on a woman’s constitutional right to seek an abortion.
“A second physician requirement arguably ensures that a woman receives more information about her decision from another physician who does not stand to benefit financially from the abortion,” Owens wrote in a 35-page opinion that also outlined 35 years of abortion law in the United States.
Owens pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court’s original 1973 ruling that upheld a woman’s constitutional right to receive an abortion said that states have an increased interest in limiting abortions the closer a woman gets to the end of her pregnancy.
Monnat said he expects the debate to continue over the abortion records from which the attorney general’s office based its charges.
“We are still going to have to look closer at about how it was determined that the attorney general was justified in going after women’s abortion records,” Monnat said.
The records were obtained by then-attorney general Phill Kline in 2006, after a lengthy legal battle that reached the Kansas Supreme Court.
Kline had been pursuing the records of 90 women and girls who had abortions at the clinic since 2003 — the first year he took office.
He got the records in October 2006, just before his defeat for re-election by Paul Morrison. Morrison’s office reviewed the records then filed the current charges on June 28, 2007.
Seven months later, Morrison resigned after a sex scandal. Stephen Six, Morrison’s appointed successor, inherited the case.
Assistant Attorney General Veronica Dersch continued the prosecution.
Abortion opponents had reason to celebrate with Owens’ ruling. The groups last year petitioned to empanel a grand jury to further investigate Tiller. But that grand jury disbanded July 2 with no indictment.
Kansans for Life says it still doesn’t trust Six, a Democrat, with the prosecution.
“The assistant AG’s in court have been a disappointment,” said Mary Kay Culp, the group’s state director, “and given the current AG’s penchant for laying down for Tiller, we’re not sure where they will end up at trial.”
Reach Ron Sylvester at 316-268-6514 or [email protected]. All content © 2008 THE WICHITA EAGLE and may not be republished without permission.
By RON SYLVESTER