updated 11/30/2005 4:48:59 PM ET 2005-11-30T21:48:59

An abortion doctor who has been the target of protests for years wasn’t responsible for the death of a mentally retarded Texas woman who received a late-term abortion at his clinic, state regulators concluded.

The Board of Healing Arts, which regulates physicians, closed a nine-month investigation, saying Dr. George Tiller complied with laws and health care standards in performing the procedure on the 19-year-old woman.

Her death in January, days after she visited his Wichita clinic, has been cited by abortion opponents, who accused Tiller or his staff of causing the death.

Tiller has been the subject of bitter protests because his clinic performs late-term abortions. His clinic was bombed in 1985 and he was shot by a protester in 1993.

Larry Buening, the board’s executive director, notified Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of the findings in a Nov. 23 letter. Her office released a copy Wednesday.

“The unfortunate death of the patient was not caused by any act or failure to act by Licensee (Tiller) or his staff,” Buening wrote.

Two anti-abortion groups, Kansans for Life and Operation Rescue, criticized the governor and questioned whether the board conducted a thorough review.

Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue’s outreach director, said board members “steadfastly refuse to do their jobs.”

Sebelius defended the board, saying it gets thousands of complaints and it appears they gave “utmost attention” to this one. “We will continue to work to protect the health and safety of all Kansans,” she said in a statement.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said Sebelius was “in bed with the abortionists.” The governor, a Democrat, supports abortion rights and vetoed clinic-regulation bills sought by the group.

Tiller hadn’t received a copy of the board’s letter as of Wednesday, spokeswoman Julie Burkhart said. He hasn’t discussed the specifics of the case, citing privacy reasons, but has said the clinic complies with all state laws.

Buening’s letter was a response to Sebelius’ request in February that the board investigate the death. While anti-abortion activists pressed for Tiller to be disciplined, the family of the woman who received the abortion did not make any complaint.

Tiller’s critics have said, among other things, that the woman — 28 weeks pregnant at the time of the abortion — was retarded and couldn’t consent to the procedure. An autopsy indicated the woman had Down syndrome, which is associated with retardation, but officials have declined to give details on her mental status.

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