updated 3/16/2009 7:23:57 PM ET 2009-03-16T23:23:57

Potential jurors in a criminal trial of one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers were told Monday to set aside their personal views about abortion, and at least one was dismissed after she said she couldn't.

"This trial is not a debate about abortion," Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney said as jury selection began in Sedgwick County District Court. "It is not about whether abortion is right or wrong. ... This trial is about whether the defendant has violated the law."

Dr. George Tiller is charged with 19 misdemeanors alleging he failed to obtain a second opinion for late-term abortions from an independent physician, as required by Kansas law. If convicted, the Wichita doctor could face a year in county jail or a fine of $2,500 for each misdemeanor charge.

Tiller and his clinic have been a target of abortion opponents for decades. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and an abortion opponent shot him in both arms in 1993.

His attorney Dan Monnat hinted at the defense strategy while questioning potential jurors by saying Tiller has never "knowingly or intentionally" been financially affiliated with the doctor who provided second opinions.

Wichita was the site of the 45-day "Summer of Mercy" event staged by Operation Rescue in 1991. Those mass demonstrations and clinic blockades led to more than 2,600 arrests. One of those arrested, the Rev. Pat Mahoney, was back in Wichita on Monday for Tiller's trial.

"This case not only impacts Wichita, but it impacts the nation," Mahoney said.

Opponents plan vigil
Abortion opponents plan prayer vigils during the trial, and abortion-rights supporters also plan demonstrations.

Disney told prospective jurors that prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that Tiller performed the 19 late-term abortions and that he was required to obtain a second, independent opinion. Jurors need only decide whether Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, who provided Tiller with second opinions, had a financial or legal relationship with him, Disney said.

One potential juror was dismissed after saying she was biased against Tiller and would find it hard to let go of her anti-abortion views.

Another was let go after saying he has seen too much about the case in the media. A third man was dismissed because he did not understand English well.

Jury selection was to continue Tuesday.

Kansas law allows late-term abortions if two doctors agree that it is necessary to save a woman's life or prevent "substantial and irreversible" harm to "a major bodily function," a phrase that has been interpreted to include mental health.

Prosecutors contend Tiller broke the law because he had a financial relationship with Neuhaus, who has been granted immunity from prosecution and could testify.

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