WICHITA, Kan. — One of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers was acquitted Friday of misdemeanor charges stemming from procedures he performed, but moments after the verdict the state’s medical board announced it was investigating allegations against him that are nearly identical to those the jury had rejected.
Prosecutors had alleged that Dr. George Tiller had in 2003 gotten second opinions from a doctor who was essentially an employee of his, not independent as state law requires, but a jury took only about an hour to find him not guilty of all 19 counts.
Tiller, who could have faced a year in jail for even one conviction, stared straight ahead as the verdicts were read, with one of his attorneys patting his shoulder after the decision on the final count was declared. His wife, seated across the courtroom, fought back tears and nodded. The couple declined to speak to reporters afterward.
“You would hope it would be over,” said Tiller attorney Dan Monnat, “but there is a group of people who want to suppress the constitutional rights of women.”
Tiller, 67, has claimed that the prosecution was politically motivated. An attorney general who opposed abortion rights began the investigation into Tiller’s clinic more than four years ago, but both his successor, who filed the criminal charges, and the current attorney general support abortion rights.
More trouble ahead
Prosecutor Barry Disney said the case was one “that needed to be tried for the community, for everyone to have resolved.”
Soon after the verdict was announced, the state’s Board of Healing Arts made public a complaint against Tiller that alleges, as prosecutors did, that Tiller and Neuhaus had financial or legal ties that violated the law regarding abortions performed in 2003. The complaint was filed in December but not released until Friday.
The board, which regulates doctors, could revoke, suspend or limit Tiller’s medical license, or fine him.
Board spokeswoman Kristi Pankratz said the criminal case and its outcome did not affect the administrative case, which will “proceed on its own merits.” No hearings have been scheduled yet, she said.
Tiller has been a favored target of anti-abortion protesters, and he testified that he and his family have suffered years of harassment and threats. His clinic was the site of the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests marked by mass demonstrations and arrests. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and an abortion opponent shot him in both arms in 1993.
Kansas law allows abortions after a fetus can survive outside the womb only if two independent doctors agree that it is necessary to save a women’s life or prevent “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function,” a phrase that has been interpreted to include mental health.
Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus provided second opinions on late-term abortions before Tiller performed them.
According to trial testimony, Tiller’s patients paid Neuhaus $250 to $300 in cash for providing the consultation and the only way patients could see her was to make an appointment with Tiller’s office.
Tiller testified that he used Neuhaus based on advice from his lawyers and from Larry Buening, who was then executive director of the Board of Healing Arts.
Opponents express frustration
Prosecutors tried to show that Tiller ultimately relied on his lawyers’ advice — an important distinction because the judge told attorneys before their opening statements that relying on the advice of an attorney cannot be used as a legal defense to criminal charges. They also questioned Tiller about the conversation with Buening, noting that Tiller had testified that Buening said he couldn’t quote him.
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said abortion opponents were never confident that Tiller would be prosecuted aggressively enough by Attorney General Steve Six.
“Even if Tiller had been found guilty, he would have appealed to the Supreme Court,” Culp said, noting that four of the Kansas high court’s seven justices were appointed by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who supports abortion rights.
Phill Kline, the former attorney general who started the investigation, expressed frustration at the prosecutors who tried the case, noting that their only witness was Neuhaus.
“You do not win cases nor achieve justice by calling one witness and ordering your staff not to initiate any additional effort to gather evidence,” Kline said in a written statement.
Disney said his office had thoroughly investigated the case and “presented all the evidence that there was.”
Tiller said he is one of three doctors in the U.S. who currently perform late-term abortions. The others are in Boulder, Colo., and Los Angeles, he said.
Meanwhile, Sebelius signed a bill Friday ensuring that clinics give women and girls seeking abortions a chance to see ultrasound images before performing the procedure. The legislation, which takes effect July 1, also requires clinics to offer abortion patients a chance to listen to the fetal heartbeat.
Sebelius signed the measure as she awaits U.S. Senate confirmation as federal Health and Human Services secretary. Anti-abortion groups in Washington have criticized her nomination because she supports abortion rights.
The bill amends a state law requiring doctors to obtain a patient's informed consent before performing an abortion.
More on: late-term abortion
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