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Legislators call on A.G. to reinstate Tiller case

Legislators call on A.G. to reinstate Tiller case
By John Hanna - Associated Press Writer
Lawrence Journal-World

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Topeka — Three legislative leaders who oppose abortion are calling on Kansas' attorney general to reinstate criminal charges filed by his predecessor against one of the few U.S. doctors performing late-term abortions.

Attorney General Paul Morrison, an abortion rights Democrat, said Friday he will have an announcement “in the near future” about Dr. George Tiller, of Wichita , without elaborating.

The legislative leaders, all House Republicans, said in a letter to Morrison that his failure to prosecute Tiller “seriously undermines public confidence in the rule of law.” The lawmakers made their letter public Friday, four days after sending it.

Outgoing Attorney General Phill Kline, an anti-abortion Republican ousted by Morrison, filed 30 misdemeanor criminal charges in December in Sedgwick County against Tiller, accusing him of violating restrictions in Kansas law on late-term abortions. A judge dismissed the charges over a jurisdictional issue the next day; Kline left the attorney general's office Jan. 8.

Pressure to prosecute

The House leaders, Speaker Melvin Neufeld, of Ingalls; Majority Leader Ray Merrick, of Stilwell; and Speaker Pro Tem Don Dahl, of Hillsboro, sent their letter amid growing pressure from abortion opponents to have legislators force Morrison to reinstate the criminal case.

Under a little-used Kansas law, the House or Senate can force the attorney general to file a criminal or civil case by passing a resolution. Anti-abortion groups Operation Rescue and Kansans for Life want House members to do that, and they're having a rally Tuesday to build pressure.

The three leaders acknowledged the possibility in their letter to Morrison but also said they respected his office's role in prosecuting cases.

“A resolution, while it is possible, should be a last-ditch effort if the attorney general just stonewalls and doesn't do anything at all,” Neufeld said during an interview.

Morrison said in his own letter to Neufeld, Merrick and Dahl that he has assigned an assistant attorney general to Tiller's case full-time.

“The people of Kansas elected me to use my independent judgment and legal expertise,” Morrison wrote. “I can assure you that if I find evidence that a crime has been committed, I will file new charges against Dr. Tiller.”

Lee Thompson, a Wichita attorney representing Tiller, said the doctor has and will cooperate with “professional” prosecutors who don't have a political agenda.

“Dr. Tiller is innocent of any criminal conduct,” Thompson said. “A professional prosecutor cannot begin to let politically motivated legislators dictate something where they have no conception of what the evidence is.”

Tiller's Wichita clinic is the site of regular protests because he performs late-term abortions. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and eight years later, a woman who waited for hours outside the clinic shot him in both arms.

The doctor also helped finance hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising aimed at defeating Kline in 2002 and 2006. Before filing the charges against Tiller, Kline had waged a two-year legal battle to get patient records from the clinic.

“It really makes you question if the rule of law is still in force,” said Mary Kay Culp, Kansans for Life's executive director.


In his criminal complaint, Kline alleged Tiller performed 15 illegal late-term abortions in 2003 on patients aged 10 to 22, then failed to properly report the details to state health officials.

State law says an abortion of a viable fetus can be performed after the 22nd week of pregnancy to prevent “substantial and irreversible” harm to a major bodily function of the mother. Tiller reported that each of the 15 abortions in question was necessary to preserve the patient's mental health.

But in his complaint, Kline said, the patients were diagnosed with a “single episode” of major depression, acute stress or anxiety disorder or with no specific illness. The legal test — a patient facing “irreversible” harm — was not met in any of the cases, Kline alleged.

Sedgwick County District Judge Paul Clark dismissed the charges at the request of District Attorney Nola Foulston. He agreed with her that Kline lacked the legal authority to file a case in the county because Foulston hadn't consented. Kline argued the attorney general has the power to file a case in any county.

Abortion opponents filed an ethics complaint Thursday against Clark because he received contributions of $500 each to his 2004 re-election campaign from a law firm representing Tiller and Foulston and her husband.

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