Friday, March 27, 2009

Reproductive rights news from Kansas

A Kansas grand jury has acquitted one of the nation's handful of late-term abortion providers of 19 charges of performing illegal abortions. State officials have been out to get the Wichita physician for some time now. These charges against George Tiller were pretty technical. Kansas law requires that a second physician sign off on late-term procedures. The prosecutor claimed that Tiller had an illegal financial connection to one of his second-opinion providers. The New York Times reports:

Dr. Tiller’s clinic is one of three in the United States that perform late-term abortions, and he has been reviled by anti-abortion forces for decades. In 1986, a bomb exploded on the roof of his clinic here, Women’s Health Care Services. In 1991, some 2,000 protesters were arrested outside during summer-long protests; in 1993, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms by an anti-abortion activist while driving away from the clinic. Protests continue there almost daily....

The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, called the verdict “a setback.” Mr. Mahoney said that had jurors voted for conviction, “they would have put him out of business.” But Mr. Mahoney, who had predicted that the trial would “energize” anti-abortion forces, said it was a “very technical case” that was not relevant to other legal and legislative challenges to abortion.

Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney, who prosecuted Dr. Tiller, said the quick verdict probably resulted from the fact that the issue before jurors was clear and concise. “There wasn’t a lot for them to go back there and argue,” Mr. Disney said.

During testimony, both Dr. Tiller and Dr. Neuhaus, the only witness called by prosecutors, denied that there was anything improper about their financial relationship. Dr. Neuhaus testified that she misspoke during a 2006 deposition when she called herself a “full-time consultant” for Dr. Tiller.

The trial is not the end of Dr. Tiller’s legal problems. The state Board of Healing Arts is investigating a complaint that mirrors the accusations made in the trial.
Also in Kansas, Governor and Homeland Security Health & Human Services nominee Kathleen Sibelius has signed a law that will require that abortion clinics offer sonograms to patients. The Kansas City Star reports:

The new law also requires the state to make and distribute new pamphlets and a video about abortion and fetal development. And, it requires clinics to post signs telling patients that coerced abortions are illegal....

Last year Sebelius vetoed abortion legislation that included the sonogram provision but also went much further. That bill would have also required the state to collect more data on late-term abortions, given prosecutors more authority to access state abortion reports, and allowed relatives of women receiving late-term abortions to sue the provider if they suspected the abortion was illegal.
Sibelius is pro-choice, but hoped to avoid another showdown with an overwhelmingly antichoice legislature.

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