Kansas official seeks abortion data

Attorney general wants to see records of clients of late-term procedure

February 25, 2005|By P.J. Huffstutter | P.J. Huffstutter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CHICAGO -- Kansas' attorney general, as part of a criminal investigation into child rape and late-term abortions, is demanding that two health centers hand over the complete medical records of nearly 90 female patients, including minors.

The investigation was disclosed in a filing to the Kansas Supreme Court by two unidentified clinics, which have been ordered by a district court judge to disclose the patients' names as well as their medical history, birth control and sexual practices, and other personal details.

Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate said they were surprised by the move and said it was rare for medical facilities to be ordered by a court to give such broad access to their records as part of a criminal investigation.

Yesterday, Attorney General Phill Kline -- a strong foe of abortion -- said at a news conference in Topeka, Kan., that he had to have access to the files and the entirety of these patients' personal information to do his job.

"I have the duty to investigate and prosecute child rape and other crimes in order to protect Kansas children," Kline said.

The two Kansas clinics have not been identified by name or location.

Debates about abortion issues rage fiercely in Kansas, in part because Wichita is the home of Women's Health Care Services, one of the country's few clinics that provide abortions to women in the later stages of pregnancy.

Women from all over the country travel to see Dr. George Tiller, who runs the clinic. Anti-abortion activists routinely picket Tiller and the clinic, and follow its employees home and around town.

Tiller and the Women's Health Care Services clinic declined to comment on the investigation yesterday or say whether they were involved in the matter.

In October, Shawnee County District Judge Richard Anderson ruled that the attorney general's office could get the files and information, after investigators said they suspected the records include cases in which adult women have undergone late-term abortions and girls 15 and younger have had abortions.

In Kansas, the age of sexual consent is 16. State law also prevents abortions from being performed at or after 22 weeks of gestation, unless done to protect the health of the mother.

"Rape is a serious crime, and when a 10-, 11- or 12-year-old is pregnant, they have been raped under Kansas law," Kline said at the news conference.

Attorneys for the clinics, who filed the 40-page legal brief Tuesday, are asking the state Supreme Court to quash the subpoena.

The clinics, which described the attorney general's subpoena as a "fishing expedition," countered that they would be willing to release the records as long as specific identifying information -- such as names -- was blocked out.

Otherwise, Kline would "learn the names and other identifying information of these women, and many intimate details of their lives ... none of which are likely relevant to the inquisition."

Kline said his office was pursuing these files to investigate possible crimes. A child's privacy is always protected, Kline said in a statement, "and the clinics should not act to protect the secrecy of the predator."

Other documents tied to the investigation, which was first reported by The Wichita Eagle newspaper, remain sealed.

Attorneys for the clinics said a gag order, issued by Anderson, prevents them from discussing the case.

The order also blocked the clinics from letting patients know that their records would be released, said Elizabeth Herbert, an attorney for one of the clinics.

"That's an outrageous violation of privacy," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "These people don't know their personal and private information are at risk. It's as if these women are being treated as terrorists or worse."

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