Abortion case ends

Judge dismisses charges against Kansas doctor

December 28, 2006|By Stephanie Simon | Stephanie Simon,Los Angeles Times

A district court judge refused yesterday to reinstate criminal charges against a nationally known doctor who performs abortions, ruling that the Kansas attorney general had overstepped his authority in the case.

Last week, Attorney General Phill Kline charged Dr. George Tiller with performing illegal late-term abortions at his Wichita clinic and not reporting them accurately to state authorities. Hours later, Sedgwick County Judge Paul W. Clark dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds: Only the locally elected district attorney, he said, has the power to bring such charges.

Kline asked Clark to reconsider. At a brief hearing yesterday, the judge took another look at the legal arguments and upheld his previous decision.

"The case is dismissed. We're very pleased," said Lee Thompson, an attorney for Tiller.

Kline, a Republican, has appointed a special prosecutor to handle the charges against Tiller, including a possible appeal of the dismissal. But it is unlikely that any appeal could be resolved before Kline leaves office Jan. 8.

His successor, Democrat Paul Morrison, won election by painting Kline as an anti-abortion extremist. In a statement after the hearing, Morrison pledged to review the evidence carefully, but he strongly suggested that he would drop Kline's long-running investigation into Tiller's clinic.

"Kansans expect more from their attorney general than grandstanding and political stunts," Morrison said.

But the anti-abortion activists who pray daily outside Tiller's clinic are not willing to concede defeat.

Last spring, they gathered more than 7,700 signatures demanding that a grand jury be convened to investigate the death of a 19-year-old mentally disabled patient at Tiller's clinic. The patient, Christin Gilbert, died in January 2005 of complications from an abortion early in the third trimester. State health authorities cleared Tiller and his staff of wrongdoing. The grand jury found no grounds for criminal indictment.

Anti-abortion activist Troy Newman said he might begin another petition drive to seat a new grand jury - this time, to consider Kline's allegations about illegal late-term abortions.

Kansas law permits abortions of viable fetuses only if the woman's life is in danger or if two doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy would cause "a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." Tiller's clinic reported aborting 240 viable fetuses last year; Kline alleges that in some cases, the women were not facing irreversible health risks but were suffering from depression or anxiety.

District Attorney Nola Foulston, a Democrat, has asked Kline to turn over his evidence against Tiller so she can decide whether to file charges. But Kline has said repeatedly that he intends to keep investigating from the attorney general's office.

Stephanie Simon writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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