TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A doctor who performs abortions was charged yesterday with violating Kansas law on late-term procedures, a surprise move from a Democratic attorney general who recently unseated a prominent anti-abortion Republican.
Attorney General Paul Morrison filed 19 misdemeanor counts purporting that Dr. George Tiller, one of the few U.S. physicians performing late-term abortions, got second opinions from a doctor who was not financially and legally independent from him, as the law requires. Mr. Morrison's predecessor, Phill Kline, had unsuccessfully prosecuted the same doctor for different reasons.
At a press conference yesterday, Mr. Morrison described the accusations as a "technical violation" of a 1998 law restricting late-term procedures. "And it's my job to enforce the law," he said.
Mr. Kline filed 30 misdemeanor counts against Dr. Tiller in December, after Mr. Morrison defeated him but before he left office. He said Dr. Tiller performed 15 illegal late-term abortions in 2003 on patients ages 10 to 22.
A judge quickly threw out those charges over jurisdictional issues, but Mr. Morrison started his own review after taking office in January.
Mr. Kline and other abortion opponents had predicted that Mr. Morrison wouldn't prosecute Dr. Tiller, given that Dr. Tiller helped finance tens of thousands of dollars' worth of anti-Kline advertising last year. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Morrison said he would not pursue 15 reporting-related charges Mr. Kline had filed.
Mr. Morrison, who supports abortion rights, said Mr. Kline's charges were "incorrect and based on a political agenda" and insisted that his own case "was not about politics or pursuing a personal agenda."
"During our review of Kline's 30 mistaken charges, we found a pattern — a pattern of referrals from one physician," he said.
The abortions in question involved cases in which patients were more than 21 weeks pregnant and the fetuses were able to survive outside the womb. Under such circumstances, Kansas law requires two independent doctors to conclude that if the pregnancy continues, a mother-to-be will face death or "substantial and irreversible" harm to "a major bodily function."
According to Mr. Morrison, Dr. Tiller listed the second doctor as Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus. Mr. Morrison said they had a financial relationship but did not elaborate.
Contact information for Dr. Neuhaus was not immediately available.
If convicted, Dr. Tiller could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine on each charge, Mr. Morrison said.
Dr. Tiller's attorneys, Lee Thompson and Dan Monnat, issued a written statement declaring their client's innocence.
"Today's announcement simply involves a difference of opinion between lawyers regarding unusual technicalities in Kansas abortion law procedure," they said.
Mr. Kline said he wouldn't comment until he reviewed what Mr. Morrison said yesterday.
Mr. Kline fought a high-profile, two-year battle to get the records of patients from two clinics that perform abortions, including Dr. Tiller's, saying he was trying to prosecute rapists, sex offenders and doctors who were involved in illegal abortions or failed to report sexual abuse.