WETZSTEIN: Lessons from abortion clinic probes

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The unusual citizen-driven grand jury investigations of two Kansas abortion clinics have now ended. The final score is 2-0, with pro-life groups winning zip.

Let’s pause for a post-mortem on one of the stories that has made Kansas, in the words of American Values President Gary Bauer, “the epicenter of the abortion debate.”

Kansas is one of six states that allows its residents to conduct a petition drive asking for a grand jury to investigate a suspected crime.

Last summer, pro-life groups used this process to target a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park and the Women’s Health Care Services (WHCS) in Wichita. WHCS is run by Dr. George Tiller, who is widely known for performing late-term abortions.

Kansas residents eagerly signed petitions asking for investigations of these two clinics, so both signature-collection efforts were finished quickly and easily.

Nothing else from this point on was quick or easy.

In December, after a side trip through the Kansas Supreme Court to get permission to proceed, Johnson County officials seated a 15-member grand jury to look into the Planned Parenthood clinic. The Sedgwick County grand jury investigating WHCS was impaneled a few weeks later.

The petitions asked both panels, among other things, to find out whether clinic officials had violated state law by performing abortions on viable fetuses (22 weeks or older) of women who were not in danger of suffering a “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

Both grand juries subpoenaed abortion records, with patient-identifying information redacted. Both clinics resisted, citing patient privacy.

Delays occurred. Witnesses testified. Some (but not all) documents were produced.

On March 3, the Johnson County grand jury said it was adjourning without issuing any indictments of the Overland Park clinic.

Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said this proved it had “nothing to fear” from the investigation.

Pro-life activists said the presiding judicial officials bent over backwards to accommodate the clinic’s lawyers.

You can call a grand jury, but you can’t make it indict.

On July 2, the Sedgwick County grand jury also adjourned without indictments. It said in a statement that although it found “a number of questionable late-term abortions” at Dr. Tiller’s clinic, unless state lawmakers adjusted the law, “we doubt that any investigation [of the clinic will] provide any basis for indictment.”

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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