- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Abortion foes are invoking a seldom-used Kansas law to try to force a grand jury to investigate the case of a mentally retarded woman who died after receiving a late-term abortion.

The case represents the latest skirmish over abortion in Kansas, which has become a major battleground, in part because of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few physicians in the country to perform abortions late in pregnancy.

Tomorrow, pro-life advocates plan to present Sedgwick County with a petition signed by nearly 7,000 local residents asking a grand jury to look at the circumstances surrounding the death of Christin Gilbert, a 19-year-old woman from Keller, Texas, whose family brought her to Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Wichita for an abortion in January 2005.

They want to see the doctor charged with such offenses as involuntary manslaughter, mistreatment of a dependent adult and failure to report abuse of a child. They contend the woman did not have the mental capacity to consent to either the sex or the abortion.

A 1970 Kansas law allows citizens to call for a grand jury investigation when they think local law-enforcement agencies have failed to act. Kansas is one of the few states with such a law.

“The deeper we looked into this case, the more we realized there was a lack of justice — a travesty that has been committed,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue in Wichita.

Dr. Tiller declined to comment. Julie Burkhart, the spokeswoman for the clinic and director of the pro-choice group ProKanDo in Wichita, also had no comment yesterday.

Last year, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, which regulates doctors, cleared Dr. Tiller in Miss Gilbert’s death. Although an autopsy listed complications from the abortion as the cause of death, the board concluded that neither Dr. Tiller nor his staff was responsible.

Pro-life groups questioned whether the investigation was thorough because Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, appointed many of the board’s members and has received campaign contributions from Dr. Tiller and other pro-choice supporters.

“We trust the Board of Healing Arts conducted a thorough investigation in this matter, and we have no further comment,” Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said.

Miss Gilbert, who had Down syndrome, was 28 weeks pregnant when her parents took her to the Wichita clinic. She died three days later from an infection. Activists contend proper medical monitoring of the woman’s condition should have found the infection and her worsening condition.

Under state law, a grand jury may be summoned within 60 days after a petition is presented bearing the signatures of slightly more than 2 percent of a county’s registered voters. If the signatures are found to be valid and a judge determines the petition is in proper form, a grand jury can be convened to decide whether to bring criminal charges.

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