- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) | For pro-lifers, the trial of one of the nation’s few late-term abortionists has been a long time coming, a chance for a little bit of justice after years of seeing their efforts thwarted.

To pro-choice activists, Dr. George Tiller’s trial, set to begin Monday, is the culmination of repeated harassment, a witch hunt in which his foes have been willing to do anything and everything to gain a conviction.

Dr. Tiller and his Wichita clinic have been regular targets of pro-life demonstrations, including the 45-day “Summer of Mercy” event staged by Operation Rescue in 1991. His clinic was damaged by a pipe bomb in 1986, and in 1993 a protester shot him in both arms.

Pro-lifers have long contended that Dr. Tiller illegally aborts fetuses that could survive outside the womb, and now a pro-choice prosecutor has brought a case charging him.

Kansas law allows late-term abortions if two doctors agree that it is necessary to save a woman’s life or prevent “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function,” a phrase that’s been interpreted to include mental health.

Dr. Tiller is charged with 19 misdemeanors accusing him of failing to obtain the required second, independent opinion from an independent physician that a late-term abortion is necessary. If convicted, the Wichita physician could face a year in the county jail or a fine of $2,500 for each charge.

Sedgwick County District Judge Clark Owens has set aside three days, beginning Monday, for jury selection. Opening arguments and trial testimony are set to begin March 23.

Defense attorney Dan Monnat said he could not comment on specific trial evidence. “But we can say this: Dr. Tiller is innocent,” Mr. Monnat added. “We expect the prosecution’s evidence and any defense evidence to make that very, very clear.”

Prosecutors contend Dr. Tiller had a financial relationship with the doctor he relied upon for his second opinion that an abortion was necessary, in violation of Kansas law. They expect to present their case in one day, and could call that physician, Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus of Nortonville, who has been granted immunity from prosecution.

“We are treating this case just like any other criminal case,” said Ashley Anstaett, spokeswoman for Attorney General Steve Six, a pro-choice Democrat.

Activists on both sides of the abortion debate plan to be out in full force for the trial. Trucks emblazoned with graphic images of aborted fetuses are set to arrive at the courthouse an hour before jury selection starts.

Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said the activists are not trying to influence jurors. Instead, he said, “We are hoping God will influence them.”

Pro-choice supporters plan to counter with their own demonstrations.

“This is just a continuation of the dog-and-pony show in trying to shut down [Tiller’s] Women’s Health Care Services [clinic] and trying to make women’s reproductive health care inaccessible,” said Julie Burkhart, a lobbyist with ProKanDo, a political action committee Dr. Tiller formed in 2002.

Opponents twice tried unsuccessfully to get grand juries to indict Dr. Tiller. Kansas is one of only six states that allow residents to petition to create a grand jury.

They also watched as another case - brought by a former state prosecutor - was tossed out on jurisdictional grounds. Although that case was different from the current one, the medical records gathered by former Attorney General Phill Kline, a Republican, formed the basis of both prosecutions.

The current case has survived numerous legal challenges, mainly over the way in which Mr. Kline handled his investigation, which Dr. Tiller’s attorneys contended was unconstitutionally selective and relied on evidence gathered illegally.

Even as Dr. Tiller’s trial begins, abortion foes are pushing a bill in the Legislature that would threaten his medical license if he’s convicted.

The bill would require the State Board of Healing Arts, which regulates Kansas doctors, to revoke a medical license for just one violation of the abortion law, unless two-thirds of the board decides otherwise. Under current law, a license isn’t revoked until a second or later offense.

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