Topeka Regulators say Dr. George Tiller wasn't responsible for the January death of a Texas woman who received a late-term abortion, but protesters against his Wichita clinic aren't satisfied with that finding.
The Board of Healing Arts closed a nine-month investigation without taking any disciplinary action. The board concluded that Tiller and his staff complied with state abortion laws and health care standards in performing the procedure on the woman.
Larry Buening, the board's executive director, notified Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of the board's findings in a Nov. 23 letter. Her office released a copy of the letter Wednesday, a day after the governor received the findings.
Buening wrote, referring to Tiller: "The unfortunate death of the patient was not caused by any act or failure to act by Licensee or his staff."
"The board has now concluded all inquiry and review of the matter and closed the investigation," Buening wrote.
Anti-abortion groups questioned whether the board's investigation was thorough and suggested Sebelius influenced its outcome. A supporter of abortion rights, she has received financial support in past campaigns from like-minded groups and individuals, including Tiller.
"I know she doesn't care about the unborn, but you'd think she'd give some semblance of care to the women involved," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group. "She is in bed with the abortionists."
Tiller declined comment. He hasn't discussed the specifics of the case, citing privacy reasons, but has said the clinic complies with all state laws.
Abortion opponents have cited the woman's death as evidence that tougher regulation of clinics is needed, and they've accused Tiller or his clinic of causing the death.
The woman was a 19-year-old resident of Keller, Texas, north of Fort Worth, and according to the autopsy report, she was mentally retarded. She was 28 weeks pregnant when she had the abortion, which was completed on Jan. 11.
The report said she was vomiting two days later when her family took her to a Wichita hospital. After her health deteriorated, "family members decided to provide comfort care only," the report said.
The family did not complain to the state or seek an investigation of the clinic, Buening said.
Buening's letter was a response to Sebelius' request in February that the board investigate the death. Anti-abortion activists had already demanded that Tiller be disciplined.
Tiller's clinic has been the site of protests for more than a decade because he performs late-term procedures. His clinic was bombed in 1985; a protester shot him in 1993.
The first report of the woman's death came from Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group that monitors Tiller's clinic.
Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue's outreach director, said board members "steadfastly refuse to do their jobs." She and other abortion opponents have repeatedly said the board historically has been slow to act on complaints against abortion doctors.
"I believe that every Kansan should be concerned about the board being unwilling to do their job to police the medical profession and protect the health and safety of patients," she said in a written statement.
And Kansans for Life suggested that Buening was beholden to Sebelius, who vetoed clinic-regulation bills sought by the group in 2003 and 2005. The governor appoints the board's 15 members.
But Buening noted that he started working for the board in 1984, nearly two decades before Sebelius became governor. Also, the board's appointment of an executive director requires Senate confirmation.
"The board looked at all of the issues in this," Buening said. "It was a thorough investigation."
Sebelius also defended the board.
"The Board of Healing Arts gets thousands of complaints every year, and it appears they gave this one their utmost attention, as they should have," she said in a written statement released after the letter. "We will continue to work to protect the health and safety of all Kansans and to ensure that patients receive quality health care."