Doctor’s privacy claims criticized
Records pledged to be kept from Kline may have been sent to political group
Topeka ? Amid this week’s debate over Atty. Gen. Phill Kline’s attempts to obtain the medical records of women and girls seeking late-term abortions, Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller reaffirmed a pledge to protect his patients’ privacy.
But even after Tiller’s attorneys issued a statement including that promise, the Web site of his Women’s Health Care Services clinic said fund-raising staff for the clinic and a political action committee may receive information about patients and solicit them for money.
The apparent inconsistency — a mistake, Tiller’s spokeswoman said — was quickly noticed by Kansans for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group. They called it proof that Tiller isn’t as concerned about patient privacy as he claims.
“I don’t know if I can quite convey how hypocritical this is,” said Mary Kay Culp, the group’s executive director.
Kansas for Life pointed out the Web site statement Friday morning. By early afternoon, after a reporter contacted clinic spokeswoman Julie Burkhart, it was no longer online.
“That was actually mistakenly put on there,” she said. Burkhart said Tiller doesn’t disclose the information to fund-raising staff and said she didn’t know how the statement was placed on the site.
Culp was skeptical. She predicted the clinic would remove the statement once reporters asked about it.
On Thursday, Kline called a news conference to defend an investigation in which he is seeking medical records from two abortion clinics. The clinics, unnamed in court documents, said Kline wants the records of nearly 90 women and girls who had late-term abortions.
Kline has said he is pursuing child rape cases — sex involving someone under 16 is illegal in Kansas — and violations of state laws governing late-term abortion. But he’s faced questions about his motives because he opposes abortion.
Kline has stressed the child rape aspect of his investigation, saying Friday he didn’t know when he started the inquiry that the abortion clinics would have the records he wants.
The clinics have asked the Kansas Supreme Court to intervene and order the records be kept private. Two Wichita attorneys representing one of the unidentified clinics issued statements on Tiller’s behalf this week, but both Kline and Tiller’s attorneys have declined to confirm that Kline is seeking records from Tiller.
Also this week, Kline disclosed an investigation by Texas authorities involving a 19-year-old woman who received services at Tiller’s clinic and later died in Wichita. The Texas attorney general’s office said the inquiry involves events in that state, not the death. On Monday, Kansans for Life said Kansas health care regulators were investigating a reported death of a Tiller patient.
In documents, the clinics from which Kline wants records have suggested his efforts will invade patients’ privacy. Tiller’s attorneys have said he follows legal requirements to protect his patients, and Burkhart said Monday, “We will defend that right of privacy to the very end.”
But the statement on Tiller’s Web site, removed Friday, said the clinic may disclose patients’ names, addresses and phone numbers, as well as dates they were treated, to fund-raising staff.
“We may contact you to request a contribution to support important activities of Women’s Health Care Services, PA and/or ProKanDo,” the statement said, referring to the clinic and the Tiller’s political action committee.
The statement also said patients who do not want fund-raising requests could contact the clinic’s privacy officer.
Burkhart also serves as ProKanDo’s lobbyist. The group raised nearly $386,000 for its political activities in 2003 and 2004, including more than $96,000 from Tiller or his wife, according to campaign finance records filed with the secretary of state’s office.
In 2002, Tiller gave ProKanDo $153,000 just before the November general election. The group contributed the same amount to a Democratic political action committee, which then bought radio advertising against Kline, who was running for attorney general.