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Archive for Thursday, March 17, 2005

Clinics to notify patients of record requests

Abortion providers also accuse attorney general of violating gag order

March 17, 2005

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— Two abortion clinics on Wednesday accused Atty. Gen. Phill Kline of violating a court's gag order covering his pursuit of patient medical records, and both planned to notify the patients affected by the request.

Kline later reiterated that he needs the records as part of his investigation into child rape and potentially illegal late-term abortions.

Last year, at Kline's request, a Shawnee County judge issued subpoenas for the records of 90 patients from Dr. George Tiller's clinic in Wichita and the Overland Park clinic operated by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. Both clinics contend Kline is on a fishing expedition.

"I think he is doing everything he can to block access to these services," said Peter Brownlie, Planned Parenthood's local chief executive.

Kline's pursuit of the records has brought him national attention and infuriated abortion rights groups, who compare his efforts to unsuccessful attempts by former U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft last year to obtain records from Planned Parenthood nationwide.

Last week, the Kansas Supreme Court, at the clinics' request, lifted a gag order imposed by the same judge who subpoenaed the records. The clinics also have asked the Supreme Court to narrow the subpoenas or block them.

Brownlie and Bill Hoch, a spokesman for Tiller's clinic, said Kline violated the gag order by discussing the investigation publicly and including the transcript of an October district court hearing in documents his office filed last week with the Supreme Court.

Brownlie declined to comment on whether Planned Parenthood would seek disciplinary action against Kline.

Both clinics disclosed plans to notify patients in legal arguments they filed Wednesday with the Supreme Court. Brownlie said those patients have a right to know about Kline's investigation.

In his statement, Kline did not address the allegations that he violated the gag order but said his office would never release the names of patients He noted any records received from the clinic first would be turned over to the Shawnee County judge.

Kline also noted that county prosecutors from across the state are supporting him in his legal dispute with the clinics and said investigators routinely see medical evidence.

"Medical records are used in virtually every violent crime investigation, and you never read the name of a child rape victim in the paper," Kline said.

Brownlie and Hoch said the clinics routinely help criminal investigations, but typically authorities are seeking records after having identified a suspect. They said Kline's efforts are unusual because innocent patients' records are involved.

In the legal arguments filed Wednesday, clinic attorneys said Kline persuaded the Shawnee County judge to subpoena the records with a "one-sided" presentation of evidence, giving patients "no opportunity to contest whether that picture has any relation to reality."

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