Thrust once again into the national limelight, Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline was accused Wednesday of seeking political gain by intimidating abortion doctors and their patients.
"What we are witnessing today is an alarming and escalating attack on medical privacy across the country," said Karen Pearl, interim president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Politicians with rigid anti-choice agendas are trying to rip apart the covenant that we have as providers with our patients."
Pearl said efforts by Kline and his counterpart in Indiana to subpoena records of abortion clinic patients were part of a trend by politically motivated, anti-abortion prosecutors who want to scare women away from seeking care protected by the Constitution.
Last year, Kline launched a closed-door inquisition that resulted in Shawnee County District Court Judge Richard Anderson issuing subpoenas for the records of 90 patients at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park and Dr. George Tiller's Women's Health Care Services in Wichita. Both clinics perform abortions.
Kline said he needed the records because he was investigating reports of sexual abuse against minors.
The clinics have asked the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn the subpoenas, arguing they were "overly broad" and that Kline was on a "fishing expedition."
Conference in Washington
Planned Parenthood officials spoke to a gathering of reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
They said that only three or four of the 29 medical records subpoenaed by Kline involved girls who had abortions before they turned 16.
None of the girls, they said, indicated they had been raped.
"The attorney general has repeatedly characterized this as being about child abuse and protecting minors. That is not the case," said Roger Evans, a senior attorney with Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
"The vast majority -- 90 percent -- of the files subpoenaed involved adult women," he said.
Kline, who was in Washington for a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored panel discussion of sexual exploitation of teenagers, disputed Evans' broadside.
"They're being selective in their comments on what I've said," Kline said. "Pursuant to this investigation, the crimes committed involve child rape and late-term abortions -- that's what I've said."
Tiller spokesman Bill Hoch declined to say how many of the Wichita clinic's subpoenaed files involved girls under age 16.
"We're not in a position to discuss that," he said.
Based on 'hunch'
Evans assured reporters that if Kline had sought specific, narrowly defined information -- such as whether child-abuse had been properly reported or whether required pre-abortion ultrasound tests had been performed -- it would have been provided within a confidential format.
"We respond to this kind of request -- requests that are narrow in focus -- all the time. They're routine," Evans said. To obtain this information, he said, "(Kline) doesn't need to go through somebody's entire medical file to get that information."
Because records in the inquisition remain sealed, Planned Parenthood officials said they didn't know what information Kline was seeking or what crimes he's alleging occurred.
"It's simply wrong to expect any doctor to turn over medical records of dozens of patients based on the hunch -- or I suspect in this case the hope -- of the attorney general that he might find evidence of crimes," said Peter Brownlie, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood's clinic in Overland Park.
Investigation vs. privacy
Kline said a court-imposed gag order prevented him from discussing details of the case. But court documents, he said, show that Anderson considered the allegations substantive and serious enough to warrant reviews of the entire files.
"The judge's ruling went beyond reasonable suspicion," Kline said. "He found probable cause."
The ruling, he said, stipulates that only the judge will review the files and the patient identities will in no way be revealed.
"I'll never see them," Kline said.
He called the clinics' appeal "unprecedented," saying it amounted to letting someone who's under investigation define what's subject to review.
But it's just as unprecedented, Brownlie said, for the attorney general to expect medical clinics to give up their patients' confidential files when their patients are not suspected of wrongdoing.
"If they want to investigate us, then they should investigate us," Brownlie said. "But we're not going to let them invade our patients' privacy to do it."
Not the first inquisition
The actions in Kansas and Indiana follow an unsuccessful attempt last year by then-U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to subpoena abortion records from several Planned Parenthood affiliates as part of the government's defense of a new law barring certain late-term abortions.
In Indiana, Planned Parenthood sued the state last week to stop the seizure of its clients' medical records, saying investigators were on a "fishing expedition," possibly to identify the partners of sexually active 12- and 13-year-olds. The records do not cover patients seeking abortions, but other services.
Planned Parenthood offers services that include pregnancy tests, screening for sexually transmitted diseases and abortions.
The lawsuit filed in Indianapolis seeks temporary and permanent injunctions barring Atty. Gen. Steve Carter and his Medicaid Fraud Control Unit from searching the private records of clients at 40 Planned Parenthood clinics across the state. Like Kline, Carter says he was investigating reports of sexual abuse against minors.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.