Kline probe goes beyond abortions

Clinics under investigation for allegedly failing to report abuse

? Atty. Gen. Phill Kline’s desire to get the medical records of 90 patients who received abortions is part of a much broader investigation than he has previously stated, it was revealed Thursday.

During oral arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court, Kline’s chief deputy, Eric Rucker, said that Kline was investigating a wide range of allegations of child rape, illegal late-term abortions and failure by clinics to report instances of child abuse.

The investigation also has spilled over into probing births by underage girls, Rucker said.

“Documented evidence of child rape, incest or other sexual felonies existed within a number of records,” Rucker said, emphasizing that the clinics were targets of the investigation.

But Rucker, under questioning from Justice Carol Beier, conceded that Kline, an ardent opponent of abortion, had requested subpoenas of records only from clinics that offered abortions and not records of anyone else who is required to report child abuse, such as teachers and health care professionals.

Representatives of the clinics operated by Wichita’s Dr. George Tiller, a longtime foe of Kline’s, and Planned Parenthood in Overland Park denied any wrongdoing and accused Kline of going on a “fishing expedition” and playing to his political base by trying to intimidate women seeking abortions.

Attorney Lee Thompson, of Wichita, who represented the clinics, said Kline’s pursuit of the patients’ medical records, which include a wide range of personal information, was an invasion of privacy.

“It doesn’t even meet the test of logic,” Thompson said.

The court took the case under consideration and gave no indication when it would issue a ruling.

The legal arguments presented before the court focused on the competing interests of personal privacy versus the state’s powers to investigate alleged crimes.

But the subject matter was abortion and the dispute prompted rallies and news conferences throughout the day by abortion rights supporters and abortion opponents.

In the courtroom, however, justices zeroed in on a previously secret inquisition by Kline into the clinics and a counter-allegation by the clinics that Kline should be held in contempt of court for violating a gag order in the case.

To defend Kline against the contempt allegations, the attorney general brought in former Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan. The court took that matter under advisement, too.

Earlier this year, Kline got a state district judge in Topeka to issue subpoenas for 90 patients’ medical records to investigate potential crimes.

Kline has said the alleged crimes included sexual abuse of minors and conducting illegal, late-term abortions. On Thursday, Rucker said the clinics themselves were the targets of the investigation for allegedly failing to report instances of sexual abuse.

The clinics, which still have the records, have asked the state Supreme Court to block the subpoenas or narrow them.

Thompson said Kline failed to prove a compelling state interest for the records and that he sought the most invasive way of getting them.

If the records are turned over to authorities, those women’s rights to privacy have been violated, he said.

“Once the bell is rung, it can’t be unrung,” he said.

Rucker said the records were indispensable to the investigation and that a lower court judge had already determined enough evidence had been presented to order that records be turned over to the court.

Kline, who did not attend the hearing, said in a prepared statement that his office would never reveal identities of the women whose records he sought.

Thompson said that was little solace to the women because under the subpoenas, their names and personal information would be seen by the judge or his designees.

On the contempt charge, the clinics argued that Kline violated a court order by releasing a transcript of a court hearing.

But Stephan, the former attorney general, said it was the clinics who were publicizing the case and that release of the transcript produced no harm.

Thompson said release of the transcript was contrary to the court order and undermined Kline’s promise to protect the identity of the women whose records he seeks.