Kline says office received abortion records a week ago

Atty. Gen. Phill Kline said Tuesday night that his office has received the records of 90 patients from two abortion clinics and is reviewing them for possible crimes.

Kline said the crimes could include rape of a child and potentially illegal late-term abortions – two matters he has repeatedly discussed in public.

But they also could include incest, forcible rape and making a “false writing,” Kline told The Associated Press without elaborating.

Kline’s office received edited copies of the records a week ago, a legal victory for him in a two-year dispute that has brought him national attention and criticism from abortion rights groups. His battle with the clinics went from district court to the Kansas Supreme Court and back to district court.

“They’re being reviewed by criminal investigators and criminal prosecutors in this office,” Kline said of the records.

But Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney for one of the clinics, operated in Overland Park by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the records don’t show any wrongdoing by the clinics.

While Kline has said patients’ privacy always has been respected, Irigonegaray responded that had the clinics not fought Kline, his access to the records would have been unfettered.

“What he now has in his hands are facts regarding procedures, not identifications of individuals receiving those procedures,” Irigonegaray said in an interview. “Those facts do not justify Mr. Kline’s involvement in any further criminal action – none whatsoever.”

The attorney general’s disclosure came a week before the Nov. 7 general election, with Kline in a difficult race with Johnson County Dist. Atty. Paul Morrison. The Democrat has made Kline’s pursuit of the records a key issue in his campaign, even suggesting Kline’s efforts represent an abuse of power.

Kline opposes abortion, which has led abortion rights supporters to argue he’s on a fishing expedition designed to ensnare the clinics. Morrison supports abortion rights.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, said the dispute has been blown out of proportion by the clinics because Kline is simply trying to enforce Kansas law.

“What few laws we have, there needs to be an attempt to enforce them, or why do we even have them?” Culp said, referring to restrictions on abortion. “If he doesn’t attempt to enforce abortion laws, who else is going to?”

Kline’s dispute has been with Planned Parenthood’s clinic and one in Wichita operated by Dr. George Tiller. The clinics argued that giving the attorney general access to the records would invade patients’ privacy.

Kline said the records were turned over Oct. 24 by Shawnee County District Judge Richard Anderson, who had possessed them since August. Kline said the records were redacted so that individual patients could not be identified.

The attorney general said he still could seek the names of victims of child rape to build cases against the perpetrators, but won’t seek the name if an adult patient is involved.

“We don’t have it, nor do I want it,” Kline said. “I’ve never sought it.”

Irigonegaray said Kline would have seen unedited files if the clinics had not objected to the attorney general’s efforts early on.

Lee Thompson, a Wichita attorney representing Tiller, added, “That’s a matter of public record.”

Irigonegaray said he wants to send a signal to the patients and their families, “I will not rest and none of us involved in this case will rest until we are sure the threat to their privacy has been eliminated.”

However, Anderson wrote in an October 2004 order in the case that Kline was aware of “the need to conduct the investigation in the least intrusive manner to the privacy interests of patients.”

Kline said the targets of his investigation are rapists, sex offenders with child victims and doctors involved in abortions.

The doctors could include physicians performing abortions, providing a second opinion for late-term abortions or failing to report abuse of a child. They would not include patients’ family doctors who were not involved in the abortions, he said.

Irigonegaray said, “Nothing whatsoever in those records supports the proposition that our clients have violated the law.”

State law says that if the fetus is 22 weeks or older and viable, a woman’s or girl’s life must be in danger or she must face permanent damage to “a major bodily function” to obtain an abortion. However, a procedure the law calls “partial-birth abortion” is permitted to preserve a woman’s physical or mental health.

Also, the doctor performing the abortion must obtain a second opinion from an independent physician, and the reasons for the procedure must be stated in writing and reported to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Culp said the clinics wanted to stall Kline’s investigation until, they hoped, he lost his bid for re-election.

“What’s frightening is that it’s been working to a certain extent, as far as public opinion is concerned,” Culp said.

Morrison has attacked Kline’s efforts in a television commercial, suggesting Kline wants to put personal medical information in government hands.

Two groups have done anti-Kline mailings on the topic, spending more than $225,000. One of them received nearly $96,000 from a political action committee linked to Tiller.

Kline’s comments represented the most detailed statements he has made about his ongoing investigation.

When asked to comment on the strength of the evidence contained in the records, he said only: “If there was not a reason for this investigation to continue, it would cease. The investigation is continuing.”

But Thompson said Tiller’s records have been reviewed in the past by both a Sedgwick County grand jury and the State Board of Healing Arts, which licenses doctors, without findings of wrongdoing.

“We have always indicated that our clients are innocent of any wrongdoing,” Thompson said.

Anderson subpoenaed the records at Kline’s request in September 2004, concluding he had probable cause to believe they may have contained evidence of crimes. The clinics later asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

While Anderson didn’t give Kline unfettered access to the records, the Supreme Court imposed new guidelines for having them reviewed and edited before they were turned over to the district court. Under that process, neither Kline nor the judge saw the names of the patients involved.