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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2007

A.G. alleges former Lawrence doctor was not independent of Tiller’s office

August 11, 2007

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State Law

The following is the text of Kansas' late-term abortion law:

"No person shall perform or induce an abortion when the fetus is viable unless such person is a physician and has a documented referral from another physician not legally or financially affiliated with the physician performing or inducing the abortion and both physicians determine that:

  • "(1) The abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman; or
  • "(2) a continuation of the pregnancy will cause a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."Source: Kansas Statute 65-6703(a)

— A doctor who provided second opinions on late-term abortions for Dr. George Tiller worked out of his Wichita clinic, and the consultations were the bulk of her medical practice, Attorney General Paul Morrison alleges.

Morrison accuses Tiller of breaking a Kansas law requiring a second, independent physician to sign off before some late-term abortions can be performed. Morrison has filed 19 misdemeanor charges against Tiller in Sedgwick County, each one dealing with a procedure in which the second physician was Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, of Nortonville and formerly of Lawrence.

Details of Morrison's allegations about the Tiller-Neuhaus relationship emerged Friday during a district court hearing on Tiller's case, as attorneys argued about whether the 1998 law is constitutional. Previously, Morrison hasn't discussed the specifics publicly.

"You want a second opinion completely away from the doctor performing the abortion," said Jared Maag, the attorney general's deputy solicitor general. "It's not hard to see where the Legislature is coming from."

Attorneys for both Tiller and Neuhaus said the two weren't financially affiliated because, among other things, patients - and not Tiller - paid her, and the two doctors had separate bank accounts. Tiller's attorneys contend the law is too vague to provide guidelines on what conduct is prohibited - making it unconstitutional.

"It has no explicit standards," Lee Thompson, one of Tiller's attorneys, said during the court hearing.

The state has evidence that Neuhaus consulted with the patients inside Tiller's clinic and that the work represented most of her medical practice, Assistant Attorney General Veronica Dersch said after the hearing.

In court, Thompson said, except for the abortion consultations, "They suggest this woman worked out of her home and did not have a practice."

Thompson said such an arrangement would not automatically mean the two doctors were financially affiliated. For example, Thompson said, many computer technicians have home offices and provide services only in clients' offices.

"Is a contractor who gets 100 percent of his business from the federal government affiliated with the federal government?" he said.

And Neuhaus' attorney, Jack Focht, of Wichita, said that just because a doctor voluntarily limits his or her practice, "That doesn't make one dependent."

Dersch said after the hearing that the state has additional evidence of an affiliation, but she declined to discuss it.

Abortion opponents have known that Neuhaus provided second opinions on abortions Tiller performed after the 21st week of pregnancy, when the fetus can survive outside the womb. In those cases, both doctors must conclude that a woman faces death or "substantial and irreversible" harm to a major bodily function.

Neuhaus once operated a clinic in Lawrence that performed abortions but shut it down in 2002, saying it was about $100,000 in debt. She had faced questions about her operations and whether she had once performed an abortion on a patient who had withdrawn consent. She had to change her consent form and some procedures in a settlement with the state board that licenses and regulates physicians.

Anti-abortion groups have said repeatedly that Tiller relies on Neuhaus for second opinions because she won't prevent him from doing any procedures.

But in court, Thompson said: "The state possesses evidence that she did not always agree with Dr. Tiller."

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