Wichita Abortion provider Dr. George Tiller must turn over thousands of patients' files to a grand jury while his attorneys take the legal battle over the medical records to the state's highest court, a Sedgwick County judge ruled Friday.
The edited patient records won't have the women's names, but they will have patient-identification numbers. Tiller's attorneys claimed that in an earlier case, former Attorney General Phill Kline was able to track down patients' names using the identifying numbers on patients' files.
As part of his investigation into Tiller's clinic, Kline had obtained redacted records from 60 of the doctor's patients. Kline eventually filed 30 misdemeanor charges against Tiller before leaving office last year, only to see the case dismissed for jurisdictional reasons.
Laura Shaneyfelt, one of the doctor's attorneys, told Sedgwick County Judge Paul Buchanan on Friday that if Kline could use that information to identify patients, then someone else could as well. Buchanan is overseeing the grand jury's investigation into Tiller's clinic and had ordered the doctor to comply with three grand jury subpoenas seeking 2,000 patient records and the names of current and former employees and referring physicians.
"This is the kind of abuse we know can happen, we have seen happen, and these women are terrified will happen," Shaneyfelt said.
Shaneyfelt said Kline cross-referenced patient file numbers with abortion records at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, then subpoenaed records from Wichita's La Quinta Inn, where patients were staying, to match dates with names.
After the hearing, Brian Burgess, a spokesman for Kline, who is now Johnson County district attorney, disputed Shaneyfelt's account.
"No patients have ever been identified," Burgess said.
He declined further comment, citing a related case now under seal before the Kansas Supreme Court.
Although he wouldn't say what case he was citing, Kline and Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which operates an abortion clinic in Overland Park, are embroiled in a lawsuit that remains under seal. Neither Kline nor Planned Parenthood have discussed the case, but Kline also obtained records from Planned Parenthood while he was attorney general.
Tiller's attorneys on Friday also asked the Kansas Supreme Court to prevent Tiller from having to turn over the records while the justices decide whether to quash the grand jury's subpoenas. However, barring a quick ruling from the high court, Tiller was supposed to start handing over records Friday.
Tiller attorney Dan Monnat told reporters that the doctor's lawyers found out Kline had been able to obtain the patient names when discovery material was turned over to Tiller in a criminal case filed by Paul Morrison, who replaced Kline as attorney general but has since resigned over a sex scandal. That case against Tiller is still pending.
The grand jury is seeking all health care records of patients who aborted a fetus determined to be 22 weeks or older from July 1, 2003, through Jan. 18 at Tiller's clinic, Women's Health Care Services.
Another subpoena seeks all health care records of each patient who was at least 22 weeks pregnant when she consulted with a physician at the clinic but did not have an abortion.
The grand jury also wants information about past and current employees and patients' referring physicians.
Buchanan on Friday ordered attorneys to comply with all the subpoenas, turning aside arguments that the subpoenas violate the privacy rights of women seeking abortions.
Deputy Sedgwick County District Attorney Ann Swegle told Buchanan she opposed any delays, noting the grand jury is convened for a limited time.
The judge was unmoved by arguments from Tiller's attorneys that employees and doctors would be targeted by abortion protesters if their names were given to the grand jury and later leaked.