Archive for Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Decision on charges against Tiller expected within 2 weeks

July 16, 2008

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— A Sedgwick County judge said Tuesday that he will rule within the next two weeks on whether to dismiss criminal charges against one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers.

A written decision will be issued before a July 29 status conference with attorneys in the case against Dr. George Tiller, Sedgwick County District Judge Clark Owens said. He did not indicate how he would rule.

A decision on the defense request for a dismissal of the case on constitutional grounds has been pending since a November hearing on the matter.

"I have been working on it for the last several weeks, in fact, evenings and weekends. I actually got some time to do it during work hours today," Owens said. "But usually I have to do it evenings or weekends, because around here we don't ever get a letup. We are in one case after another, and there isn't any break to take major cases like this."

The Kansas attorney general's office filed 19 misdemeanor charges against Tiller in June 2007, alleging he broke a 1998 state law requiring that a second, independent Kansas physician sign off on most late-term abortions. Two doctors, without financial or legal ties, must conclude that if the pregnancy continues, the mother will die or face "substantial and irreversible" harm to "a major bodily function," which has been interpreted to include mental health.

Tiller relied on Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, of Nortonville and formerly of Lawrence, for his second opinion for abortions in 2003, and she had a financial relationship with him that is against the law, according to the criminal complaint.

Tiller's attorneys contend that the law creates an unconstitutional burden on a physician's right to practice medicine.

Also pending before the judge is a defense motion regarding the number of jurors who will hear the case. State law limits juries in misdemeanor trials to six members, but Tiller's defense has requested 12.

Owens said he was not certain whether he would rule on that motion before the July 29 status hearing, noting that he has been concentrating on the other matter.

A firm trial date likely will be set at the upcoming status conference, the judge said, adding that attorneys weren't ready to try the case until after a grand jury completed its investigation of Tiller. The grand jury declined to indicted Tiller on July 2, after a six-month investigation.

The panel was convened after abortion opponents circulated a petition. Kansas is one of six states that allows citizen-petitioned grand juries.

Frustrated with efforts to prosecute the doctor, abortion opponents are focusing their efforts on pressuring doctors and other businesses that have ties to him.

Hours after the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue urged a boycott of the Wichita Clinic on Monday, the clinic announced that its doctors had decided to stop providing second opinions for Tiller. The clinic said in a written statement that it learned Monday that two of its physicians had provided medical evaluations and second opinions of patients considering abortions.

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