Wichita Jurors on Friday acquitted one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers on charges he violated Kansas law requiring an independent, second opinion for the procedure.
Dr. George Tiller was found not guilty of 19 misdemeanor charges stemming from some abortions he performed at his Wichita clinic in 2003. Prosecutors had alleged that a doctor he used for second opinions was essentially an employee of his and not independent as state law requires.
If convicted, Tiller had faced a year in jail or a fine of $2,500 for each misdemeanor charge. Tiller, 67, stared straight ahead as the verdicts were read, with one of his attorneys patting his shoulder after the decision on the final count was declared. His wife, seated across the courtroom, fought back tears and nodded. The couple refused to speak to reporters afterward.
Tiller’s troubles may not be over. Moments after the verdict was announced, the state’s Board of Healing Arts made public a complaint against Tiller on similar allegations. The board, which regulates doctors, could revoke, suspend or limit his medical license, or fine him.
The complaint was filed in December but not released until Friday.
Kansas law allows abortions after a fetus can survive outside the womb only if two independent doctors agree that it is necessary to save a women’s life or prevent “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function,” a phrase that’s been interpreted to include mental health.
Jurors took only about an hour to reach their verdict after getting the case earlier Friday.
Tiller claimed the prosecution was politically motivated. An attorney general who opposed abortion rights began the investigation into Tiller’s clinic, but both his successor, who filed the criminal charges, and the current attorney general support abortion rights.
Tiller has been a favored target of anti-abortion protesters, and he testified that he and his family had suffered years of harassment and threats. His clinic was the site of the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests marked by mass demonstrations and arrests. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and an abortion opponent shot him in both arms in 1993.
Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus provided second opinions on late-term abortions before Tiller performed them.
According to trial testimony, Tiller’s patients paid Neuhaus $250 to $300 in cash for providing the consultation and the only way patients could see her was to make an appointment with Tiller’s office.
Tiller testified that he used Neuhaus based on advice from his lawyers and from Larry Buening, who was then executive director of the Board of Healing Arts.
Prosecutors tried to show that Tiller ultimately relied on his lawyers’ advice — an important distinction because the judge told attorneys before their opening statements that relying on the advice of an attorney cannot be used as a legal defense to criminal charges.
Prosecutors also questioned Tiller about the conversation with Buening, noting that Tiller had testified that Buening said he couldn’t quote him.
Prosecutor Barry Disney asked Tiller whether it was reasonable for him to rely on something that a person has said he would not back up. Tiller insisted it was.
“It might be embarrassing for it to be public knowledge,” Tiller said.
Tiller also testified that in about five cases each year, Neuhaus would disagree with him about the necessity of a late-term abortion. When she declined to concur, the abortion was not done, he said.
Tiller estimated that he performed 250 to 300 late-term abortions in 2003, each costing an average of $6,000.
Tiller said he is one of three doctors in the U.S. who currently perform late-term abortions. The others are in Boulder, Colo., and Los Angeles, he said.