Kansas legislators who oppose abortion are divided over whether the attorney general’s office should investigate the state health department’s shredding of documents later sought as evidence in a criminal case against a Planned Parenthood clinic.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, said he wants to see the response from the health department, now under different leaders than when the records were destroyed in 2005. House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, and Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, said they need more information about what happened.
But House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, and Rep. Steve Brunk, a Bel Aire Republican, said the attorney general’s office needs to investigate the shredding, which could hamper the criminal case filed in Johnson County in 2007 against Planned Parenthood’s clinic in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. Brunk is chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which reviews abortion legislation.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office won’t comment about the shredding, and officials in Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration won’t say whether an internal investigation is under way.
Planned Parenthood attorneys have described the shredding as a routine, mandated under state regulations setting schedules for destroying old papers. But abortion opponents are suspicious because the shredding occurred in the administration of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an abortion rights Democrat who later became U.S. health and human services secretary.
The criminal case was filed by former prosecutor Phill Kline, a Republican abortion opponent, and it’s been described by anti-abortion groups as the first in the nation against a Planned Parenthood clinic. Kline was investigating the clinic in 2005, and the 107 charges he eventually filed alleged that the clinic created false copies of the records later shredded by the health department, which were 23 reports on individual abortions filed with KDHE in 2003, as required by state law.
“This smells like some very selective shredding,” Brunk said. “There needs to be an investigation, and it should come out of the attorney general’s office.”
A preliminary hearing to determine whether the case goes to trial was scheduled for last month, but the Johnson County district attorney’s office persuaded a judge to delay it because of the shredding.
A hearing is scheduled Nov. 9 to assess the district attorney’s progress in identifying potential witnesses and alternative evidence. Planned Parenthood has argued that the 23 counts of falsifying documents — the only felony charges — should be dismissed.
Kinzer said he’s confident the health department, now under Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican abortion opponent who took office in January, will examine the circumstances thoroughly. Schmidt, a Republican who also took office in January, supported new restrictions on abortion as a state senator but wasn’t seen as an anti-abortion leader.
Kinzer said the shredding raises troubling questions but added, “I just want to make sure I’ve got more information before accusing anybody of anything.”
The health department declined a request from The Associated Press for a copy of a memo that the agency sent to the Johnson County district attorney’s office about the shredding.
Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said, “There’s nothing in the record that indicates a conspiracy or that gives any explanation as to what happened.”
Kline began investigating the clinic months after taking office as attorney general in 2003. He obtained copies of the abortion reports before they were destroyed, but KDHE officials never declared in the court record that they were authentic.
In 2006, Planned Parenthood was required to turn over abortion patients’ medical records to the Shawnee County judge, each with a copy of a report on the procedure to the health department. Planned Parenthood acknowledged in a recent court filing that the copies submitted in 2006 had “certain idiosyncrasies” compared to the copies on file with KDHE in 2003.
Kline lost his bid for re-election as attorney general in November 2006 but became Johnson County district attorney, filing the case against the clinic in October 2007.
He alleged the clinic failed to maintain its copies of the reports, as required by law, and produced false copies to satisfy the Shawnee County judge. Planned Parenthood officials deny wrongdoing.
In September, Kline’s successor as district attorney, Republican Steve Howe, subpoenaed the health department’s copies of the 23 reports — only to learn they’d been shredded in 2005.
“It was irresponsible for those papers to be destroyed,” Siegfreid said. “I’d like to have the AG look at it.”
Pilcher-Cook sees “a huge red flag,” particularly because, according to officials, similar reports filed by the late Dr. George Tiller’s clinic in Wichita in 2003 weren’t destroyed until 2010. Still, she said she needs more information to know “from what angle” an investigation should come.