When Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed in 2009, and the murderer was still on the loose, someone close to Tiller told Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus she needed to leave her house as a precaution.
That’s how life has been for Neuhaus, a longtime associate of Tiller’s.
In an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World, Neuhaus said she sometimes wore a bulletproof vest. When traveling to work at Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Services clinic, Neuhaus would park her car somewhere else in Wichita, and a Tiller employee would pick her up so that anti-abortion activists, who held a daily vigil outside the clinic, wouldn’t copy down Neuhaus’ license tag.
That was the routine.
Associating with Tiller, a frequent target of anti-abortion violence, carried risks. But Neuhaus said she has no regrets about working with him.
“He was a highly complex person,” Neuhaus said. “He was one of the most profound people I could ever talk to. That was probably the reason I stuck with him through all the ordeals.”
Former abortion laws
For about eight years, starting in 1999, Neuhaus provided second opinions for patients at Tiller’s clinic for late-term abortions. Such referrals were required under Kansas law.
A complaint pending before the State Board of Healing Arts accuses Neuhaus of negligence in conducting mental health exams of 11 patients, ages 10 to 18, who terminated their pregnancies from July to November 2003. Neuhaus denies the allegations.
State law at that time restricted abortions starting at the 22nd week pregnancy if the fetus was viable. A patient had to face death or “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function,” which could include mental health. Neuhaus concluded the patients suffered acute anxiety, acute stress or single episodes of major depression.
Neuhaus said she has counseled many young girls who were raped and many young girls who simply didn’t make the connection between sex and pregnancy. And then there were women with abnormal pregnancies that she tried to help.
The feelings that surfaced among these girls and women were similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.
“Women are coming from all over the country with immensely complex stories. You are trying to do the best you can to deliver the medical help we are sworn to do,” she said.
Disappointed in Kansas
Neuhaus, who operated an abortion clinic in Lawrence from 1997 to 2002, said she has probably performed 10,000 abortions.
“The idea that I would be questioned by someone who has never dealt with abortion is a laughable irony,” she said.
While she is critical of anti-abortion advocates who have pursued cases against her, Neuhaus said it is the state of Kansas she is most disappointed in.
“To me, the state of Kansas was highly complicit in the murder of Tiller,” she said.
Tiller was one of a few U.S. physicians performing late-term procedures when Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion activist, went to Tiller’s church and killed him.
Two months earlier, Tiller had been acquitted of misdemeanor criminal charges, in which he was charged with failing to get an independent second medical opinion, in relying on Neuhaus for referrals, for late-term abortions.
The case against Tiller spanned the administrations of three attorneys general, starting with an investigation by anti-abortion Attorney General Phill Kline. That case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. Earlier this month, a Kansas disciplinary panel said Kline should be indefinitely suspended from practicing law in the state because of the dishonest way he investigated abortion clinics. Kline has said the finding is politically motivated.
Then in 2007, Attorney General Paul Morrison, who defeated Kline in the election, filed the misdemeanor charges against Tiller. The trial occurred during Attorney General Steve Six’s tenure.
“The people entrusted to make rational decisions” failed, she said, referring to the attorneys general.
After Tiller’s acquittal, Roeder gunned him down. Roeder is serving a life sentence in prison.
Dealing with anti-abortion forces
Neuhaus said that when anti-abortion activists didn’t get the court results they wanted “they go rogue.”
According to news reports, Roeder attended those court hearings in the case against Tiller, and kept up with Tiller developments through the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue, said Roeder would initiate contact with her. But Operation Rescue has said Roeder had no affiliation with the group.
Sullenger served about two years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in California in 1988. She has since renounced violence.
Reports have indicated the allegation against Neuhaus before the Board of Healing Arts stems from a complaint filed by Sullenger.
Neuhaus conceded that anti-abortion forces have been successful in getting more restrictive abortion laws passed in Kansas and across the country.
“We have a whole generation of women who are clueless about what it was like in pre-Roe days,” she said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
And even though she admired Tiller, Neuhaus said that if she had it to do over again, she probably wouldn’t have taken the health care route that she did.
“It’s not fair to your family,” she said.