Topeka A Kansas doctor who's facing possible sanctions over her mental health exams for young patients testified during a Thursday disciplinary hearing that she never felt pressure from the late Dr. George Tiller's clinic to approve them for late-term abortions.
Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus said Tiller sought and she provided independent second opinions about whether Tiller's patients legally could obtain late-term abortions. A complaint before the State Board of Healing Arts accuses of her of negligence in exams for 11 patients aged 10 to 18, all at least 25 weeks pregnant, before referring them to Tiller for late-term abortions in 2003.
The state law requiring the second opinion also restricted abortions starting at the 22nd week of pregnancy, if the fetus was viable. It required that a patient face death or "substantial and irreversible" harm to "a major bodily function," which then included her mental health. Legislators tightened the law this year, and it no longer includes the mental health exception.
Neuhaus began providing second opinions for Tiller in 1999 and continued through 2006. She conducted exams in a private room in his clinic, driving there once a week from her home in Nortonville, about 30 miles north of Lawrence. She diagnosed the 11 patients covered by the complaint with acute anxiety, acute stress or single episodes of major depression.
"He told me never to take his opinion or feel pressured," she testified, referring to Tiller. "He wanted a completely independent opinion."
Neuhaus, a general practitioner, testified that she started doing mental health exams for pregnant women and girls more than two decades ago.
Attorneys for the board contend Neuhaus failed to meet accepted standards of care in her exams and have presented testimony that her records don't contain information about each patient to support her assessments. They've also said she used a computer program, "PsychManager Lite," to produce reports with what a Georgetown University professor described as "generic" statements about patients' health.
Neuhaus testified she couldn't have even purchased the software without a medical license and said it was developed by the authors of the most recent edition of psychiatry's diagnostic manual. She said she used it to compile information after interviews with patients.
"I wasn't expecting this thing to make decisions for me," she said. "There is no computer module — unless the government has some secret one, somewhere — to make medical decisions."
A single hearing officer is presiding over the case and will issue an order recommending whether Neuhaus should face sanctions. The 15-member board, mostly doctors, will make the final decision and has the power to revoke her Kansas license.
Neuhaus doesn't have an active medical practice, but her Kansas license allows her to provide charity care. The board says Neuhaus has asked to return her license to full, active status.
Anti-abortion groups have pushed the board to discipline Neuhaus since at least 2000. The hearing resulted from a 2006 complaint filed by Operation Rescue.
Tiller was one of a few U.S. physicians performing late-term procedures when a man professing strong anti-abortion views shot him to death in May 2009. The doctor had been acquitted two months earlier of misdemeanor criminal charges that, in relying on Neuhaus for referrals, he wasn't getting the independent second medical opinion as state law required.
Neuhaus performed abortions from 1994 to 2001 at a Wichita clinic and operated an abortion clinic in Lawrence from 1997 to 2002. She ended both practices, citing financial problems.
Cases about Neuhaus were before the board in 1999, 2000 and 2001, with some allegations dealing with record-keeping and handling of medications. In the past, she's had her ability to dispense drugs restricted or temporarily suspended. In 2001, she agreed to modify her clinic's procedures and allow random inspections of its records over two years.