Topeka A 15-year-old Kansas girl wanted to be a professional rodeo barrel-racer and saw the chance disappearing when she became pregnant. A girl from Illinois, also 15, had given up basketball because it no longer seemed fun. Half a dozen teenagers worried about being forced to drop out of school or forgo college. Distraught, they came to the late Dr. George Tiller’s clinic for late-term abortions.
Kansas law required Tiller to get a second opinion before performing each procedure, and his clinic turned to Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus for mental health exams. The clinic terminated each girl’s pregnancy in 2003 after Neuhaus told Tiller in a short letter with identical language each time that, without an abortion, the patient faced “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major physical or mental function.”
She concluded that Tiller’s patients suffered from acute anxiety, acute stress or a single episode of major depression. A complaint before the State Board of Healing Arts now accuses her of negligence in examining the mental health of 11 patients, aged 10 to 18, who received abortions after the 25th week of pregnancy at Tiller’s clinic in Wichita from July to November 2003.
Each girl’s story was covered this week in testimony before a hearing officer who will recommend to the board whether Neuhaus should face sanctions. The stories also are a part of the larger debate over abortion, because abortion opponents say the details show that Tiller found ways, with help from Neuhaus, to do late-term procedures for “social” reasons when Kansas law meant to restrict them to emergencies.
The patients’ worries about sports or school — and weeping, too — were noted when Tiller’s staff screened them for potential signs of mental health problems but were not specifically cited by Neuhaus in her own reports. The Associated Press examined the files produced for each patient by Neuhaus and Tiller’s clinic, edited to remove patient names or addresses. One belonged to a 10-year-old rape and incest victim from California.
“Separating the wheat from the chaff in cases of adolescents who are in tough emotional situations is the job of professionals like Dr. Neuhaus and the staff of Dr. Tiller’s former clinic,” said Robert Eye, one of Neuhaus’ attorneys. “The reasons for these abortions are not trivial.”
Neuhaus’ reports on her diagnoses, compiled with a “PsychManager Lite” computer program, are five pages or less and don’t cite details from patients’ statements or data gleaned from her exams. Dr. Liza Gold, a clinical psychiatry professor at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, reviewed Neuhaus’ records and testified that there’s not enough information in them to show exactly how Neuhaus reached her conclusions — or to help physicians who might later treat the patients.
Neuhaus, a general practitioner, contends the records and her care met accepted standards. Dr. Allen Greiner, a University of Kansas Medical Center professor and colleague in providing charity care, said Neuhaus did more than most family practice doctors who conduct mental health exams.
Neuhaus also testified that her records don’t contain more personal data about patients because she feared anti-abortion groups and officials might obtain the information and make it public, violating patient privacy.
Phill Kline, an anti-abortion Republican who was attorney general in 2003-07 and investigated abortion providers, called the argument “laughable” and said the lack of detail in Neuhaus’ files shows she did exams solely to clear the way for Tiller’s abortions.