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Archive for Saturday, July 13, 2013

Judge reviews Jefferson Co. doctor’s fate in abortion case

July 13, 2013

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TOPEKA — Attorneys for a Kansas doctor who lost her license over referring young patients for late-term abortions argued in court Friday that state regulators punished her too harshly over allegations that she kept inadequate records.

But the general counsel for the State Board of Healing Arts said the doctor-regulating agency revoked Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus’ license because her “wholly inadequate” records suggest she did only cursory exams of the patients before giving the late Dr. George Tiller the second opinions he needed under Kansas law to perform late-term abortions at his Wichita clinic.

Neuhaus filed a lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court last year to overturn the board’s revocation, which prevents the 55-year-old physician from the small, northeast Kansas town of Nortonville from providing even charity care. A hearing Friday in her case was the last one scheduled before Judge Franklin Theis rules.

Abortion opponents believe Neuhaus helped Tiller circumvent state restrictions on late-term abortions by declaring that patients’ mental health problems were serious enough to warrant terminating their pregnancies. Tiller — among a few U.S. physicians known to perform abortions in the final weeks of pregnancy — was shot to death in May 2009 by a man professing strong anti-abortion views.

The board last year concluded that Neuhaus jeopardized the care of 11 patients, aged 10 to 18, with inadequate mental health exams in 2003.

Neuhaus and her attorneys have argued that she’s been the target of a long-running campaign by anti-abortion groups. Abortion opponents monitored Neuhaus’ activities for years, and the board’s case stemmed from a complaint from an anti-abortion leader in 2006.

Kori Trussell, one of Neuhaus’ attorneys, noted that no patients complained about Neuhaus’ care. He said the “real issue” is whether her records lack documentation of her actions, which doesn’t typically cost doctors their licenses.

“In other contexts, lack of documentation didn’t lead to revocation,” Trussell said. “So why the difference?”

Kelli Stevens, the board’s general counsel, said Neuhaus has a legal duty to maintain proper records so other providers have adequate information when treating patients later.

Stevens added there’s no evidence in Neuhaus’ records that she did much of anything in her exams.

“This case is not about abortion. It is in the context of abortion,” Stevens said. “What’s relevant to this case is the mental health evaluations.”

Theis gave no timetable for ruling, except to say, “It’ll be awhile.”

Neuhaus operated a clinic in Lawrence, at 205 W. Eighth St., from 1997 to 2002.

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