Abortion clinic to turn over some records
Topeka ? A Planned Parenthood clinic in suburban Kansas City plans to turn over a limited number of patient records to a grand jury investigating abortions there, a clinic attorney said Friday.
But the local prosecutor said he’s waiting to see whether the clinic’s actions comply with a subpoena issued by the grand jury last month. The subpoena demanded the records of 16 patients.
The clinic, Comprehensive Health in Overland Park, has been battling in Johnson County District Court with District Attorney Phill Kline over whether the subpoena should be enforced. Abortion opponents successfully petitioned the county to force it to convene the grand jury.
After a court hearing in Olathe on Friday, Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney who represents the clinic, said its attorneys and two independent attorneys representing the grand jury have agreed on how the records will be handled. He said the dispute over the records is resolved.
But Kline wasn’t sure. He said whether the dispute is resolved depends on exactly what the clinic turns over to the grand jury. He also said the clinic is being compelled to produce the documents by District Judge Kevin Moriarty.
The judge declined after the hearing to discuss the case in detail or reconcile the parties’ conflicting accounts.
“What I can say is that the grand jury will be able to look at 16 files they need to continue their investigation,” Moriarty said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t matter how we got there.”
The clinic already faces 107 criminal charges filed by Kline, an anti-abortion Republican, in October. The charges include 23 felonies alleging that the clinic falsified records it submitted on its activities to the state. Kline also alleges the clinic performed illegal late-term abortions. The clinic says it has committed no wrongdoing.
Abortion opponents had started gathering signatures to create a grand jury before Kline filed his case. Kansas has allowed residents to petition for a grand jury since 1887 and is one of six states with such a process.
The records the clinic plans to turn over to the grand jury concern two restrictions on abortions in Kansas law, Irigonegaray said.
One mandates that the clinic notify a parent or guardian when a minor seeks and abortion. Another imposes a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and requires the clinic to provide information to a patient about the procedure and other medical issues.
“We want to turn over the information,” said Peter Brownlie, chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. “We just want assurances over how those records will be handled, who will see them and who will have copies of them.”
But Kline said his office would review the records to determine if Planned Parenthood had complied with the subpoena.
Two attorneys appointed by Moriarty at the grand jury’s request and lawyers for the clinic had been negotiating over what records the clinic would turn over and under what conditions.
Both Brownlie and Irigonegaray said the two groups thought they had an agreement earlier this week. Brownlie said Kline’s objections scotched the deal, and Irigonegaray said grand jury members wanted the agreement written so that it was understandable to non-lawyers.
Kline said the real problem was that most grand jury members hadn’t seen the agreement before it was presented in court. Once they did, Kline said, they balked at its terms.
Irigonegaray said the clinic’s attorneys and the grand jury’s counsel reached a new agreement in principle, though it must be put in writing.
He said the records the clinic turns over will be edited so that any information that could identify a patient will be removed. Also, the records will remain with the grand jury.
While Kline and his staff can review the documents, Irigonegaray said, they’ll have to examine them in the grand jury room with the jurors present. Kline’s office won’t be allowed to make copies, he said.
“We have absolutely no trust in their judgment or their ability to maintain the confidentiality of any information from us to them,” Irigonegaray said. “Strict controls have been placed on the records.”
Kline said he doesn’t object to any of the conditions.
He also has said repeatedly that there has never been any danger that patients’ identities would become public. In one court filing earlier this week, he called the clinic’s concerns “irrational.”