The Inquisition of Dr. George Tiller by the State of Kansas
By Dianne R Layden
Former Kansas Attorney General Phillip Kline may be disbarred following ethics hearings in 2011 on charges related to his investigation—called an inquisition in Kansas—of Dr. George Tiller in 2003-2009. “Kline and others attempted to impose their private religious beliefs on the state and Dr. Tiller, rather than follow the rule of law regarding separation of church and state,” according to Stephen Singular in his book, The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle over Abortion.
Dr. Tiller performed abortions in Wichita until he was murdered at church in May 2009. Singular called him America’s most prominent late-term abortion doctor, saying: “He served women who were facing beyond-difficult pregnancies because of serious or possibly fatal fetal diseases with unwavering compassion for these women and their circumstances.” A towering array of flowers at Dr. Tiller’s funeral spelled out “TRUST WOMEN.”
Anti-abortion protests include picketing, verbal attacks on clinic employees and patients, vandalism, arson, and murder. Dr. Tiller’s office was bombed in 1986 and picketed for decades—he was shot in both arms in 1993. His home, car, and office were heavily secured, and he usually wore a bulletproof vest in public. At church, the shooter was able to fire a gun into Dr. Tiller’s head.
The killer was Scott Roeder: white supremacist, anti-government activist, anti-abortionist. He had stalked Dr. Tiller since 2002 and allegedly vandalized an abortion clinic twice the week before the shooting by gluing the doors shut. After the murder, Roeder boasted that Wichita was no longer “the abortion capital of the world.” Anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue and Kansans for Life attempted to distance themselves from him. Roeder wanted to make his trial a forum on abortion, but the judge limited it to a first-degree murder trial based solely on the evidence. The jury convicted Roeder in about 40 minutes and sentenced him, at age 52, to a minimum of 50 years in prison.
A strain of fanaticism that overrides the rule of law, according to Singular, has moved from the fringes of American society into the mainstream over the past 25 years. For example, a new wave of television commentators has sought to attract audiences by demonizing individuals and the legal rules and systems of government that bind together our social agreements. On Fox-TV, Bill O’Reilly repeatedly referred to Dr. Tiller as “the Baby Killer,” media behavior sometimes called “trolling for assassins.”
Singular also emphasized the ongoing attack on women’s reproductive rights and an accompanying misogyny that is expressed in religious terms. Abortion, like homosexuality, is viewed by evangelicals as a mortal sin. Abortion doctors became public enemies—four were murdered in the U.S. in 1993-1998. The wishes and needs of women are not considered by anti-abortion activists, who “don’t want women to be able to make their own choices in the reproductive realm. They want the state to dictate those choices—and these are the same groups that constantly demand ‘smaller government’ and more personal freedom.”
Efforts to restrict access to abortion through legislation intensified in 2011. Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, allowed state regulation after the first trimester of pregnancy. As of July 2011, according to the Gutmacher Institute, 19 legislatures had passed 80 state laws that restrict a woman’s right to choose abortion, more than double the previous record of 34 in 2005. Examples are mandated waiting periods, counseling, and sonograms; elimination of insurance coverage; and bans after 20 weeks or fetal viability. Although public funding of most abortions is illegal, federal and state legislative efforts have sought to terminate funding to Planned Parenthood and similar organizations for any family planning services.
Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline’s anti-abortion views are well known. In 2004, Kline—with state Supreme Court approval—obtained confidential medical records of women who had abortions, ostensibly to check for abortions performed on underage girls and failure to report child sexual abuse.* The court ordered the names removed, a ban on making copies, and avoidance of publicity that would compromise patient privacy. Kline appeared on TV with Bill O’Reilly in 2006. O’Reilly implied to an audience of millions that he had had access to records that indicated Dr. Tiller performed late-term abortions to alleviate “temporary depression” in pregnant women.
In March 2009, a jury determined in less than an hour that Dr. Tiller had operated within the law for 35 years. When the legal system failed to end his abortion practice, according to Singular, Scott Roeder bought a gun, began taking target practice, and murdered Dr. Tiller two months later.
Regarding corruption, the Kansas Disciplinary Board for Attorneys’ complaint concluded that Kline, as Attorney General and then as Johnson County District Attorney, and his subordinates violated ethical standards and breached the public trust by misleading courts and state agencies about their true purpose in obtaining medical records—discovering the redacted names of patients, perhaps to threaten and shame them. Kline and subordinates also obtained guest records from Wichita’s La Quinta Inn and, thereby, 221 patient names, addresses, and telephone numbers; staked out, followed, and recorded license plate numbers of employees and visitors to Dr. Tiller’s office; used flawed data to justify their investigation; made false statements in legal matters; mishandled confidential records by making copies, not storing them securely, and moving them to Johnson County; and publicized the case despite judicial warnings. A decision on disbarment is expected on October 15, 2011.
*Kline issued a legal opinion in 2003 that the state child abuse statute required doctors, nurses, school counselors, psychotherapists, and others to report any form of sexual contact by children under age 16. To protect privacy and access to health and counseling services, the Center for Reproductive Rights, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, obtained a permanent injunction in 2008. The legislature later amended the law to eliminate wording that supported Kline’s interpretation.