Tiller acquitted but will face counts before Board of Healing Arts

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Dr. George Tiller got his acquittal, but not his vindication. Not yet.

On March 27, a six-person jury in Wichita returned a verdict in the trial of Tiller, one of the few late-term abortionists in the United States: not guilty on all 19 misdemeanor charges.

If he had been convicted, Tiller faced possible fines, jail time, and suspension of his medical license.

The charges he was cleared of were less than those originally brought by former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, but pro-lifers hoped that even these weaker, more technical charges might finally shut down Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Services clinic.

The jury disagreed, and Tiller walked. Pro-lifers were disappointed but not surprised by the verdict.

But Tiller didn’t have long to savor his victory.

Moments after the verdict was announced, there was yet another announcement that Tiller would face 11 counts in a petition before the Kansas Board of Healing Arts.

The petition alleges misconduct similar to what Tiller was charged with during the just-concluded trial. The petition was filed on Dec. 12, 2008, but announced on March 27. No hearing date has been set.

According to Kansas’ strict late-term abortion laws, a viable fetus may only be aborted after the 21st week of pregnancy to save the life of the mother or if continuation of the pregnancy would “cause a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” which has been defined by the courts to include mental health.

Even then, the law requires an independent referral from a second doctor not financially associated with the doctor performing the abortion.

Ron Kelsey, archdiocesan pro-life consultant, accepted the verdict with a resignation tempered by hope for action by the Board of Healing Arts.

“My reaction is that I have confidence in jury trials,” said Kelsey. “[Jurors] made their decision based on the point in law that was being debated, and the fact that [Tiller] was acquitted is certainly not a reflection on the immoral acts he performed, but it was more on a point of law.”

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said the verdict did not surprise her. The issue had been narrowed down to Tiller’s financial relationship with the referring doctor, Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus.

“It was unfortunate that the prosecution didn’t take issue with the illegal abortions,” said Culp. “The only issue they brought up was financial. It would have made a difference if the jury had been told that the abortions themselves were illegal, and that [Dr. Neuhaus] rubber-stamped them.”

Culp believes the prosecutor tried hard with what he had, but she doesn’t think he was given the latitude or the resources to develop the whole case, said Culp.

The abortions were not done for reasons required by Kansas law, said Culp, which can be proven by Dr. Paul McHugh, the former head of the Johns Hopkins School of Psychiatry, who reviewed the cases of some of Tiller’s patients during Kline’s investigation.

During the trial, it was revealed that Tiller had a cooperative relationship with the former head of the Board of Healing Arts, said Culp. Now, there is a new executive director and board.

“[The board] can take Tiller’s license unless two-thirds of them agree not to,” she said. “We think something encouraging came out the moment after the verdict. The board may be concerned about their credibility after the trail.”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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