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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

March-27-09

Dr. Tiller Vindicated!

A Wichita jury has just ruled that Dr. George Tiller, MD is not guilty of illegal abortion on all 19 criminal charges brought against him.

"We're very grateful and relieved. With this unanimous jury verdict, hopefully politicians and lawyers may at last understand that legal harassment of Dr. Tiller must end," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, reacting to the decision. The Feminist Majority Foundation, which runs the largest project in the nation to assist clinics targeted by anti-abortion extremists, has worked with Dr. Tiller and his clinics for some 20 years.

"He is a fine man who works to provide desperately needed health care services for women. In a modern nation with advanced medical knowledge, he should not have to go through such travails," said Kathy Spillar, Executive Vice President of FMF and Coordinator of FMF's National Clinic Access Project. "We need more doctors to stand up against ideological bullies."

Dr. George Tiller, medical director of the Women's Health Care Services clinic, is one of the few late-term abortion providers in the country. Desperate women with troubled pregnancies and with serious health problems come to Dr. Tiller's clinic from all over the country. He is often their last hope.

Dr. Tiller has courageously withstood repeated attacks by extremists, including massive blockades and arsons. In 1994, he survived an assassination attempt by an Army of God follower, in which he was shot and wounded.

Dr. Tiller's clinic has also faced nearly constant legal harassment, including two criminal grand jury investigations initiated by anti-abortion extremists under a citizen petition provision of Kansas law. Both grand juries found no basis for charging Dr. Tiller and were adjourned. And beginning in 2006, then-Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an anti-abortion zealot, launched an investigation of Dr. Tiller's clinic.

Kline subpoenaed the unedited medical records of 90 women and girls who sought late-term abortions in 2003 at Dr. Tiller's clinic, claiming he needed the records to prosecute cases of child rape. But many of these women were over the age of 16 - the statutory child rape age. So, Kline changed his rationale for requesting the records, saying he was looking for "potential" crimes involving violations of the state's late-term abortion laws. This was clearly a fishing expedition.

So far Dr. Tiller has been winning. Dr. Tiller fought back to protect his patients' right to privacy. After months of legal maneuvers, the Kansas Supreme Court finally ordered the files turned over but ruled that all medical records must have the patients' names and personal information withheld.

Shortly afterwards, Kline was resoundingly defeated in his reelection bid in 2006. But, Kline's successor, the new attorney general, used the patient records Kline had finally secured to file 19 criminal charges against Dr. Tiller, accusing him of violating a state law that requires a second physician's opinion before a late-term abortion can be performed. Each charge on which the jury just ruled he was not guilty carried a penalty of up to a year in prison if convicted.

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