Topeka, Kan. – Hoping to end a criminal case against him, a high-profile abortion provider filed a legal challenge Monday to the constitutionality of part of a Kansas law restricting late-term procedures.
Dr. George Tiller, one of the few U.S. physicians performing late-term abortions, faces 19 misdemeanor charges in Sedgwick County District Court.
Attorney General Paul Morrison alleges that the Wichita doctor broke the law by consulting in 2003 on late-term procedures with a physician who had business ties to him. A 1998 law requires two doctors to sign off on some late-term procedures and says those physicians cannot have financial or legal links.
Tiller’s attorneys filed a motion Monday to dismiss the charges, arguing that the requirement is unconstitutional. They say it is vague, places an undue burden on a physician’s right to practice medicine and violates a woman’s right to obtain an abortion as outlined in court decisions.
“There is absolutely no guidance in the state as to what activities constitute legal or financial affiliation – or how a physician might avoid some prosecutor making such a finding,” the attorneys wrote.
One of the attorneys, Dan Monnat, said a hearing on the request is set for July 13.
Morrison spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said the attorney general had anticipated that Tiller would challenge the law’s constitutionality. “We will defend the constitutionality of the statute,” she said.
The law under which Tiller is charged applies when abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy and the fetus can survive outside the womb.
Two doctors must determine that continuing the pregnancy will lead to the mother’s death or cause “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function,” a phrase interpreted to include mental health. The second doctor cannot be “legally or financially affiliated” with the abortion provider.
In 19 such procedures from July 8, 2003, through Nov. 18, 2003, Tiller consulted with Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, according to Morrison’s complaint. The attorney general has said they had a financial relationship, although he hasn’t been more specific.
Neuhaus’ attorney has said Tiller did not pay her. Tiller’s attorneys have said the charges stem from “a difference of opinion” among attorneys about technicalities in the law.