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Vengeance on the prairie

Abortion | Two ethics investigations have cleared former Kansas prosecutor Phill Kline of allegations that he mishandled evidence in abortion cases, but he's now facing a third. Critics suspect that challenging Planned Parenthood was his real crime

Issue: "After Osama," May 21, 2011

LYNCHBURG, Va.-Recently Phill Kline, ex-attorney general of Kansas, approached the lunchroom vending machines in the Liberty University School of Law, where he is now a visiting professor. A maintenance worker looked up with a glimmer of recognition and asked, "How's that, ah, trial going?"

Kline paused and considered the allegations he faces, all stemming from the six tumultuous years he investigated Planned Parenthood and late-term abortionist George Tiller. The ethics hearing, which will conclude in July, is the state legal establishment's third investigation into Kline's efforts to prosecute the abortion facilities. The previous two had cleared him.

The allegations are that he misled judges and mishandled evidence while serving as attorney general and then Johnson County district attorney. Many pro-lifers, though, believe he's really on trial for trying to uphold Kansas law regarding child rape and late-term and underage abortions.

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Kline has spent over $250,000 of his own money on his defense. The fourth-generation Kansan has been so vilified in the media that he left the state to find work. Somebody in a grocery store threw a can of vegetables at him. His wife found her car smeared with feces. In the current trial he could lose his license to practice law in Kansas.

"I have faith in the truth," Kline, with a weary grin, told the maintenance worker, "not in the system."

The system has been very good to Planned Parenthood, which collects about $360 million in taxpayer dollars annually. Despite years of reports suggesting that Planned Parenthood workers nationwide routinely violate laws, no affiliate has ever been convicted in a criminal court. Until Kline, none had even been charged. If convicted, Planned Parenthood could lose its federal funding (see sidebar below).

In 2008, before losing his seat as Johnson County district attorney, Kline filed 107 criminal charges against Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri for manufacturing client records, failing to keep proper records, and failing to determine the viability of a late-term baby before performing an abortion. To many pro­lifers, the ethics hearing against Kline looks like an effort to discredit those charges and send a clear message to other prosecutors across the country who might investigate the group: Don't even think about it.

This story begins in 2000 when Kline, as a member of the Kansas legislature, co-authored a law that limited post-viability abortions to two exceptions: if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother or if two doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy would result in severe and "irreversible impairment of a major bodily function" of the mother.

When Kline became Kansas attorney general in early 2003, he began investigating child rape and illegal late-term abortions. After a year of legal wrangling that reached all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court, he and his investigators pried the relevant figures out of two state agencies, the Department of Health and Environment and the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

(The agencies answered at that time to strongly pro-abortion Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, now the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. In 2007 Planned Parenthood threw her a birthday party at which, according to its newsletter, local Planned Parenthood CEO Peter Brownlie led a conga dance around the ballroom.)

The numbers, when they finally arrived, were disturbing: During 18 months in 2002 and 2003, Planned Parenthood and Tiller performed 166 abortions on girls aged 14 or younger, yet state agencies had only one report of statutory child rape from each. Why weren't they reporting clear cases of child rape, as required by law?

Kline brought the evidence to District Judge Richard Anderson, who in October 2004, found probable cause and issued subpoenas to Planned Parenthood and Tiller's Women's Health Care Services for 90 records of late-term abortions, some involving children and some adult women. To preserve client privacy, Judge Anderson ordered the records sent straight to him; he would redact out the names of adult clients before passing them on to Kline. He needed the names of children to investigate possible cases of child rape.

The clinics objected. In January 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered that both sides file briefs regarding the subpoenas: That ruling was unusual because criminal investigators routinely obtain private medical records. Reporters broadcast the abortionists' briefs, by Court order made public a week before Kline's, and portrayed him as a fanatic using his office to pry into the sexual histories of vulnerable women. "The assault was unbelievable and unrelenting for the next several years," Kline said.

In 2006, the state Supreme Court ruled that Planned Parenthood and Tiller had to turn over the patient records. But, astonishingly, the Supreme Court also let Planned Parenthood and Tiller redact their own records before turning them over to Judge Anderson, even though they were the targets of a criminal investigation and Anderson already planned to black out names.


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