Grand Jury: Late Term Abortion Not A Crime

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A Kansas grand jury declined Wednesday to indict one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers, saying it did not find enough evidence to indict him on any crime related to abortion laws.

In a written statement, grand jurors said that unless the Legislature amends state law and provides clearer guidelines, it is unlikely any investigation will provide a basis to indict Dr. George Tiller.

The panel said it reached its decision after a six-month investigation that included hearing witness testimony and reviewing documents and medical records of patients of Women's Health Care Services.

Grand jurors said they believed the state Legislature made an earnest attempt to limit late-term abortions by including the words "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function" to prohibit the abortion of a viable fetus unless two doctors find the abortion was necessary.

"Our perception is that these words were used to insure that only the gravest of circumstances would allow the abortion of a viable fetus," according to the grand jury statement. "However, the medical records reviewed by this jury revealed a number of questionable late-term abortions with regard to the diagnosis of 'substantial and irreversible impairment."'

But jurors wrote that as the current law has been written -- and interpreted by the Kansas Supreme Court -- late-term abortions will continue for many circumstances that as a matter of common interpretation do not meet the definition.

"Unless, and until the state Legislature is willing to amend the present statutes and provide clearer and more definitive guidelines regarding 'substantial and irreversible impairment,' or impose new or additional statutory limitations on the ability of a woman to obtain an abortion of a viable fetus, we doubt that any investigation into the practices and procedures of Dr. Tiller and the Women's Health Care Services will yield an outcome that will provide any basis for indictment," the grand jury wrote.

Lee Thompson, one of the attorneys representing the doctor, said the decision shows Tiller is following the law. He said he appreciated the grand jury's service, and its statement reflects why this is a legal and medical decision.

"Dr. Tiller complies with the law and the scurrilous attempts by extremists to suggest otherwise should now be put to rest and disregarded in the future," his lawyers said in a statement. "Now that the grand jury has reviewed files from the past five years, Dr. Tiller hopes that these continuous politically motivated witch hunts will end and that women can seek reproductive health care in the privacy that is Constitutionally mandated.

"Repetitive grand juries do nothing but cost the taxpayers money -- especially those motivated by extremists groups who have no credibility," Tiller's defense attorneys said.

The grand jury was convened after abortion opponents circulated a petition calling for the Tiller investigation. Abortion foes contended Tiller has violated a 1998 law restricting late-term abortions. Kansas is one of six states that allows citizen-petitioned grand juries.

The Kansas attorney general's office has filed 19 misdemeanor charges against Tiller in Sedgwick County alleging that the doctor failed to obtain a second opinion for some late-term procedures from an independent physician, as required by law. That trial has ben repeatedly postponed, and is now scheduled for July 28.

But many abortion opponents believe Attorney General Steve Six should be pursuing more serious charges, which is why they forced the grand jury to convene.

"The Wichita grand jury's statement independently validates the legal analysis and charging decisions made by the Kansas attorney general's office," AG spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said in an e-mail.

It is unlikely the grand jury's statement will end the controversy.

Within minutes of the announced decision, Operation Rescue President Troy Newman issued his own statement saying abortion opponents were extremely disappointed the grand jury did not indict Tiller.

"Once again, we are suspicious that corrupt influences in the government, which have been influenced by Tiller's large financial involvement in Kansas politics, may have thwarted justice once again," Newman said.

Operation Rescue said it would not stop seeking justice. (Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)