WICHITA | Physician George Tiller’s abortion trial resumed Tuesday with defense attorneys trying to distance their client from the consulting physician who provided the second opinion required by Kansas law for late-term procedures.
Tiller, one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers, is on trial this week in Sedgwick County District Court on 19 misdemeanor charges stemming from abortions he performed at his Wichita clinic in 2003. He is accused of breaking a state law requiring that a doctor performing a late-term abortion first obtain a second opinion from an independent Kansas physician.
Prosecutors allege that the doctor he used for a second opinion — Ann Kristin Neuhaus — had improper legal and financial ties to Tiller, noting her only income at the time came from patients she saw at Tiller’s “one-stop shop.” The defense argued she only came to his clinic for the convenience and safety of patients, pointing out she paid for her own expenses, such as malpractice insurance and travel costs.
Patients paid her a $250 to $300 consultation fee in cash.
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Prosecutors Tuesday tried to cast doubt on her testimony that such consultations were common between physicians by bringing up a discussion she had with Tiller about her fees when he was recruiting her. The prosecution was trying to show truly independent physicians don’t discuss their fees with other doctors for referrals.
But Neuhaus insisted that she could not remember whether she had ever discussed with Tiller her consulting fee, even after being shown notes Tiller purportedly took during a conversation over her fees when he recruited her in 1999.
“You are the one bringing it up. Why don’t you ask Dr. Tiller?” she snapped back at prosecutor Barry Disney.
During questioning by Disney the day before, Neuhaus repeatedly claimed that she could not recall events. Under cross-examination by the defense on Tuesday, she provided more detailed answers, as well as criticism of former Attorney General Phill Kline, an anti-abortion Republican whose investigation of Tiller formed the basis for the current charges against him.
Neuhaus first testified about her relationship with Tiller in a 2006 inquisition under a grant of immunity from Kline, saying Tuesday that she feared prosecution because under Kline “it was open season” on abortion providers. She also likened that 2006 inquisition to a “torture chamber.”
The current attorney general, Stephen Six, also granted her immunity two months ago.
Kansas law allows abortions after a fetus can survive outside the womb only if two independent doctors agree that it is necessary to save a women’s life or prevent “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function,” a phrase that’s been interpreted to include mental health.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Dan Monnat, Neuhaus said she sometimes declined to concur with a late-term abortion. She testified she was not aware of any abortion that Tiller performed after she refused to consent to it, but added she would have no way of knowing.
Her political views on abortion rights did not affect her medical judgment, she testified, adding that, among other things, she assessed the patient’s own beliefs and feelings about abortion.
Neuhaus acknowledged that she had restrictions on her medical license, but jurors were told few details about those circumstances, other than that it involved anesthesia practices.
Neuhaus was accused in 2001 of performing an abortion after a patient withdrew permission. Under an agreement with the State Board of Healing Arts, which regulates doctors, she changed her consent forms and addressed the board’s concerns about how she kept records and administered sedatives.
She testified that she closed her clinic in 2002 to care for her child who was diagnosed with diabetes.