Tiller testifies in own defense

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A doctor accused of violating Kansas’ late-term abortion law testified today that the head of the state’s medical board recommended the physician he used for the second independent opinion required for the procedure.

Dr. George Tiller, one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers, is accused of breaking a state law requiring that an independent Kansas physician sign off on any late-term procedure.

Tiller took the stand today, recalling a June 1999 conversation with Larry Buening, who was executive director of the Kansas Board of Healing Arts.

Tiller testified Buening implied the consulting physician, Dr. Ann Kristen Neuhaus, could “come down” to his clinic to meet with his patients.

“He said, Why don’t you use Kris Neuhaus and that will take care of all of your problems,’” Tiller testified.

Tiller went on trial Monday on 19 misdemeanor charges stemming from abortions he performed at his Wichita clinic in 2003. 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.

Tiller, 67, testified today that Neuhaus had no financial or legal interest in his clinic.

He also told jurors that he and his family have suffered years of harassment and threats from anti-abortion protesters. His clinic was the site of the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests marked by mass demonstrations and arrests. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and an abortion opponent shot him in both arms in 1993.

Jurors were shown photos of his bombed clinic, as well as a photo of him on a gurney being loaded onto an ambulance after he was shot.

He said federal marshals protected him not only during the 1991 abortion protests but also after another abortion provider was assassinated in 1994. That federal protection continued until 1997, he testified.

Prosecutors rested their case Tuesday after calling Neuhaus as their lone witness.

Prosecutors described Neuhaus as essentially a Tiller employee whose only income at the time came from patients she saw at Tiller’s clinic. 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.

Tiller’s patients paid Neuhaus a cash consultation fee of $250 to $300.

The state tried to cast doubt on Neuhaus’s 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 that truly independent physicians don’t discuss their fees with other doctors for referrals.

But Neuhaus insisted 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.

Neuhaus later acknowledged she had “an agreement” with Tiller whereby she would charge patients an agreed amount and he would start referring his abortion patients to her.

Neuhaus first testified about her relationship with Tiller in a 2006 inquisition under a grant of immunity from former Attorney General Phill Kline, an anti-abortion Republican whose investigation of Tiller formed the basis for the current charges against him.

Neuhaus testified Tuesday that she feared prosecution because under Kline “it was open season” on abortion providers. She also likened that 2006 inquisition conducted by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Maxwell to a “torture chamber.”

Kline said in an e-mail today to The Associated Press that he had never met Neuhaus, calling her allegations about the torture chamber “silly claims.”

He said she had a lawyer and was given bathroom and lunch breaks during the deposition. The current attorney general, Stephen Six, also granted her immunity two months ago.