Sometimes you have to go look for major stories, and sometimes they just fall right into your lap. This story belongs in the latter category.
Based as I am in Kansas City, I was asked to help produce a video by some folks trying to get justice in the case of Dr. George Tiller.
The video features one of America’s leading psychiatrists, the Harvard-trained Dr. Paul McHugh. McHugh is the one expert witness to have reviewed Tiller’s files, who is willing and able to talk about it.
The drama peaked Tuesday evening when the current Kansas attorney general, Paul Morrison, sent several staffers to a planned McHugh press conference in suburban Kansas City.
They were there to deliver to McHugh a menacing letter from Morrison demanding that McHugh “cease and desist from all public comment” about his work.
With McHugh seemingly silenced, I was asked to present the video instead. After it was shown, McHugh made a dramatic and unexpected appearance, entering the packed hotel conference room through a side door to a standing ovation.
In the way of background, the Wichita-based Tiller has managed to turn Kansas, the reddest of red states, into the world’s late-term abortion capital. To accomplish this, he has almost single-handedly subverted the politics of the state.
In November 2006, Tiller’s money and influence inspired a popular Republican district attorney, Paul Morrison, to turn Democrat and run against incumbent Phill Kline in his bid to be re-elected Kansas attorney general.
Kline had to go. He was actually trying to enforce the Kansas law that allows late-term abortions only to prevent “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
Tiller invested uncounted thousands of dollars to unseat Kline, much of it through operations like “Kansans for Consumer Privacy Protection,” an anonymous cut-out which just happened to have the same Wichita address as Tiller’s ProKanDo PAC.
This “consumer group” sent out six slick “Snoop Dog Kline” mailers in the weeks before the 2006 election. The mailers accused Kline of abandoning the fight on crime in favor of “snooping into women’s private medical records.” The local media amplified the Snoop Dog message with a vengeance, and Morrison triumphed.
The Kansas City Star actually won Planned Parenthood’s “Maggie Award” for its efforts. The “Maggie,” of course, is named in honor of celebrated eugenicist, Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood’s founder.
Upon election, Morrison promised to review the Tiller medical records that Kline had successfully subpoenaed “inside out, backwards and forwards, and under a neutron microscope.”
No one much believed Morrison. Two weeks ago, he confirmed suspicions by leaking his exit strategy through an influential media supporter, Steve Rose of the Johnson County Sun.
In its casual acceptance of the unthinkable, the Rose column on the Sun front page calls to mind Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase, “the banality of evil.”
Rose acknowledges Tiller’s boast that he has “more experience in late abortion services with fetuses over 24 weeks than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, more than 60,000 since 1973.”
Rose then assures the “confused” reader that Tiller does not practice partial-birth abortions but rather the presumably more benign “late-term viable abortion.”
In this procedure, the good doctor solves the apparent viability problem, says Rose soothingly, by “taking apart the fetus inside the uterus and removing pieces through the dilated cervix.”
“Unless the Kansas Legislature changes its law,” Rose continues, “Dr. Tiller can continue that procedure every day of the week, as well as other late-term abortion techniques.”
Not exactly, and this is where those pesky medical records come into play. Under Kansas law, the records have to show evidence that the women would suffer death or “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” if an abortion were not performed.
Tiller had influenced Kline’s predecessor, pro-choice Republican AG Carla Stovall, to create a mental health exception. But even Stovall insisted that mental health problems had to be “permanent and substantial.”
Rose tells us that Morrison has reviewed the 15 files in question and finds many of the counts “ridiculous.” That much said, Rose has “a strong hunch” that Morrison will file a few misdemeanor charges “pertaining to the lack of notification to the state,” suggest a modest fine, and call Kline’s “witch hunt” off.
Rose obviously did not anticipate the appearance in Kansas of Dr. McHugh. Before leaving office, Kline had contracted with the impeccably credentialed psychiatrist to review the Tiller files to see if they honored Kansas law.
Anticipating Morrison’s end game, pro-life forces brought McHugh to Kansas City this week to share his findings. Morrison had no apparent interest in McHugh or his findings.
Despite McHugh’s role as chief medical witness, Morrison or his staff had not bothered to contact him in his presumably “inside out” review of the case these last six months.
In a series of interviews and press conferences, the gentle, grandfatherly McHugh dispassionately showed just what a sham the whole Tiller enterprise is.
When asked whether he had seen any one file among the 15 that justified a late-term abortion on the basis of major or irreversible psychiatric damage, McHugh unequivocally responded, “I saw no file that justified abortion on that basis.”
He was confident, too, that “100 percent” of his fellow psychiatrists would agree that these cases showed no sign of irreversible damage.
What McHugh did see were insubstantial, poorly documented evaluations of disheartened young women whose stated reasons for wanting an abortion were as trivial as missing a rock concert, a sporting event or their prom.
As to the “single episode, major depression” and “adjustment disorder” that Tiller claimed for his patients, McHugh could find no evidence of either.
“I had to ask myself,” said McHugh of Tiller’s clinic, “is any person ever found to be not appropriate on psychological grounds for an abortion?”
McHugh insisted that a serious biographical history should have been performed on every young woman, especially “if you are going to take a life on the basis of a psychiatric exam.”
The life, of course, is the bottom line. All these medical records in question double as obituaries for babies fully capable of living outside the womb.
As Kansas fishermen know, if you catch a bass less than 15 inches, it “must be returned to the water immediately, unrestricted.” It is forbidden as well “to refuse to allow law enforcement officers to inspect wildlife in possession.”
For these last several years, Kansas has protected its undersized fish more zealously than its undersized humans. If fishermen cannot refuse inspection, Tiller has done so with impunity. When Kline tried to look into his basket, it cost him his career.
Unless the “Good Kansans” of this fair state are roused to action, Tiller will walk away with a slap on his wrist, and the media will praise Morrison, as Rose does in advance, for not letting “his personal feelings … get in the way of his investigation.”
The reporting violations, however, are the least of Tiller’s sins, and there are 60,000 lost souls who, come Judgment Day, will testify to the same.