As Kansas fishermen know, if they 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.”
Up until last year, when Kansas elected its first conservative governor in memory, the state protected its undersized fish more zealously than its undersized humans.
If fishermen could not refuse inspection, the late Dr. George Tiller could and did with impunity. Last week, finally, a Kansas Board of Healing Arts inquiry cracked open his case files.
Prior to the hearing into the medical procedures of Tiller associate, Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, these files had been more closely guarded than Iran’s nuclear secrets or President Obama’s SAT scores.
Tiller and his patrons, most notably the former governor and current HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, fought for years to keep these files under wraps.
With the help of their friends in the media, Tiller and Sebelius succeeded in driving from office the Republican attorney general who fought to bring Tiller to justice, Phill Kline.
The Sebelius-packed Kansas Supreme Court then launched a crushing ethics probe – not into Tiller’s practice, but into Kline’s effort to expose it.
Last week, with the opening of the files, it became obvious why Sebelius and friends were so anxious to keep them sealed.
Attorneys reviewed 11 files during the course of the hearing, all for girls under 19, all of whom had carried their babies at least 25 weeks.
According to Kansas law, doctors could perform a late term abortion only if two independent physicians attested that a woman would die or suffer “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” without an abortion.
Neuhaus was that second physician. Although not a psychiatrist, her job was to confirm that the girls suffered a severe enough impairment – it was always “mental health” – to meet the “substantial and irreversible” language in Kansas’s tough abortion laws.
To evaluate the patients, Neuhaus used a computer program called “PsychManager Lite.” After about 15 or so minutes of slapdash diagnosis, she would discover – mirabile dictu! – that the girls were all facing substantial and irreversible problems.
Neuhaus diagnosed these problems as acute anxiety, acute stress or single episodes of major depression, and that would be justification enough for Tiller to take the life of a fully viable baby.
In the case of “Patient No. 10,” however, Neuhaus’ confirming opinion was time stamped one week after the date of the abortion. Whether this was a problem of poor record keeping or sheer recklessness, it speaks to the lethal indifference of her and Tiller’s practice.
In fact, the case files confirm that none of the girls Tiller and Neuhaus evaluated were in any kind of substantial or irreversible danger.
As I reported last week, one confused little cowgirl stated as her reason for needing an abortion, “Horses are my life, and having kids would mess that up for barrel racing.” Neuhaus diagnosed her case as “major depression, single episode.”
Another 15-year-old was upset because playing basketball no longer seemed like fun. Others were upset because they feared that a baby would force them to drop out of school or postpone plans for college.
“I’m scared,” wrote an 18-year-old who rejected adoption because she didn’t want to “have someone looking for me the rest of my life.” Neuhaus diagnosed her as having “severe acute stress disorder.”
For all their mental impairments, substantial and irreversible though they were alleged to have been, Neuhaus failed to offer the girls any follow-up advice or planning.
That failure is at least understandable. Whether Neuhaus did her evaluations before or after the abortion, the routine diagnosis of psychiatric disorders was all a Tiller-orchestrated sham.
As expert witness Dr. Liza Gold of Georgetown University testified, “Late-term abortion is not a treatment or intervention for any psychiatric condition.” Nor, Gold continued, is teen pregnancy “a risk factor for psychiatric disorders.”
The legislators who wrote the otherwise tough Kansas state abortion law in 1997 never intended for there to be a mental health exception.
No sooner was the law written, though, than Tiller was using his political influence with Kansas Democrats and moderate Republicans to finesse an exception.
That exception, however, kept the “substantial and irreversible” language. Tiller just ignored it. He could because he had friends in high places. He had bought and paid for many of them.
Tiller was killed in 2009, and Gov. Sam Brownback was elected in 2010. This year, Kansas eliminated the mental health exception.
Thousands of healthy, viable babies had to be sacrificed in utter indifference to the law for Kansas to become the world capital of late-term abortion.
Now that Kansas no longer has that recognition, the time may be right for the state to come to grips with how it earned this dishonor in the first place.
A South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission would be a good place to start. As it worked, both the victims and perpetrators of violence gave testimony, and the latter were able to request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
Without such a commission, Tiller remains a martyr to a noble cause, Kline remains a pariah, the media remain unrepentant, and Sebelius returns to Kansas politically viable.
As to Neuhaus, she faces at worst a loss of her medical license, and the media will bury that story when the Board of Healing Arts reaches its decision.
Tiller’s enablers may think a truth and reconciliation commission too harsh, but many of those who have followed this story will think it too kind.