by Steven Ertelt
August 16, 2007
Wichita, KS (LifeNews.com) — A Kansas judge will decide tomorrow whether he will continue to adjudicate a case involving charges filed against late-term abortion practitioner George Tiller. The abortion practitioner’s attorneys say Sedgwick County District Judge Tony Powell should step down because he is a former pro-life state legislator.
Tiller’s lawyers filed legal papers earlier this week asking for a change of judge in the case, where the state attorney general has filed 19 misdemeanor charges against Tiller for not getting an impartial second opinion in the abortions.
Judge Powell held an hour-long hearing on the statute last Friday and then met with attorneys on both sides on Wednesday to discuss the request.
He said he will make a decision tomorrow as to whether he will recuse himself and Attorney General Paul Morrison told AP he won’t take a position on it.
Tiller attorney Lee Thompson said Powell can’t be impartial in the case because the judge once accused Tiller of "defying legal and moral authority" and called abortion "the slaughter of the innocents."
Judge Powell accused Tiller of breaking the 1998 late-term abortion law shortly after its enactment, Thompson pointed out.
"Kansas law prohibits us from stating the grounds in the initial motion, and thus we can’t comment further," Thompson told AP about why the legal papers don’t state a reason for asking for Judge Powell’s dismissal.
Meanwhile, Morrison talked about the case he has against Tiller and responded to criticism from pro-life groups that he has a weak one. They want him to charge Tiller with more serious violations of doing the late-term abortions for non-medical reasons, which also goes against the law.
Morrison said as long as two doctors sign off on the late-term abortion they have complied with Kansas statute.
"It’s just a case of a plain reading of the law," he said, according to AP. "I think some of these folks are engaging in some wishful thinking. They’re hoping the law — wishing the law — said things that it doesn’t."
But Mary Kay Culp, the director of Kansans for Life, told LifeNews.com that Morrison is "the one denying reality."
She pointed out that the law clearly says the late-term abortions can only be done "to preserve the life of the pregnant woman or that a continuation of the pregnancy will cause a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."
"Tiller did not report reasons or the basis of his or the other doctor’s ‘determination,’" Culp said.
"What if a doctor opened an appendectomy-only practice," Culp explained. "Would an insurance company pay a doctor for appendectomies he performed four times a week that a second doctor agreed were necessary, if neither doctor would give the insurance company any information as to the ‘reasons and basis’ for determining that the patient ‘needed’ an appendectomy?"
Should Judge Powell uphold the law, Tiller will go to trial on the charges, for which he pleaded not guilty. If Judge Powell overturns the law, any trial would be delayed until an appeal is heard in the case.
Pro-life advocates are worried that Morrison won’t file an appeal if Powell declares the law unconstitutional.
Tiller is charged with violating a statute requiring a second physician to sign off on any abortions done late in pregnancy.
The doctor must not have any financial connections with the abortion practitioner. Yet, in the 19 cases for which he has been charged, Tiller received a second opinion from abortion practitioner Ann Kristin Neuhaus, who Attorney General Paul Morrison said had financial ties with Tiller.
Judge Gregory Waller assigned Powell to the case and his decision came after pro-life groups said they weren’t concerned he could be impartial. Waller has received campaign contributions from a political group affiliated with Tiller.
Morrison ended up filing a defense of the law with the court on Tuesday and Tiller’s lawyers responded on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Kansans for Life told LifeNews.com recently that it is collecting the signatures necessary to compel a grand jury to conduct an independent investigation into whether Tiller violated the law in subsequent years.
He has been charged with violations in 2003 but the pro-life organization says he could have violated the law on late-term abortions done from 2004-2007.