Kansas board in lengthy legal dispute over abortion case
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ medical board is enmeshed in a lengthy legal dispute over its decision to revoke the license of a former abortion provider whose second opinions allowed the late Dr. George Tiller to terminate late-term pregnancies more than a decade ago.
A Shawnee County judge has for the second time overturned a State Board of Healing Arts decision against Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus and directed it to reconsider its punishment. Judge Franklin Theis in 2014 narrowed the case to problems with her record-keeping and ruled last month that the board did not adequately justify its second revocation of her license on those grounds.
The board’s case against Neuhaus involved mental health exams in 2003 on 11 patients aged 10 to 18. They were seeking abortions from Tiller after the 24th week of pregnancy, when state law required a second doctor to conclude that continuing a pregnancy would permanently and seriously harm their physical or mental health.
An anti-abortion activist filed a complaint with the board in 2006, though abortion opponents had been watching her for years. A board attorney filed a formal complaint in 2010, and the board revoked Neuhaus’ limited charity-care license in 2012. She sued.
“The perceptions that people have of this are going to be influenced, I think, by their views on abortion,” said Bob Eye, an attorney representing Neuhaus. Later, he added: “There was not a single patient complaint that was in the evidence in this case.”
The board does not plan to appeal Theis’ latest ruling, said Kathleen Selzler Lippert, its executive director. She said the board is likely to reconsider the case in June and attributed the length of the case to “full due process” afforded people in legal proceedings.
The board’s 15 members are appointed by the governor, and abortion opponents often complained it was too lax before Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took office in 2011. They regularly criticize the state’s courts — and Theis specifically.
“Am I surprised? No. I’m disappointed,” said Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.
Some abortion rights advocates have argued that the actions against Neuhaus are politically motivated; Eye said only that “maelstrom” surrounds the case. Abortion foes note that cases before the board in 1999-2001 led to limitations on her practice.
Neuhaus, from the small northeastern Kansas town of Nortonville, performed abortions in Wichita and Lawrence from 1994 to 2002 but cited financial problems in ending both practices. Tiller, who was among the few U.S. physicians to perform abortions in the final weeks of pregnancy, was gunned down inside his church in 2009 by an anti-abortion zealot now serving 25 years to life in prison.
Neuhaus gave up her full medical license to pursue a master’s of public health degree and was hoping to regain it when the board revoked her charity-care license. Eye said Neuhaus is now teaching special education students in a public school.
The medical board said in 2012 that Neuhaus’ medical records didn’t adequately document her mental health exams, concluding that she had failed to do thorough ones and declaring patients’ care “seriously jeopardized.”
Theis ruled in 2014 that the board’s evidence showed only that Neuhaus’ record-keeping was deficient and she could be sanctioned only for that. Neuhaus said she kept some information out of her files to protect her young patients’ privacy.
“Nor was there any evidence that any patient was ever harmed,” Eye said.
But Ostrowski said the record-keeping is “critical” because inadequate files can seriously hinder other doctors’ care of the same patients.
“It’s not just a matter of being sloppy,” Ostrowski said.
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