The Trouble With Kansas Over Women

by Bill Daehler

Kansas is yet again emerging as a hotbed for activism within the nationwide GOP-radical Christian coalition targeting women’s health services.  Last Wednesday, MSNBC’S Rachel Maddow filmed her show in the city of Lawrence to spotlight the sustained attack and denial of women’s rights in Kansas.  There are a number of abortion related issues facing the state, including new restrictive legislation, an ethics hearing of the former pro-life attorney general and the failure to carry on Dr. George Tiller’s legacy in Wichita following his 2009 assassination.

The Kansas legislature is debating two provisions to limit abortion services. The first would restrict abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy based on the concept the fetus can feel pain, although the science behind this argument is flawed at best. The measure would additionally require physicians to provide patients with pamphlets regarding ‘fetal pain’ and offer anesthesia for the fetus—an exercise of utter futility and distress to patients. The second bill would require minors to obtain parental consent to receive services.  Currently Kansas requires minors notify parents, not receive consent.

It is highly likely these bills will soon be passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Sam Brownback.

What’s the Matter with Klein?

Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline is currently involved in a disciplinary hearing for misleading state officials and mishandling of records. The records came from Kline’s investigation into Dr. Tiller’s clinic and Planned Parenthood. Kline obtained redacted medical records for 90 women and girls treated at Tiller’s Wichita clinic. He posted agents in a hotel where Tiller’s patients often stayed. While there Kline staffers probed names of hotel guests and recorded license plate information.

Kline claims the investigation was into a conspiracy involving Dr. Tiller and Planned Parenthood covering up pedophilia and illegal abortion practices. After leaks of the investigation prompted statewide backlash in 2005, Kline  published the sealed court documents in an attempt to extinguish the firestorm and said during the hearing he thought the documents were no longer sealed.

After Kline lost his re-election bid in 2006, staffers brought the confidential documents, including medical records, with them when Kline became Johnson County District Attorney. The records were being kept in the Johnson County apartments and garages of Kline staffers, outside the jurisdiction of the investigation.

“I was totally surprised… I didn’t believe they should be there,” said Judge Richard Anderson while testifying in the Kline hearing. Anderson has also expressed his concern that the records had been released to Bill O’Reilly following an appearance by Kline on the O’Reilly Factor in November 2006.  The allegations were never confirmed.

So far two Kline staffers have received minor admonitions and Klines’ hearing is expected to end in early March. The result of the hearing may be the disbarment of Kline or a lesser rebuke.

The Legacy of Dr. Tiller

Wichita and southeast Kansas have been without an abortion provider since the murder of Dr. Tiller in 2009. There have recently been two individuals who expressed interest in carrying on Dr. Tiller’s legacy and providing abortion services. The first potential provider, Greg Linhardt, a Wichita anesthesiologist, gave up due to the difficulties involved—intimidation. The other, Mila Means, was brought to court by her landlord for considering providing abortion services at her current clinic. Means is now searching for space to open a clinic.

Finding a property to lease has become a remarkably difficult task. The pro-life group Operation Rescue, in cahoots with other radical organizations, is hindering the efforts of Means and her supporters. It should be noted there are many Kansans who support Means and Planned Parenthood but fear of social stigma and intimidation preserve their apathy.

Troy Newman, a leader of Operation Rescue, recently told Life News “abortion is bad for business.” He continued with a veiled threat saying: “Wherever there is an abortion business, there will also be pro-lifers who seek to offer help to abortion-bound women and educate the community.”  Saturating a community with unwanted outside pro-life crackpots is a serious social and economic threat to any community, especially one such as Wichita which remembers being the focal of the 1990’s abortion hysteria.

Renewed attention to the Kansas abortion debate may lead to progress in Wichita.  The focus of Maddows’ show was the Wichita issue and Dr. Means has yet to give up hopes of one day opening a clinic in Wichita.

With persistence and dedication the pro-choice community in Kansas and around the country will combat conservative assaults on women’s right and carry on the legacy of Dr. Tiller.

Bill Daehler is the communications intern for the American Humanist Association. He is a senior majoring in political science and journalism at the University of Kansas.