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Doctor who performs late abortions takes stand

Tiller (Mike Hutmacher / The Spokesman-Review)
Tiller (Mike Hutmacher / The Spokesman-Review)

WICHITA, Kan. – Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas doctor who has become a national symbol of the struggle over legalized abortion, unexpectedly testified in his own defense Wednesday during a criminal trial that abortion opponents are following with passionate interest.

Tiller, one of the few doctors in the United States who perform abortions in the last trimester of pregnancy, has been targeted for years by abortion foes, who would like to see him in prison and his clinic shut down.

Tiller became emotional as he told the jury why he continued to practice, even though he and his staff had been harassed for years by anti-abortion protesters, one of whom shot him in both arms as he left work in 1993.

“ ‘Quit’ is not something I like to do,” Tiller said. He has not closed shop, he said, because his patients need him and he has the “strong support” of his family, including his wife of 45 years, three daughters – two of whom are physicians – a son and 10 grandchildren.

Tiller is being tried on 19 misdemeanor counts of breaking a Kansas law that requires a second opinion for a late-term abortion from a consulting physician with whom the doctor performing the procedure has no legal or financial ties. The consulting physician must determine that the pregnant woman would suffer permanent and irreversible harm if she delivered the baby.

If convicted, Tiller faces up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine for each count.

Prosecutors say Tiller’s arrangement with Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, who signed off on the 19 procedures that are the basis of the charges, violated the law. Neuhaus, who consulted for Tiller from 1999 to 2006, was given immunity for her testimony.

Before resting its case Tuesday, the prosecution argued that Tiller treated Neuhaus as an employee, because she examined patients at his clinic in a room he provided. A financial relationship also existed, the prosecutor said, because her work for Tiller was her only source of income at the time.

Tiller’s attorneys have denied the pair were anything other than primary doctor and consultant. Neuhaus saw patients at Tiller’s clinic for safety reasons, she and others testified, because of the intimidating, sometimes violent nature of the protesters who have been fixtures there.

On the stand, Tiller, 67, spoke in a low voice.

After Pennsylvania abortion doctor Barnett Slepian was murdered in his home by an abortion foe in 1994, Tiller said the FBI told him he was the “No. 1 person” on an anti-abortion assassination list.

Under questioning by Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney, Tiller said he charged $6,000 for abortions of fetuses considered “viable,” or able to live outside the womb. He has performed between 250 and 300 such abortions a year, he said, and about 30 percent of his gross income has been profit.