One of the nation's few late-term abortion doctors was ordered Wednesday to turn over about 2,000 patient medical records to a Kansas grand jury investigating his practice.
Abortion opponents hope that the records will lead to further criminal charges against Dr. George Tiller, who already is facing 19 misdemeanor counts stemming from late-second and third-trimester abortions at his clinic in Wichita.
Tiller's lawyers say he scrupulously follows the law. They plan to ask the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn a state district court judge's ruling that Tiller begin handing over files as early as today.
"It's an unprecedented encroachment upon a woman's right to privacy," attorney Dan Monnat said.
Monnat was joined in court by a lawyer from the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, who filed affidavits from three patients demanding that their medical records remain private.
Even though the judge ordered names and addresses removed from the files, the patients said they feared their identities could be deduced from details about their families and medical histories. The antiabortion group Operation Rescue has given the grand jury several photos that it says show pregnant women entering Tiller's clinic; the same pictures are posted online, with the women's faces blurred.
"Even thinking about the possibility of anti-choice extremists identifying me has caused my partner and I great distress," one woman wrote.
The unfolding legal dispute treads familiar ground.
Tiller spent three years battling a subpoena for a much smaller group of medical records sought by former Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, an opponent of legal abortion. The Kansas Supreme Court eventually forced Tiller to turn over 60 records on the condition that an independent lawyer first review them to redact names, addresses and other information not relevant to the criminal inquiry.
After Kline was voted out of office, his successor -- a supporter of abortion rights -- charged Tiller with the misdemeanors.