Abortion opponents in Kansas use rare law to have grand jury investigate clinic

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 | 9:36 p.m. CST; updated 12:30 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — An anti-abortion coalition has filed a petition in Kansas calling for a grand jury to investigate allegations of violations by the Overland Park, Kan., Planned Parenthood office.

The office is part of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which oversees the clinic in Columbia.

The group’s petition, filed Friday, contained enough signatures from Johnson County registered voters to invoke a rarely-used Kansas law allowing state residents to call for grand jury investigations, according to Brian Newby, Johnson County election commissioner.

The coalition, Life is For Everyone, composed of Operation Rescue, Concerned Women For America and Women Influencing the Nation, is calling for a grand jury to investigate allegations such as illegal late-term abortions and illegal trafficking in fetal tissue that occurred between 2004 and 2007.

The allegations are not directed toward clinics in Missouri.

These investigations will not be the first conducted to review allegations brought against the Kansas clinic.

Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, a Republican opponent of abortion rights, conducted an investigation of the Overland Park clinic in 2003. Kline’s investigation was curtailed when he lost his re-election bid, and no formal indictments resulted from the investigations.

Current Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison, a Democrat who supports abortion rights and a former Johnson County district attorney, conducted another investigation of the allegations following his election and, again, there were no indictments.

“The attorney general’s office did thoroughly investigate the charges brought against Planned Parenthood and found no criminal wrongdoing, and we stand by that decision,” said Ashley Anstaett, spokesperson for Morrison.

Following Morrison’s election to attorney general, Kline replaced Morrison as district attorney of Johnson County. As district attorney, Kline has filed 107 criminal counts against the Overland Park office.

Brian Burgess, public information officer for Kline’s office, said because of the sensitive nature of the proceedings, his office cannot comment.

A panel of district judges must now approve the language of the petition, opening up a 60-day window for a grand jury of 15 randomly selected registered voters to convene.

Kansas is one of six states that allows citizens to petition for a grand jury. There is no such statute in Missouri.

Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the investigation will not affect the operation of facilities in either state because there is no criminal wrongdoing.

“From one perspective, we are not worried because we always follow the law,” Brownlie said.

Brownlie said the organization is most threatened by the possibility of significant financial penalties.

According to Pat Adair, Kansas director of Women Influencing the Nation, Life is For Everyone submitted 6,400 signatures to the district attorney’s office.

Newby said the commission verified 3,780 signatures, more than the required amount.

Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, said the goal of the investigation is to force Planned Parenthood to comply with abortion laws.

Brownlie said the attack on his organization is a significant distraction from the group’s primary work.

Brownlie’s primary concern is protecting the privacy of Planned Parenthood patients. The investigations are unnecessary, he said.

“I think it is beyond going fishing. They are doing this to pursue a political agenda without any foundation in terms of any law enforcement objectives. There is nothing criminal going on,” Brownlie said.

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Kathleen Isabell November 8, 2007 | 7:41 p.m.

It's simple. Kline is a fanatical religious freak witch-hunter. Planned Parenthood is perhaps THE most respected women's health organization in the country. Game over. Sorry, Phill.

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