Abortion

Former Kansas Atty General Chief of Staff Under Investigation for Ethics Violations in Tiller Case

Jodi Jacobson

The Wichita Eagle reports today that Eric Rucker, former top assistant to Kansas State Attorney General Phil Kline, faces a formal ethics complaint that he made misleading comments before the Kansas Supreme Court in attempts to prosecute Dr. George Tiller for violations of Kansas law for which Tiller was repeatedly found innocent.

The Wichita Eagle reports today that Eric Rucker, former top assistant to Kansas State Attorney General Phil Kline, faces a formal
ethics complaint that he made misleading comments before the Kansas
Supreme Court in attempts to prosecute Dr. George Tiller for violations of Kansas law for which Tiller was repeatedly found innocent.

The complaint, released by the Kansas disciplinary investigator, alleges that Rucker made misleading comments before
the Kansas Supreme Court and used flawed statistics to back up a
criminal case.

“The allegations stem from Kline’s investigation of abortion clinics,” reports the Eagle.
“Rucker’s complaint will go before a disciplinary panel in April; the
panel will determine whether Rucker violated ethical rules for
attorneys and will decide whether to recommend any disciplinary actions
to the Supreme Court. Punishment could range from nothing to disbarment.”

The complaint against Rucker alleges that he knew data used to
support the investigation of abortion clinics in district court was
flawed but took no “action to correct the misrepresentations previously
made to the court,” according to the Eagle.

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Also, the complaint accuses Rucker of making false statements before the Kansas Supreme Court.

Rucker represented Kline before the court in 2005. At the time, the
court was considering a lawsuit by abortion providers intent on
stopping Kline’s investigation. Rucker told the court that his office
wasn’t trying to identify adult women who received abortions.

However, the office was reviewing the guest list of a Wichita hotel
used by patients of George Tiller, and cross checking it with state
abortion data. Investigators were also recording the license plates of
cars in Tiller’s parking lot in an attempt to identify their owners.

During a meeting last year with the state’s judicial disciplinary
administrator, Rucker said he didn’t know about these efforts during
his arguments before the high court. But according to the complaint
released today, the disciplinary administrator’s office determined that
his explanation was “false and misleading.”

The Eagle further notes that “Kline investigated both Tiller’s clinic and a Planned Parenthood
clinic in Overland Park, accusing both of violating state restrictions
on abortion. So far, none of the cases has resulted in a conviction.”

News Health Systems

Federal Investigation Continues Into Kansas GOP’s Medicaid Privatization Program

Teddy Wilson

The dysfunctional Medicaid privatization program championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) known as KanCare continues to face public scrutiny and federal investigations into claims that patients experienced long waits and subpar care.

The dysfunctional Medicaid privatization program championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) known as KanCare continues to face public scrutiny and federal investigations into claims that patients experienced long waits and subpar care.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into complaints about Medicaid waiting lists for disability services in Kansas is ongoing, according to a statement by a department spokesperson last week.

George Hornedo confirmed that the agency is investigating Brownback’s troubled privatization gambit, but declined to elaborate. “The department declines to comment due to this being an ongoing investigation,” Hornedo said, reported the Kansas Health Institute.

KanCare, a Republican-backed program, launched in January 2013, when the state’s traditional Medicaid program was phased out. In its place, the Brownback administration contracted three for-profit health insurance companies to coordinate health care for more than 360,000 low-income residents.

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Representatives from the National Council on Disability this month heard hours of testimony about KanCare’s disability services during a forum in Topeka. The National Council on Disability is a federal agency that advises the president, Congress, and other federal agencies on disability policies.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, testified that KanCare has steadily reduced services for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“We’re talking about personal care support services to help a quadriplegic get out of bed in the morning, to go about their activities of daily living,” Nichols said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal. “It’s just that constant battle, and it seems like there are a lot of battles and it’s having an impact.”

During the forum, much of the blame was directed toward the three managed-care companies contracted by the state: Amerigroup Kansas, the United Healthcare Community Plan, and the Sunflower Health Plan.

Last year, Democrats on the state legislature’s KanCare Oversight Committee called for the appointment of a separate committee to determine whether any legal or ethical boundaries were crossed when Brownback approved $3 billion in contracts with the managed care companies. Republicans on the committee blocked the proposal.

The three companies donated more than $50,000 to the campaigns of current Kansas lawmakers since the KanCare program began in 2013, according to reporting by KCUR. Seven of 11 lawmakers who are members of the KanCare Oversight Committee received campaign contributions from one or more of the companies.

Committee Co-Chair Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) was the only member who received campaign contributions from all three companies.

National Council on Disability members Clyde Terry and Gary Blumenthal, a former Kansas lawmaker, heard testimony from 70 people at the forum, and the lone representative from the state was Kari Bruffett, secretary of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Service.

“We really want KanCare to be able to meet the promise of ensuring that we’re focused on the person’s needs and we’re not limiting access to services that help people stay in homes and communities,” Bruffett said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Bruffett testified that 428,000 residents are enrolled in KanCare and about 105,000 of those enrolled are seniors or people with disabilities. Bruffett said 1,448 residents are on a waiting list for physical disability waivers, and 3,319 Kansans are on a waiting list for developmental disability waivers.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) manage and provide oversight for KanCare.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, told the Kansas Health Institute that he is pleased that the justice department is continuing its investigation.

“This is good news, because there are issues in Kansas that need to be addressed,” Nichols said. “We are glad that DOJ is maintaining an active and ongoing investigation into this important area.”

A federal whistleblower lawsuit filed last week alleging Sunflower directed employees to shift KanCare patients away from high-cost health-care providers was dismissed. It is unknown if the lawsuit was settled out of court.

The lawsuit was filed by Jacqueline Leary, a former Sunflower executive who claims she was fired after objecting to the companies policies that she said were unethical and possibly illegal. Sunflower claims that Leary was terminated for poor job performance and the lawsuit was an attempt extort the company.

Commentary Abortion

Reflections on the Fifth Anniversary of the Assassination of Dr. George Tiller

Carole Joffe

The road ahead for abortion providers and their allies to not only preserve George Tiller’s specialized service, but simply to stay open, is hardly an easy one. But many of those who knew Dr. Tiller as a colleague and friend are no doubt fortified by remembering one of his favorite sayings: “Attitude is everything.”

What is there to say, five years after the tragic murder of Dr. George Tiller, about the legacy of this remarkable man? The polarization—around Tiller specifically, and abortion in general—that occurred in Kansas during his lifetime has in no way abated. The abortion situation in Kansas in the post-Tiller era can be best understood as a series of both skirmishes and high-profile battles between the two sides of the endless abortion war.

Around the time of Tiller’s death, Kathleen Sebelius, then the Democratic governor of the state, who had served as a firewall between Tiller and other Kansas providers and the anti-choice state legislature, left to join the Obama administration; she was soon replaced by Republican Sam Brownback, a former senator and anti-abortion fanatic. The Kansas legislature which—in a move engineered by Brownback—has seen many moderate Republicans replaced by extreme right-wing ideologues, has passed one abortion restriction after another, all eagerly embraced by the governor. These measures include requiring women in emergency situations to wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion, discriminatory tax penalties on abortion providers, mandates to impart medically inaccurate information to their patients, and, perhaps most surreal of all, a law that prohibits abortion providers from involvement with local schools, including serving as chaperones on school trips. The Center for Reproductive Rights has fought valiantly to challenge most of the above-mentioned laws passed by the legislature, achieving some victories.

After Tiller’s death, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts launched a witch hunt against Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, who had served as Tiller’s second opinion on the third-trimester procedures performed at his clinic, as Kansas law required. Arguing that Neuhaus had inadequately documented the need for third-trimester procedures, the board revoked her medical license. But after a court case (which nearly bankrupted her), Neuhaus’ license was restored—only to have the board announce it would appeal the judge’s ruling. (As of this writing, the matter remains unresolved.)

As the closing of Tiller’s clinic after his murder left the city of Wichita (population 385,000) without any abortion facility, Dr. Mila Means, a local Wichita doctor, attempted to incorporate abortion into her family medicine practice, but her landlord forbade this, claiming this would cause a “nuisance,” a claim upheld by a judge. Julie Burkhart, a former associate of Tiller’s, has successfully opened an abortion facility, South Wind Women’s Center, at the site of his former clinic. But Means, Burkhart, and some of the staff of South Wind have been subject to terroristic threats.

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Two of the physicians who had worked with Dr. Tiller in Wichita began to work at the Southwest Women’s Center in Albuquerque, where they continue to provide third-trimester abortions on a case-by-case basis while also incorporating many of the emotional support services Tiller had pioneered for this special patient population. (A third former Wichita colleague opened a facility in Maryland.) In response to the expanded services at Southwest, Operation Rescue operatives and other anti-choice forces succeeded in getting a referendum on the Albuquerque ballot in fall 2013 that would have imposed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks (an increasingly common restriction passed by some states, though quite rare to be city-specific). To the immense relief of the pro-choice community, both in New Mexico and nationally, the measure failed.

The most unequivocal victory that abortion rights supporters in Kansas have experienced since Tiller’s death is the disbarring of the former attorney general of Kansas, Phill Kline. In a move recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Kansas Supreme Court revoked his legal license, citing his abuse of power in his investigation of Tiller, Neuhaus, and other abortion providers in Kansas. Among other acts of misconduct, Kline had leaked the records of abortion patients.

Nationally, arguably the most significant cultural event that has occurred concerning George Tiller in the past five years has been the debut of the film After Tiller, which focuses on the third-trimester procedures provided by his above-mentioned former colleagues working in New Mexico and Maryland, as well as a longtime friend and associate in Colorado. Quite remarkably for an independent film, After Tiller, its distributor told me, has been released in 45 U.S. cities, as well as a number of places abroad; shown at 33 American film festivals and 11 international ones; and has had more than 100 non-theatrical screenings. Katrina Kimport and Gretchen Sisson, two University of California, San Francisco sociologists, have been conducting research on the impact of this film on viewers across the country. As Sisson told me, “Viewers of After Tiller do seem to be thinking more deeply and carefully about third-trimester abortion. For many, later abortion isn’t something they’ve thought much about, either in terms of why women would seek them or why doctors would provide them. But most viewers that we’ve interviewed recognize the humanity and moral agency of the patients, and the commitment, compassion, and ethical practice of the provider. … The intimate reality of later abortion care seems to move people very differently than does the charged political rhetoric surrounding it.”

The bottom line, of course—the crucial question to ask about George Tiller’s legacy—is whether the women about whom he cared so deeply and whom he understood so well are currently able to receive high-quality, respectful care at later stages of pregnancy. Various organizations, such as the National Abortion Federation and numerous local abortion funds, are making every effort possible to help women who need this care to get to one of the clinics profiled in After Tiller. A handful of facilities, mainly on the coasts, extended their abortion gestational limits to the extent legally permitted, as a response to the closing of Tiller’s clinic. But we are currently in an era of a ferocious legislative backlash against all abortions, including first-trimester ones—a development that started with the Republican sweep of state elections in 2010. So the road ahead for providers and their allies to not only preserve George Tiller’s specialized service, but simply to stay open, is hardly an easy one. Nevertheless, many of those who knew Dr. Tiller as a colleague and friend are no doubt fortified by remembering one of his favorite sayings: “Attitude is everything.”