Discipline for Snoop Dog Kline. Bad Dog!

Julie Burkhart

The Kansas Board of Discipline of Attorneys will hold a hearing on February 21 to deliberate on Kline’s disbarment for seeking the private medical records of 90 women who had later terminations of pregnancy.

It’s hard to believe, but the former Attorney General of Kansas Phill Kline saga continues. In case you’ve forgotten this inquisition of ill intent, let me refresh your memory. Phill Kline is the former AG who decided to go on a fishing expedition into women’s private medical records in order to drive reproductive health care providers out of business.

However, this time, Kline is on the flip side of the coin. The Kansas Board of Discipline of Attorneys will be holding a hearing on February 21st to deliberate on Kline’s disbarment for his wrong doings in his quest for the private medical records of 90 women who had later terminations of pregnancy. Kline is now outraged with the system that he so cleverly manipulated for personal gain.

An email recently circulated from Kline’s wife, Deborah Shattuck-Kline, and was sent to all of their followers across the country. In this sensationalized piece of propaganda, Shattuck-Kline continues to claim that the State of Kansas, in its entirety, has been involved in a vast cover-up conspiracy and is in the pocket of reproductive health care providers.

Let’s take a look at some of the history and facts of the case:

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  • Kline’s crusade to shut down abortion providers and harass women began back in October of 2003, when sealed subpoenas showed up at Dr. Tiller’s clinic, Women’s Health Care Services and at Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. Due to the gag order on the subpoenas, the general public and the press did not learn about his fishing expedition until early winter of 2004.
  • Kline spun his zealotry against the clinics as protection of children from rapists, even though the vast majority of the records that he sought were for adult women. It didn’t take long for the media to see through this politically motivated ploy. However, the case raged on, with the real threat of women’s privacy being violated.
  • It became clear that the only way Kline was ever going to stop his trolling for women’s medical records was for him to lose his AG seat. Due to his blatant misuse of his governmental office and extravagant expenditures, he lost his position to Paul Morrison by a 16-point margin in 2006, which was remarkable given the Republican vs. Democratic registration in Kansas. These numbers showed just how fed up Kansans were with his one-issue-ax-to-grind agenda.
  • After Kline gained access to women’s medical records, it was discovered that these private records were taken to a Kline staffer’s home and also photocopied for unknown reasons at a local print shop.
  • Shockingly, right-wing talking head Bill O’Reilly somehow, miraculously, had all the information from those private medical records that Kline so diligently sought.
  • Bill O’Reilly then used those records to create his own personal platform in order to demonize Dr. George Tiller. He railed against Dr. Tiller night after night, for months on end, calling him heinous names, which clearly worked to incite violence against Dr. Tiller.

In her recent email propaganda, Mrs. Kline asserts that the State of Kansas is taking undue, unwarranted actions against her husband for his abuse of public office. Let us not forget the years spent in litigation over these charges – seven-and-a-half and counting. Let us not forget the unknown cost of Kansas tax-payer dollars used to lead this crusade. 

And it’s not over – Kline still has his legal fees covered through the Tort Claims Fund in Kansas. Finally, let us not forget that not one finger was lifted to help the children who need protection from neglectful and abusive people. Nor was a finger lifted to actually help the pregnant women who could have greatly benefited from a more benevolent State.

Let us also remember that the former AG’s motives were not pure— they were smoke and mirrors. What he purported was a crusade to protect minors, was, in reality, a crusade to meddle in the private lives of women and to shut down doctors who provide a service critical to public health. If his motives had been pure, he would have also investigated others who are obligated to report the rape of minors, such as crisis pregnancy centers, a full range of doctors, teachers, social workers and hospitals. Kline’s former Chief Deputy, Eric Rucker, who has also faced disciplinary actions in this case, admitted that they had not investigated any other mandatory reporters.

On February 21st, we hope that the disciplinary panel will hold Kline accountable and serve him with the severest penalty under their jurisdiction. Phill Kline should be ashamed of himself for making a mockery of our political, legal, and judicial systems and for meddling in the lives of women and their families at a time when they face such critical and sensitive circumstances. Shame on you, Phill.

News Violence

Admitted Planned Parenthood Shooter Again Deemed Not Competent for Trial

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A Colorado judge ruled Thursday that Robert Lewis Dear Jr. remains not legally competent to stand trial on charges related to a November 2015 clinic siege that left three dead.

A Colorado judge ruled Thursday that Robert Lewis Dear Jr., the man who has admitted to killing three people during a siege of a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, is still not legally competent to stand trial. Dear faces 179 criminal counts, including murder and attempted murder, for the November 27, 2015 attack.

This was the second time Judge Gilbert Martinez has made such a determination. In May, Martinez made the ruling following two days of hearings where forensic pathologists told the court that Dear’s extreme political beliefs amounted to a delusional disorder sufficient to render Dear incompetent for trial.

Dear had previously told law enforcement officers and state mental health evaluators that he believed the federal government was persecuting Christians.

During Dear’s May competency hearing, Dear argued his attorneys were seeking a ruling of legal incompetence over his objections. Dear said during that hearing that he instead wanted to put forward a defense during trial that his actions were legally justified to prevent the greater evil of Planned Parenthood “selling baby parts,” a claim based off a series of discredited videos that claimed the reproductive health-care provider was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations.

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Multiple state and federal investigations have not found any wrongdoing with regard to Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program.

Dear’s proposed “justified homicide” defense is the same on that Scott Roeder, the man who murdered Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009, tried to raise during his trial. Operation Rescue President Troy Newman had also advocated for the murder of abortion providers under the theory that killing abortion providers prevents the so-called greater harm of those providers performing legal abortions. He has since walked back those statements. Newman is an advisor to David Daleiden, the anti-choice activist behind the videos Dear referenced to law enforcement.

Dear’s Colorado siege was not his first alleged anti-choice action. Court records show Dear had superglued locks at an abortion clinic in South Carolina and deeply admired Paul Hill, a former minister who was executed in 2003 for the 1994 murders of Florida abortion provider Dr. John Britton and Britton’s bodyguard.

As a result of Thursday’s ruling Dear will remain in a Colorado state mental health facility until his next evaluation by the court, which will take place in November.

Analysis Law and Policy

What Monday’s Supreme Court Decision Means in the Fight for Abortion Rights

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Monday's decision striking two provisions of Texas' HB 2 doesn't just threaten similar laws nationwide; it could be the basis for finally stemming the onslaught of anti-science abortion restrictions in the states.

Read more of our coverage of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt here.

Abortion rights advocates have insisted, since the beginning of the fight over targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws, that despite anti-choice lawmakers’ claims to the contrary, the evidence proved these restrictions harmed rather than advanced patient safety. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court finally listened.

Monday’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedtwhich struck as unconstitutional Texas’ requirements in HB 2 that all doctors performing abortions in the state have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and that all clinics meet the same requirements as stand-alone surgical centers—is not just a win for advocates and patients in Texas. It produced an opinion that has the potential to turn back the seemingly endless wave of restrictions from the states and to reinforce abortion as a fundamental right.

First things first. Whole Woman’s Health is a data-heavy opinion, and there is probably no better justice to pen one than Justice Stephen Breyer. The man seems to live for statistical analysis. He may offer up rambling hypotheticals during oral arguments, but his written opinions are more often than not grounded in data.

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The reason this matters is that both the conservatives on the Roberts Court and their supporters in the Fifth Circuit have tried their damnedest for years to sidestep piles and piles of facts. Such as the fact that in 2013, the year Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed HB 2 into law, the number of Texans who traveled out of state to have an abortion increased to 681, a jump Rewire reported as amounting to more than the previous four years combined. Conservatives also tried to explain away the fact that prior to the implementation of HB 2, there were 41 facilities providing abortion services in the state; by the end of 2013, 16 of those facilities had either stopped providing abortion services or closed altogether. And they tried to manipulate the legal standard governing how courts review abortion restrictions to do so. Justice Breyer, his liberal colleagues, and even noted abortion rights skeptic Justice Anthony Kennedy finally put a stop to all that nonsense. Here’s how.

When upholding the Texas abortion restrictions, the Fifth Circuit relied heavily on a line of reasoning in Gonzales v. Carhartthe 2007 Supreme Court case that upheld the so-called federal partial-birth abortion act. As part of that decision, the Court ruled that when there is a question of scientific or medical uncertainty, legislators could essentially pick a side they agree with and draft laws accordingly. We’ve all witnessed what happened next. Anti-choice lawmakers in the states went bananas concocting abortion restrictions with not much more than a hand-wave that those restrictions were grounded in science and designed to advance patient safety. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals took that ruling one step further in the fight over HB 2 and ruled that once legislators announce their justification for an abortion restriction, there was little, if anything, the federal courts could do to second-guess that reasoning.

Not so, the Court ruled Monday. “The statement [by the Fifth Circuit] that legislatures, and not courts, must resolve questions of medical uncertainty is also inconsistent with this Court’s case law,” Breyer wrote. “Instead, the Court, when determining the constitutionality of laws regulating abortion procedures, has placed considerable weight upon evidence and argument presented in judicial proceedings” holding that the “Court retains an independent constitutional duty to review factual findings where constitutional rights are at stake.”

Justice Breyer put that last part in italics just to drive home that yes, when it comes to the fundamental right to abortion, the federal courts are not simply rubber stamps for state lawmakers.

With that point made clear, Breyer then laid out—basically in a listicle—the number of places the Fifth Circuit got its review of the data wrong as to the effect of admitting privileges on the availability of reproductive care. It’s an impressive list that goes on for pages and includes “[a] collection of at least five peer-reviewed studies on abortion complications in the first trimester, showing that the highest rate of major complications including those complications requiring hospital admission—was less than one-quarter of 1%” as “[e]xpert testimony to the effect that complications rarely require hospital admission, much less immediate transfer to a hospital from an outpatient clinic.”

There’s more, but Breyer summed it up nicely: “In our view, the record contains sufficient evidence that the admitting-privileges requirement led to the closure of half of Texas’ clinics, or thereabouts. Those closures meant fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and increased crowding.”

Moving on to those claims made by attorneys for the State of Texas that the ACS provisions in particular advanced patient safety, Justice Breyer dropped some more data bombs. “Nationwide, childbirth is 14 times more likely than abortion to result in death, but Texas law allows a midwife to oversee childbirth in the patient’s own home,” Breyer wrote.

Colonoscopy, a procedure that typically takes place outside a hospital (or surgical center) setting, has a mortality rate 10 times higher than an abortion. The mortality rate for liposuction, another outpatient procedure, is 28 times higher than the mortality rate for abortion. Medical treatment after an incomplete miscarriage often involves a procedure identical to that involved in a nonmedical abortion, but it often takes place outside a hospital or surgical center. And Texas partly or wholly grandfathers (or waives in whole or in part the surgical-center requirement for) about two-thirds of the facilities to which the surgical-center standards apply. But it neither grandfathers nor provides waivers for any of the facilities that perform abortions.

How good does it feel to hear the Supreme Court call shenanigans on lawmakers who insist the best way to protect the health and safety of patients is by making comprehensive reproductive health care impossible to access? Probably as good as it feels to hear the Supreme Court shut down in the same opinion all the nonsense from abortion rights opponents claiming rogue provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell is proof positive that all abortion providers are dangerous predators that require the kind of regulation advanced in HB 2. “Gosnell’s behavior was terribly wrong. But there is no reason to believe that an extra layer of regulation would have affected that behavior,” Breyer wrote. “Determined wrongdoers, already ignoring existing statutes and safety measures, are unlikely to be convinced to adopt safe practices by a new overlay of regulations. Regardless, Gosnell’s deplorable crimes could escape detection only because his facility went uninspected for more than 15 years.”

Breyer went on: “Pre-existing Texas law already contained numerous detailed regulations covering abortion facilities, including a requirement that facilities be inspected at least annually. The record contains nothing to suggest that H. B. 2 would be more effective than pre-existing Texas law at deterring wrongdoers like Gosnell from criminal behavior.”

And: scene.

Immediately, Monday’s decision means that similar TRAP restrictions in other Fifth Circuit states like Louisiana are likely to be found unconstitutional. In states like Missouri or Kansas, it’s too soon to tell how the decision will affect those kinds of laws, but advocates are no doubt looking into that issue right now given the opening Monday’s decision creates.

And importantly, it makes it much more difficult for anti-abortion lawmakers to advance additional restrictions like “dismemberment bans” without being able to scientifically prove those laws actually advance patient care. These are laws that would effectively criminalize surgical abortions pre-viabilty, and are anti-abortion lawmakers’ latest attempts to cut off access to abortion while claiming to advance patient safety.

This is why Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt has the potential to reach far beyond TRAP laws in the fight for comprehensive reproductive health care. Finally, we’ve got a Supreme Court decision that demands facts over rhetoric and data over belief, and doesn’t fall into the “difficult decision that people disagree on” false equivalence. Monday’s decision is a clear, data-driven defense of the importance of access to comprehensive reproductive health care and an affirmation of abortion as a fundamental right. And that kind of defense has been a long time coming.

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