TOPEKA, Kan. – The state's highest court on Friday temporarily stopped the state attorney general from looking at records from two abortion clinics, saying such a review could violate patient privacy.
The Kansas Supreme Court ordered a lower court judge to first make sure that Attorney General Phill Kline has the right to see the documents in his investigation of potential violations of state restrictions on abortion and suspected rapes of children.
If Judge Richard Anderson determines Kline does have that right, he must still ensure that the patients' privacy is protected, the court said.
In 2004, Anderson issued subpoenas at Kline's request for the records of clinics operated by Dr. George Tiller in Wichita and Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb. The records involve 90 women and girls.
The Supreme Court said the subpoenas could infringe on the patients' rights to maintain privacy about personal and sexual matters, to receive confidential health care and to obtain a lawful abortion without an undue governmental burden.
Writing for the court, Justice Carol Beier agreed with Kline that the state needs to pursue criminal investigations, but said "the type of information sought by the state here could hardly be more sensitive, or the potential harm to patient privacy posed by disclosure more substantial."
Kline said Friday he was pleased with the ruling because he believes the subpoenas will eventually be honored.
He said his office never sought patients' names. "They are under no criminal liability or investigation. Their privacy will be protected," he said.
During arguments before the Supreme Court, Eric Rucker, Kline's chief deputy told the justices the attorney general had cause to believe the medical records contained evidence of multiple violations of Kansas law by the clinics.
State law restricts the ability of a woman to obtain an abortion after a fetus can survive outside the womb.
Also, Kline has said a Kansas law requiring doctors and other health care providers to report suspected child abuse covers every case of a minor under 16 having sex because all such activity is illegal. The latter issue is before a federal court in Wichita, where Kline testified Friday.
Kline opposes abortion, and Tiller's clinic has been high-profile target of anti-abortion protesters. The clinic, known for doing late-term procedures, was bombed in 1985, and Tiller was shot in both arms by a protester in 1993.
Peter Brownlie, Planned Parenthood's chief executive officer, said the ruling Friday "clearly indicates that Attorney General Kline overreached in his effort to get at abortion providers."
Planned Parenthood has similar disputes with officials in Indiana and Ohio.