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Kan. doctor loses license over abortion referrals

A Kansas doctor remained unapologetic Friday after state regulators revoked her medical license over allegations that she performed inadequate mental health exams on young patients she then referred to Dr. George Tiller for late-term abortions.

Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus and other abortion-rights supporters described the action against her by the State Board of Healing Arts as part of ongoing efforts to limit access to abortion that also shadowed Tiller before his murder in 2009 by a man professing strong anti-abortion views. Neuhaus immediately said she would ask the state's courts to overturn the board's decision.

In stripping Neuhaus of her license, the board accepted the findings of an administrative judge, who concluded in February that Neuhaus "seriously jeopardized" the care of her patients. The case against her involved mental health exams done in 2003 on 11 patients, ages 10 to 18. The judge said Neuhaus' records didn't contain enough information to show that she did thorough exams.

Neuhaus provided second opinions Tiller needed under Kansas law to perform some late-term abortions at his Wichita clinic. Until his death, Tiller was among a few U.S. physicians known to terminate pregnancies in their final weeks, and Neuhaus provided second opinions for him from 1999 to 2006.

Because of Tiller's clinic, Kansas has long been at the center of the nation's debate over abortion. Since a sympathetic Gov. Sam Brownback took office in January 2011, the state has tightened restrictions on abortion, written special health and safety rules for abortion providers and limited private health insurance coverage for elective abortions.

"It's all about abortion rights, absolutely," Neuhaus said after the board's decision. "If this wasn't in the Bible Belt, I think this wouldn't even be happening."

Abortion opponents dismissed such comments, saying that after years of their scrutiny of Neuhaus, the board finally moved to protect patients. Anti-abortion groups long argued that Neuhaus helped Tiller flout state restrictions on late-term abortions, and Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, called their working relationship "a marriage made in Hell."

"It has taken a long, long time to get this piece of justice," Culp said.

Neuhaus, who is from Nortonville, a small town about 30 miles north of Lawrence, has an inactive medical license that allows her to provide limited charity care, but she had asked the board to reinstate her to a full, active license. She had performed abortions in Wichita and Lawrence but stopped in 2002.

The case before the board centered on how Neuhaus concluded that each of the 11 patients had serious mental health issues and that an abortion was advisable. The law required Tiller to obtain an independent second opinion that a patient faced significant and permanent harm if the pregnancy continued.

Neuhaus' reports for Tiller, compiled with a "PsychManager Lite" computer program, were five pages or less and don't cite details from patients' statements or data gleaned from her exams. The administrative judge concluded Neuhaus simply "answered yes/no questions" using the computer program and assigned whatever diagnosis the computer gave.

The judge also said that in some cases, the young patients were described as suicidal, but Neuhaus didn't recommend further treatment.

"I'm more concerned about the standard of care, particularly the aftercare," said board member Richard Macias, a Wichita attorney and a Brownback appointee. "That's the issue that bothers me the most."

Neuhaus strongly disputes the judge's characterization of how she used the computer program and testified during a hearing that she sometimes refused to allow abortions.

She also testified that she didn't put more details in her records to protect patients' privacy. She said she was "unapologetic" for that, noting the Kansas attorney general's office began investigating abortion providers, including Tiller, starting early in 2003, and in 2006, Fox television's Bill O'Reilly strongly criticized Tiller and discussed a few of his patients' cases on his program.

Neuhaus said her exams met accepted standards of care. Julie Burkhart, a former Tiller employee who helped found the abortion rights group Trust Women, called the board's decision "just another attack on women's reproductive health."

"It has nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with making abortion inaccessible," Burkhart said.

The case stemmed from a 2006 complaint by Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue. The group's president, Troy Newman, who attended the board's meeting Friday, said its decision was justified.

"And this is only on 11 records, not on the countless others she did the exact same thing for," he said.

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Online:

Kansas State Board of Healing Arts: http://www.ksbha.org/

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