KC Star – AG Paul Morrison, psychiatrist at odds

Morrison, psychiatrist at odds
A doctor’s public comments about abortion records prompt the attorney general to threaten legal action.
By DAVID KLEPPER — The Star’s Topeka correspondent

TOPEKA | Attorney General Paul Morrison on Tuesday threatened the psychiatrist who reviewed abortion records for Phill Kline with legal action if he continues to speak out about the case.

Paul McHugh, who led Johns Hopkins University ‘s psychiatry program for 25 years, said Monday that his review of the medical records from a Wichita abortion clinic did not back up the diagnoses used to justify late-term abortions. He also said that he had not been contacted by Morrison since he took office in January.

Morrison fired back Tuesday with a stinging letter to McHugh, saying his public comments about the case threaten the integrity of the investigation and violate rules of conduct for physicians. Also, Morrison disputed McHugh’s claim that he had not been contacted by Morrison’s office and threatened to file disciplinary or legal actions against McHugh if he continued to speak publicly about the case.

“Your actions are a gross breach of trust, and demonstrate the dangers in allowing prosecutors to randomly invade the privacy rights of American citizens,” Morrison wrote. “… You do a disservice to you, Johns Hopkins and your profession.”

Morrison’s letter stopped McHugh from discussing the case at a public meeting Tuesday night. He had been scheduled to speak at a meeting in Overland Park that attracted lawmakers, anti-abortion groups and a large crowd. He briefly addressed the gathering, but did not discuss details of the case and declined to speak with The Kansas City Star.

“He (Morrison) is the attorney general, and I don’t wish to fly in the face of the attorney general,” he told the group.

McHugh served as a paid expert to Kline, then attorney general and now Johnson County district attorney, during Kline’s investigation of two Kansas abortion clinics. Shortly before leaving office last year, Kline filed charges – which were quickly dismissed for jurisdictional reasons – against Wichita abortion provider George Tiller alleging that he performed illegal late-term abortions based on false medical diagnoses.

Morrison vowed to continue the investigation when he took office. He has said an announcement in the case will be made before the end of the month.

McHugh, brought to Kansas City this week by an anti-abortion group, said Monday that his review of the medical files in the case showed the diagnoses were not sound, and in some cases seemed concocted to justify the late-term procedure. “These are not mental illnesses,” he said.

State law prohibits abortions after 22 weeks unless the pregnancy could kill the mother or create a “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” The exception has been read to apply to mental health as well.

McHugh said he was not violating the women’s privacy by discussing the cases, because their identifying information had been redacted from the files.

But Morrison and an attorney for Tiller maintain that public discussion of the details of the medical records – under court seal – violates the privacy of the women and the gag order imposed in the case. Tiller’s attorneys insist their client follows all state laws on abortions.

Morrison threatened McHugh with legal action if he refused to cease speaking about the case.

“Should you continue to make such statements, our office will pursue all available remedies – including filing disciplinary charges against you in Maryland and/or filing legal action to recover the more than $5,000” paid to him in expert fees.

Anti-abortion groups accused Morrison of trying to silence McHugh and protect Tiller. They focused on discrepancies between McHugh and Morrison regarding whether Morrison’s office had contacted McHugh.

McHugh said he had not been contacted by Morrison’s office. But in his letter to McHugh, Morrison said one of his deputies contacted McHugh in January to retrieve the medical files. Morrison wrote that the deputy asked McHugh whether he would still be willing to testify, and that McHugh said he would be.

Mary Kay Culp, Kansans for Life director, believes McHugh’s version of events. She said in a statement that Morrison’s alleged failure to contact McHugh “tells us all we need to know about this so-called investigation.”

Kline declined to comment.

The Star’s Jonathan Kealing contributed to this report. To reach David Klepper, call 785-354-1388 or send e-mail to dklepper@kcstar.com.