Professor to discuss findings in Tiller case
By Jack Weinstein/The Olathe News
A professor who would have been an expert witness in the George Tiller abortion case will talk tonight in a public panel discussion about the use of psychiatry in the case.
Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore , Md. , would have testified in the case of the Wichita abortion doctor had it not been dismissed.
In December, former Attorney General Phill Kline filed 30 misdemeanor charges against Tiller for violating the state’s late-term abortion law. According to Kansas law, late-term abortions are illegal unless the mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy could cause irreversible damage to a major bodily function, including mental health.
According to the charges, two each for 15 abortions, Tiller justified those late-term abortions by saying depression and anxiety disorders had been diagnosed in the patients.
But after two district court judges in Sedgwick County found probable cause to charge Tiller, another judge dismissed the case because Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston said Kline didn’t get her permission to file charges in her jurisdiction.
Before the dismissal, McHugh had reviewed the medical records of more than 40 women who had abortions at Tiller’s Wichita clinic.
“I believe that psychiatry in psychiatric terms have been used in this to justify the abortions and to get around the law in the state of Kansas ,” McHugh said Monday. “Psychiatry is not being used properly here. My conclusion is that this doesn’t represent an adequate psychiatric evaluation, and th at these conditions themselves don’t represent conditions calling for abortion under the law.”
Of the files he reviewed, McHugh said Tiller’s justification for the late-term abortions was related to acute stress reactions of the patients.
“An acute stress reaction by the nature of itself is over when the acute stress is over,” he said.
Instead of using patients’ histories to make diagnoses, McHugh said, it appeared only the stress of Tiller’s patients was noted in their medical records as justification for the abortions.
“Psychiatry has been brought in here to justify an action, and this action is not justified by those psychiatric records,” McHugh said.
McHugh will discuss his findings and answer questions tonight as part of the discussion.
The event will allow legislators to ask questions of McHugh, said Jennifer Giroux, director of Women Influencing the Nation, the group that organized the discussion. Hopefully, Giroux said, it will assist Attorney General Pau l Morrison’s investigation of Tiller.
Giroux added that she hopes Morrison, who is “looking the other way” in this case as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, is grateful they’re bringing the evidence to him.
McHugh said Morrison’s office had not contacted him about his findings.
“The Morrison administration was in contact with Dr. McHugh in January of 2007,” wrote Ashley Anstaett, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, in an e-mail. “We collected medical files from him and verified his statement contained in the case file. It is inaccurate to say we never contacted him.”
Brian Burgess , a spokesman for Kline, who is now the Johnson County district attorney, said Morrison had contacted McHugh only to retrieve the medical records, not to discuss his findings.
Rep. Arlen Siegfreid , an Olathe Republican, said he didn’t understand why if two judges found the evidence against Tiller credible, another judge would dismiss the charges based on jurisdiction. He also wo ndered why Foulston didn’t re-file the charges.
“There are huge questions that haven’t been answered here,” he said.
Siegfreid, chair of the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which handles abortion-related bills, said the committee had asked Morrison to pursue the charges against Tiller. Because Morrison told legislators his office was conducting an investigation, committee members backed off, Siegfreid said.
“At this time, I’m waiting to see what the attorney general of Kansas is going to do,” Siegfreid said. Siegfreid said the mental health question was key.
“Would these women have been severely psychologically damaged if they didn’t have abortions?” Siegfreid asked. The discussion will be at 7 p.m. in the first-floor ballroom at the Doubletree Hotel, 10100 College Blvd. , in Overland Park .