Legislators question Morrison
Three anti-abortion legislators are chastising Attorney General Paul Morrison over a staffer’s comments about a criminal case against a Planned Parenthood clinic and asking why Morrison found no wrongdoing earlier this year.
Republican Reps. Benjamin Hodge, of Overland Park; Mike Kiegerl, of Olathe, and Rob Olson, of Olathe, sent a letter Monday to Morrison, demanding that he and his staff make no more negative comments about the criminal case.
Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline, an anti-abortion Republican, filed 23 felony and 84 misdemeanor charges last week against Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Overland Park.
Kline alleges the clinic made false writings, failed to properly maintain records, performed illegal late-term abortions and failed to determine whether fetuses were viable before performing late-term procedures. Planned Parenthood officials say they follow state laws on abortion.
Kline’s action came only four months after Morrison, an abortion-rights Democrat, reviewed evidence previously gathered by Kline and found no wrongdoing. Spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said last week that Morrison was skeptical that the charges have merit and suggested that Kline is pursuing a political agenda.
In their letter, the three legislators said their constituents can’t square Anstaett’s comments and Morrison’s refusal to prosecute Planned Parenthood with the new criminal case.
“As the chief law enforcement officer for the state of Kansas, you have a duty to show respect for the criminal justice system,” they wrote. “Finally, we feel that the enforcement of the laws in Kansas should be both your and our top priority.”
Anstaett confirmed that Morrison received the letter Monday but wouldn’t comment further.
The three legislators portrayed the comments Anstaett made last week as a criticism of the judiciary, saying Kline filed the charges after a district judge in Johnson County found probable cause to believe a crime may have been committed. Anstaett didn’t mention any judge or judges, only Kline.
“What is not clear is whether or not you examined all of the evidence and interviewed all of the witnesses listed in the complaint filed in Johnson County,” they wrote. “If you have not done so, it is difficult to understand why your office feels compelled to comment on a criminal matter that is now before the court.”
The criminal case is another episode in a long-standing conflict between Kline and abortion providers that dates to Kline’s service in the Kansas House. As a legislator, he was a leader of anti-abortion lawmakers, and he had a hand in writing restrictions on late-term abortions enacted in 1998.
Four years later, Kline was elected attorney general. A few months after taking office, he began an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s clinic and one operated in Wichita by Dr. George Tiller. That led to a two-year legal battle over his gaining access to patient records.
Morrison defeated Kline in last year’s election. But Morrison had to give up the Johnson County district attorney’s job, and, because Morrison had switched parties to challenge Kline, the local GOP was able to fill the county vacancy. After Kline was chosen, abortion rights supporters began speculating that he would eventually file a criminal case against Planned Parenthood.
Even as Kline pursues his case against Planned Parenthood, other abortion opponents are trying to convene a grand jury in Johnson County. Organizers of a petition drive said they have more than the 3,863 signatures necessary.
Among the groups seeking the grand jury is Wichita-based Operation Rescue, which sent a fundraising e-mail to supporters Monday saying its efforts against Planned Parenthood had left it $22,000 in debt.
“As you can imagine, this crisis comes at the worst possible time,” Troy Newman, the group’s president, said in the e-mail. “We need to raise no less than $43,000 in the next 10 days.”