Archive for Saturday, March 15, 2014

Kansas board to appeal abortion ruling

March 15, 2014

— The Kansas medical board plans to appeal a state court judge’s order overturning its revocation of a doctor’s license over her referrals of young patients for late-term abortions.

The State Board of Healing Arts decision Friday means the case of Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus goes next to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

The board in 2012 revoked Neuhaus’ license to provide charity care over her exams of 11 patients, ages 10 to 18, nine years earlier. It concluded Neuhaus had failed to meet accepted standards of medical care because her records did not show that she had done thorough exams.

Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis ruled last week that the medical board had failed to show that Neuhaus’ mental health exams were inadequate, only that her record-keeping was inadequate. The judge ordered the board to reconsider its sanctions.

Board members had a private, 20-minute meeting with legal staff to discuss the ruling and whether they should appeal or accept Theis’ decision and schedule more proceedings for Neuhaus. They said little before voting in a brief, open session to have board attorneys pursue an appeal.

“There are legal grounds that support an appeal,” said Kathleen Selzler Lippert, the board’s executive director. “They thought it was appropriate to appeal.”

Neuhaus, from the small town of Nortonville about 30 miles north of Lawrence, provided second opinions in 2003 that the late Dr. George Tiller needed under Kansas law to legally terminate the pregnancies. Tiller was among a few U.S. physicians known to perform abortions in the final weeks of pregnancy and was shot to death in May 2009 by a man professing strong anti-abortion views.

Bob Eye, a Topeka attorney representing Neuhaus, said he’s not surprised the board’s decision to appeal.

“The board probably recognized that they have essentially made a sizeable commitment of resources, in terms of staff and budget, in the case,” Eye said. “Judge Theis, I think, wrote a carefully reasoned decision.”

The case centers on how Neuhaus concluded that each of the 11 patients had serious mental health issues and that an abortion was advisable. Neuhaus’ reports for Tiller, compiled with a “PsychManager Lite” computer program, were no more than five pages.

Neuhaus argued she provided adequate care but limited what she included in her records to protect patients’ privacy amid state investigations of abortion providers, including Tiller. At the time the board revoked her limited license, Neuhaus was hoping to return to having a full, active license in Kansas. Eye has said she’d have to file new paperwork to practice again.

The case stemmed from a 2006 complaint by Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Abortion opponents had scrutinized Neuhaus for years and raised questions about her activities, and Sullenger said she the board is “wise” to appeal Theis’ ruling.

“She’s not fit to practice medicine, and if she gets her license back, she’ll endanger the public,” Sullenger said.

Neuhaus had performed abortions in Wichita and Lawrence but stopped in 2002. She also provided second opinions for Tiller from 1999 to 2006.

Eye called Sullenger’s opinion “poorly informed” and said it’s unfortunate that the board’s pursuit of the complaint perpetuated Sullenger’s “mistaken ideas” needlessly.

“This is a thinly veiled attempt to discourage physicians from extending abortion services to women,” Eye said. “I think, ultimately, it will be a futile effort.”

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