AP, May 3, 2012 by Bill Draper
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — An anti-abortion group says it has the patient records of dozens of women and girls who sought treatment at a Kansas City, Kan., abortion clinic last month — a claim the clinic’s attorney says is meant to scare off potential patients and would suggest a crime was committed.
Troy Newman, the president of Wichita-based Operation Rescue, said a confidential informant delivered boxes to the group about two weeks ago that contained the records of 86 female patients who sought treatment at Central Family Medicine, also known as Aid for Women.
Newman said the records contained patient names, addresses and other identifying details, as well as information about patients’ pregnancies. He said he didn’t know how the man obtained the records, but he said the man insisted he obtained them legally.
Newman said the records contain proof of violations, including failure to report child sexual abuse, and that Operation Rescue has asked state Attorney General Derek Schmidt to reopen an investigation by a former attorney general.
Cheryl Pilate, an attorney for the clinic, said she contacted the FBI after someone broke into a locked Dumpster on clinic property about 10 days ago. She said she doubts Operation Rescue’s claims because the clinic would not have discarded April medical records, and that documents of that nature always get shredded first.
She said the only way someone could have gotten the clinic’s patient records would be to steal them.
“It certainly appears to me that a crime was committed,” Pilate said. “I hope those people understand the gravity of what they’ve done. This has nothing to do with the safety of women or the sanctity of records. This is about scaring women away.”
Pilate said it’s more likely Operation Rescue either received nonmedical records, such as sign-in sheets containing names and ages of patients, or was able to piece together patient information that had been shredded. She said the clinic will look at options such as incineration to make sure discarded records don’t fall into the wrong hands.
Newman said the man who gave Operation Rescue the files found similar, unredacted abortion records last summer and turned them over to the governor’s office, attorney general’s office and the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, which licenses medical professionals. He said the state did nothing with those records, so the informant brought the latest batch to Operation Rescue.
“It’s my position that nothing happens in the state without the public scrutinizing it,” Newman said. “There are too many back-room deals without our knowledge, then things are swept out the door and ignored unless someone said something.”
Clinic director Jeff Pederson said the clinic is regularly harassed by anti-abortion activists, who in the past included Scott Roeder, who fatally shot abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in a Wichita church in 2009. Pederson said Roeder, who is serving a life prison sentence, was caught on surveillance video putting glue on the clinic’s locks 18 hours before he killed Tiller.
Board of Healing Arts general counsel Kelli Stevens confirmed that a complaint against the clinic had been filed, but she couldn’t discuss specifics. She also declined to address how the investigation would be affected if it is determined the records were illegally obtained.
Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback, said her office could not comment on Newman’s claims that similar abortion records were turned over to the state last year.
“Anyone who believes they have evidence of a violation of state law by a health care provider should contact their local law enforcement or the Kansas Board of Healing Arts,” she said in an email to The Associated Press.
Abortion records have been the focus of court battles in Kansas since 2003, when Phill Kline, the state attorney general at the time and an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, began investigating clinics. Kline obtained access to information in patient records, and later became entangled in a professional ethics proceeding — partly over how the records were handled.
Last October, the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys recommended that Kline’s law license be suspended indefinitely, an issue that will be decided by the Kansas Supreme Court. He has already allowed his Kansas law license to lapse.
Kline, who is now a visiting professor of law at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., denies breaking ethics rules during his investigations of clinics in Overland Park and Wichita while he was attorney general, and later as Johnson County district attorney.
Newman on Thursday asked Schmidt’s office to reopen Kline’s probe.
“This shows that Phill Kline was onto something,” Newman said. “Another prosecutor in the state should reopen the investigation and see what’s going on.”
Newman said the records also contained empty cash envelopes that included the name of the patient and amount paid, and that he thinks that could indicate the clinic was committing fraud or tax evasion by not reporting the money.
Pilate called that assertion reprehensible.
“People can pay for services in whatever way they find appropriate,” she said. “Cash is legal tender. My clinic serves a low-income, at-risk clientele, and these are women who may not have bank accounts.”