What's the Matter with Kansas Now?

Apropos of my earlier post regarding the necessity of being vigilant about encroachments on women’s rights, we get this story out of Kansas, where the Attorney General, Phill Kline, who happens to be head of the national Republican attorneys general association, is trying to obtain the medical records of women and girls who had late-term abortions.  His rationale is that he needs information in the files to prosecute criminal cases.


Kline asserts that the medical records will help him prosecute statutory rape cases and pursue health professionals who have failed to report cases of suspected child sexual abuse, which they are compelled to do by state law.  "There are two things that child predators want,” he said, “access to children and secrecy. As attorney general, I'm bound and determined not to give them either."

How laudable.  The first problem (and there’s always a problem with the intentions of these folks, isn’t there?) is that invading the privacy of rape victims, statutory or otherwise, is in direct contradiction to the facilitation of an atmosphere where rape victims feel safe to identify their accusers.  Revictimizing them by forcibly revealing intimidate details between themselves and their doctors is both heartless and unproductive.  Additionally, rape victims who know and fear retribution from their attackers are already loathe to report the crime; this idiotic idea will make them loathe to seek medical treatment as well.  The second problem is:

the subpoena cover[s] "the entire, unredacted patient files of nearly 90 women who obtained abortions at two Kansas clinics in 2003" and that it was not limited by age or the absence of abuse reports.

Hmm.  A mass subpoena of women’s medical records, giving Kline access to information well above and beyond what’s relevant for statutory rape cases, including personal details like marital status, race, employment history, emergency contacts, psychological profiles, methods of birth control, prior history of abortions, use of drugs, unrelated health conditions, etc.  To say the least, it seems to raise questions about the contention that his objective is prosecuting child predators.  One might even say that this isn’t really about statutory rape at all:

Kansas law restricts abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy, where the fetus would be viable outside the womb, except when "continuation of the pregnancy will cause a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."

Despite that law passed in 1998, Kansas has become a national magnet for late-term abortions because of a doctor in Wichita who performs hundreds of them each year. The doctor, George Tiller, funneled at least $150,000 through political action committees to Mr. Kline's opponent in the attorney general's race in 2002, and his clinic, Women's Health Care Services, is one of the two whose records are being subpoenaed.

Call me cynical, but I suspect that if Dr. Tiller had funneled at least $150,000 through political action committees to Mr. Kline, instead of his opponent, his medical practice wouldn’t receive much scrutiny from the attorney general’s office regardless of the number of abortions he performed. Think that’s a bit of outrageous hyperbole?  Well, let’s not forget, shall we, the recently elected Republican Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, who sterilized a female patient without her written consent and then made a fraudulent claim to Medicaid for reimbursement for the procedure.  The party of moral values welcomed him into the fold with open arms.

Then again, maybe it’s about this:

In a statement on Dr. Tiller's behalf, his lawyer and a spokesman noted that he had complied with a subpoena from Texas authorities this week in relation to a patient who died after an abortion at his clinic…

If error by Dr. Tiller indeed caused the death of that patient, then he should be punished.  (And, if Bush & Co. have their way, her family would receive a whopping $250,000 settlement.)  But the privacy of the rest of Dr. Tiller’s patients should be invaded to see to it that he is.

The issue here is that there is no clear motive for subpoenaing all 90 of these women’s medical records.  It is to prosecute perpetrators of statutory rape?  Is it a witch hunt against a political antagonist?  Is it an attempt to discern possible malpractice?  Any of the above are dubious (to be generous) grounds for said subpoena, anyway.  Kline obviously cares about reducing the number of abortions in his state, which in and of itself is a goal that anyone can support.  But the ends do not justify the means.  They rarely do.

-- Shakespeare's Sister