WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The trial of one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers began Monday with defense attorneys trying to cast doubt on whether the doctor intentionally broke a state law requiring that an independent physician sign off on the procedure.
Dan Monnat, a defense attorney for Dr. George Tiller, told jurors in his opening statement that Tiller relied on advice from the state medical board's director and one of his lawyers when he used Dr. Kristin Neuhaus as a second opinion for some abortions.
Tiller is charged with 19 misdemeanors alleging he failed to obtain a second opinion for some late-term abortions in 2003 from a physician with whom he had no legal or financial relationship.
Kansas law allows late-term abortions if two doctors agree that it is necessary to save a women's life or prevent "substantial and irreversible" harm to "a major bodily function," a phrase that's been interpreted to include mental health.
Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney told jurors in his opening statements that Tiller recruited Neuhaus in 1999, making his Wichita clinic a "one-stop shop" for women seeking abortions. He said that Neuhaus was essentially an employee of Tiller, that the two were so close they had a legal and financial relationship prohibited by the law.
"No one is above the law. It doesn't matter how just someone feels their cause is," Disney said.
Monnat told jurors that Larry Buening, then-executive director of the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, suggested to Tiller in July 1999 that he use Neuhaus as a second opinion. He said Buening told Tiller the discussion was "off the record" and told him that if asked about it he would deny it.
Buening did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press for comment.
Sedgwick County District Judge Clark Owens noted earlier in the day that Kansas does not allow ignorance of the law or advice of counsel as a valid defense. He told attorneys he would likely uphold any objections prosecutors had to evidence that would support such arguments.
Monnat told jurors that the board "recognized and approved" Tiller's relationship with Neuhaus until 2006, when abortion became a campaign issue in the attorney general's race.
Disney told the jury that Tiller provided Neuhaus with legal advice from his attorney, including writing for her the referral form letter used to provide that second opinion. He said Neuhaus was paid by patients between $250 and $300 in cash for her consultations.
"By 2003, Dr. Neuhaus was a full-time consultant for the defendant," Disney said. "That is all she did. She had no other job, no other source of income."
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