The stakes are high for Planned Parenthood of Kansas Mid-Missouri, as the prosecution for allegedly illegal late term abortions in 2003 inches closer to trial under Judge Stephen Tatum. After years of fits and starts, and with a July 11 scheduling hearing, the judge has still not confirmed whether there will actually be any trial.
Steve Howe, the District Attorney for the Kansas-City suburban district of Johnson County, is pursuing 58 of 107 criminal charges initiated by Howe’s predecessor, Phill Kline. In November, the prosecution had to abandon 49 charges, including felony false-writings (forged patient forms), when it was discovered that both the Kansas health department (under Gov. Sebelius) and the Attorney General’s office (under Steve Six) had shredded paper evidence crucial for conviction.
The charges remaining are 29 counts for “unlawful failure to determine gestational age” and 29 counts of “unlawful late-term abortions”. On Tuesday, seven filings by Planned Parenthood attorneys were “unsealed” (made publicly available) and include
pre-trial special requests by Planned Parenthood attorneys for extensive written jury questionnaires, with special one-on-one closed door interviews with potential jurors.
While technically permissible to poll jurors on their fitness to serve (i.e. citizenship, ties to litigators or their own criminal record) this specific request –if granted– would prevent the public from hearing in open court how Planned Parenthood attorneys ask invasive questions including (according to the filing)
the juror’s “religious” concerns and “personal, as well as family members and close friends’ experiences with abortion”!
Planned Parenthood attorneys also requested that Judge Tatum:
- muzzle “as prejudicial” these terms, ‘baby’, ‘infant’, ‘child’, ‘victim’, and ‘late-term abortion’;
- preclude any mention of the price of abortion;
- and prohibit any mention of patient paperwork with disparate handwritings (referencing the earlier forgery charges).
In additional filings, Planned Parenthood attorneys want the court to dismiss the 29 counts on failure to assess gestation because the prosecution’s evidence on gestational measurement and viability comes from two physicians who are not abortionists. If these experts (one a university-based specialist on high-risk pregnancy and the other a family practitioner) do not get excluded by the judge, then Planned Parenthood attorneys want the court to dismiss the charges as just a “difference in medical opinions”.
After the charges were initially gathered, the state statute of limitations on prosecutions of these crimes was lengthened to 5 years; but as the effective date was mid-year of 2003, Planned Parenthood is also asking that all but 3 of the 29 suspect abortions be dropped.