Jury Selection Begins in Trial of Kansas Abortion Provider
March 16, 2009 - 4:15 PMPotential jurors in the trial of one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers were told Monday to set aside their personal views about abortion, and at least one was dismissed after she said she couldn't.
"This trial is not a debate about abortion," Assistant Attorney General Barry Disney told prospective jurors as jury selection began. "It is not about whether abortion is right or wrong. ... This trial is about whether the defendant has violated the law."
Dr. George Tiller is charged with 19 misdemeanors alleging he failed to obtain a second opinion for late-term abortions from an independent physician, as required by Kansas law. If convicted, the Wichita doctor could face a year in county jail or a fine of $2,500 for each misdemeanor charge.
Tiller and his clinic have been a target of abortion opponents for decades. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and an abortion opponent shot him in both arms in 1993.
Wichita also was the site of the 45-day "Summer of Mercy" event staged by Operation Rescue in 1991. Those mass demonstrations and clinic blockades led to more than 2,600 arrests. One of those arrested, the Rev. Pat Mahoney, was back in Wichita on Monday for Tiller's trial.
"This case not only impacts Wichita, but it impacts the nation," Mahoney said.
Abortion opponents plan prayer vigils during the trial, and abortion-rights supporters also plan demonstrations.
Disney told prospective jurors that prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that Tiller performed the 19 late-term abortions and that he was required to obtain a second, independent opinion. Jurors need only decide whether Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, who provided Tiller with second opinions, had a financial or legal relationship with him, Disney said.
One potential juror was dismissed after she said she was biased against Tiller and would find it hard to let go of her anti-abortion views.
Another was let go after he insisted he didn't "want to be a part of it," saying he has seen too much about the case in the media.
Kansas law allows late-term abortions if two doctors agree that it is necessary to save a woman's life or prevent "substantial and irreversible" harm to "a major bodily function," a phrase that has been interpreted to include mental health.
Prosecutors contend Tiller broke the law because he had a financial relationship with Neuhaus, who has been granted immunity from prosecution and could testify.
Tiller's defense attorneys say he is innocent and have called his prosecution a "hyper-technical political trial." They have said they will appeal if he is convicted.
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