A woman holds a sign during an anti-abortion protest march to the Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens, New York October 20, 2012. (Reuters/Andrew Kelly)
We talk a lot about restrictions on abortion that affect patients directly—twenty-week time limits, transvaginal ultrasounds, forced hearing of fetal heartbeats and many other cruelties. We talk some—not enough, but some—about unnecessary regulations intended to force clinics out of business. But except when there’s an actual murder, like that of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas in 2009, we pay little attention to the way anti-choicers wreak havoc on individual providers. This oversight makes it easier for the anti-choice movement to position itself as respectable and mainstream, interested only in methodically pursuing its legislative agenda. But the reality is that the country’s leading abortion opponents are the same unreconstructed fanatics they have always been.
You would not think, for example, that a convicted clinic bomber would have a lot of traction with a state medical board. In Kansas, however, Cheryl Sullenger was able to set in motion a case against Dr. Tiller’s former colleague, Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, that in 2012 took away her license to practice medicine, and has driven her to the brink of financial ruin, and may well stick her with the entire cost of the proceedings against her—a whopping $92,672—should she lose her appeal. Was Sullenger a patient of Dr. Neuhaus who had been injured? The parent or spouse of one? No. She is a senior policy adviser to Operation Rescue who served two years in prison for trying to blow up a clinic in California in 1987, and whose phone number was found in the car of Dr. Tiller’s assassin, Scott Roeder. In Kansas, you see, anyone can bring a case against any doctor, and the anti-choice movement takes full advantage of that legal quirk. And so it came about that the clinic bomber drove a compassionate, caring doctor out of medicine and into near-bankruptcy.
From 1999 to 2007, Dr. Neuhaus, a native-born Kansan, family doctor and abortion provider, acted as a consultant to Dr. Tiller, providing the second opinions the state required for abortions at twenty-two weeks and later. (No other surgical procedure requires a second opinion, by the way—let alone one from an in-state physician, as the Kansas law oddly requires.) That Dr. Neuhaus took on the job tells you a lot about her courage and commitment to women: a previous consultant, a psychiatrist, quit after anti-choicers picketed his house. In the proceedings before the state Board of Healing Arts (whose members include a former lawyer for Operation Rescue), Dr. Neuhaus was accused of not keeping detailed records for eleven patients ages 10 to 18, all from 2003, and of failing to prove that an abortion was necessary to prevent “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” or of the patient’s mental health. Dr. Neuhaus says she kept her records brief to protect the patients’ identities. This was a rational fear: for years, State Attorney General Phill Kline had been trying to seize abortion clinics’ patient records. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who waged a jihad against the man he frequently referred to as “Tiller the baby-killer,” mentioned during a 2006 interview with Kline that he himself had seen records from Dr. Tiller’s clinic. The state’s expert witness against Dr. Neuhaus, Dr. Liza Gold, a prominent psychiatrist affiliated with Georgetown University, gave dry and technical responses that showed she knew nothing of the abortion scene in Kansas or anywhere else. Here is her testimony about the case of a pregnant 10-year-old who had been raped by her uncle:
Q: Is it your opinion that a ten-year-old is able to carry a pregnancy to term without having adverse mental health consequences?
A: I don’t have enough details—are you asking me about this specific one or generally?
Q: I’ll ask generally first.
A: Generally it’s possible. Anything is possible.
About the 10-year-old, Dr. Gold added, “I don’t have any data about this particular girl to allow me to come to a conclusion one way or another.” As Dr. Neuhaus told me, “She wasn’t talking about treating the whole person. Having a baby at 10 is bad for you.” Dr. Gold has charged the state $75,000 for her work—part of the bill which Neuhaus may have to pay. Dr. Gold did not respond to my request for an interview.
When I caught up with Dr. Neuhaus by phone, she was driving twenty miles to her mother’s house to do laundry: her washing machine had broken down and she couldn’t afford the repair bill. Between the mortgage and the health insurance required for her son’s Type 1 diabetes, there’s no money for basic maintenance on the isolated farmhouse she shares with her husband, Mike Caddell, and son in Nortonville. To top it off, her car needs $1,000 worth of repairs, so she has had to borrow her mother’s. We talked about the stress that abortion providers are under in Kansas: at one time, Dr. Neuhaus wore a bulletproof vest and carried a gun. “Sometimes I think I have PTSD,” she said with a laugh. “At the core, I’m a fighter—but I’ve been injured, too.” Still, she forges on: having earned a master’s in public health, she is now working as a researcher at the University of Kansas. One way or another, Dr. Neuhaus will be taking care of people’s health needs. But she won’t be involved in abortions, she says. Even if she gets back her license, Operation Rescue has driven yet another provider from the field.
Can you show solidarity with Dr. Neuhaus? Donate online at Indiegogo.com/projects/dr-neuhaus, or mail checks made out to Ann K. Neuhaus to me at The Nation and I will forward them. You won’t be helping just one person; you will be sending a message of support to every provider. If we let good, brave physicians be destroyed by the Cheryl Sullengers and the Phill Klines, who will do the difficult, dangerous but necessary work of abortion care?
Last year, on the third anniversary of George Tiller’s death, Jessica Valenti analyzed the ways in which abortion rights were being weakened.