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: