Planned Parenthood faces more litigation
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Planned Parenthood faces more litigation

Date: November 5, 2007
By: Lucie Wolken
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which oversees clinics in both Jefferson City and Columbia,  faces potential litigation following a petition filed in Kansas to form a grand jury to investigate criminal allegations.

The petition, submitted by an anti-abortion coalition to the Johnson County, Kan. district attorney's office Friday, contained enough signatures to meet the threshold to invoke a rarely-used Kansas law allowing state residents to call for grand jury investigations, according to Brian Newby, elections commissioner for Johnson County, Kan.

The allegations are being brought against an Overland Park, Kan.office for alleged violations of Kansas law between 2004 and 2007 -- among them illegal abortions and illegal trafficking in fetal tissue.

Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri said that this investigation will not affect the operation of Planned Parenthood facilities in both states because, he said, there is no criminal wrongdoing. 

"From one perspective, we are not worried because we always follow the law -- both federal and state law," Brownlie said.  "In this case, there is no wrongdoing to be found, so let them come look." 

While expressing confidence, Brownlie said that the way the organization is threatened by this most attack is if somehow they were subject to significant financial penalties.

The coalition calling for the investigations is L.I.F.E., or Life is For Everyone, and comprises Operation Rescue, Concerned Women For America, and Women Influencing the Nation, all anti-abortion groups operating in both Kansas and across the nation. 

Brian Newby, elections commissioner of Johnson County, said that the commission verified 3780 signatures, more than enough signatures to meet the required thresh-hold.

According to Pat Adair, Kansas state director of Women Influencing the Nation, L.I.F.E. collected 6,400 signatures, to the district attorney's office. 

A panel of district judges must now approve the call for the grand jury and if the majority agree the petition is proper, there is a 60-day window for a grand jury of 15 randomly selected registered voters to convene.

Kansas is only one of five states that allows for citizens to petition for a grand jury.  There is no such statute in Missouri.

"There will be 15 citizens, there isn't a lot of choice in who they are.  They are randomly selected.  They are totally involved with the direction that it goes," Brian Burgess, Public Information Officer for the district attorney's office, said.

According to Kansas statute, the district attorney's office is to give the grand jury advice on any legal matter, to give information relative to any matter, and to interrogate witnesses if the 15 members deem it necessary.

These investigations will not be the first conducted to review allegations brought against the Kansas clinic. 

Former Attorney General Phill Kline conducted a 3-year investigation of the Overland Park office.  Kline was not re-elected to his office, and no formal indictments resulted from the investigations. 

Former Johnson County District Attorney and current Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison conducted his own investigation of the allegations following his election and again no indictments resulted.

Kline replaced Morrison as district attorney of Johnson County following Morrison's election to attorney general.

"The attorney general's office did thoroughly investigate the charges brought against Planned Parenthood and found no criminal wrongdoing, and we stand by that decision. " Ashley Anstaett, spokesperson for Morrison, said.

Newby said that the elections commission is careful to remain apolitical in all its proceedings. 

"We are basically like a little factory, all we do is we verify the signatures," Newby said.  "We have been about as uninterested in it as possible, we are trying not to get caught up because we don't want to be part of the political piece of it."

Brownlie said that the attack on his organization is a significant distraction from the group's primary work.

"It is harassment and it is a major distraction," Brownlie said.

Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, said that the goal of the investigations is to force Planned Parenthood

"State and federal laws have meaning, and I would like to see those laws enforced," Newman said.

Burgess said that due to the sensitive nature of the proceedings, the district attorney's office does not comment on matters filed before the court.

"Phill Kline's goal has always been to enforce Kansas law," Burgess said.

Brownlie's primary concern is protecting the privacy of Planned Parenthood patients.

While he said he does not find the investigations necessary, but that there is nothing to hide.

"I think it is beyond going fishing.  They are doing this to pursue a political agenda without any foundation in terms of any law enforcement objectives.  There is nothing criminal going on," Brownlie said.  "What they are about is media attention and political attention and that is there first and foremost priority."