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|Fri, 12-07-2007 - 11:55am|
TOPEKA - The state's highest court says a Sedgwick County grand jury created by a petition drive can move forward with its investigation of George Tiller, one of the few physicians in the nation who performs late-term abortions.
The order, issued Thursday, also dismissed a petition the Wichita physician filed last month challenging the legality of the grand jury proceedings. At that time, the court put the grand jury on hold until it could review the case.
Anti-abortion groups were part of a drive to collect enough signatures to force a grand jury investigation. Kansas is one of six states where residents can petition for a grand jury.
They used the same tactics to create a grand jury in Johnson County to investigate Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which operates a clinic in Overland Park.
On Tuesday, a district judge rejected Planned Parenthood's motion to stop that investigation but agreed to move back the date for convening the panel by a week, to Dec. 10. Planned Parenthood said it would appeal.
Tiller's attorneys, Lee Thompson and Dan Monnat, were unhappy with the Supreme Court ruling, while abortion foes called it a triumph.
"We're disappointed that today the Supreme Court didn't put a halt to what is clearly a politically motivated grand jury," the attorneys said in a statement. "It's been repeatedly determined that Dr. Tiller is innocent of any wrongdoing and we just regret that taxpayers' dollars are now going to have to be spent to enable this grand jury to move forward."
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion organization, called it a "great ruling."
"Too often in this world, the law changes when the issue is abortion and I'm gratified that didn't happen in this case and the justices were true to the law and the people of Kansas," she said.
Operation Rescue president Troy Newman called the ruling "a pleasant surprise," adding, "Victories in the pro-life movement are precious and few, and we will take every one we can get."
The grand jury Tiller wanted to block is the second one abortion foes have forced the county to create in 18 months to investigate him. Last year, a grand jury reviewed the deaths of a Texas woman who had an abortion at Tiller's clinic but issued no indictments.
Impaneling the grand jury had been scheduled to start Oct. 30 when the justices halted the proceedings.
Chief District Judge Michael Corrigan in Sedgwick County said he will set another date for impaneling a grand jury, but he didn't know when that would be.
He said about 70 people will be summoned and 15 will be sworn in. The panel can meet for up to 90 days, although that can be extended by the court. It takes 12 grand jurors to issue a recommendation.
Abortion foes say Tiller has violated a 1998 law restricting late-term abortions and that potential violations have been ignored for years. Tiller's attorneys have said repeatedly the allegations are unfounded and that he has been cleared in previous state investigations.