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Kansas Medical Board Investigates Dr. George Tiller's Colleague

It's been more than two years since Tiller was killed. But abortion foes are still after his former colleague.

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

A candlelight vigil for Dr. Tiller.: KOMUnews/FlickrA candlelight vigil for George Tiller. KOMUnews/FlickrStill, there were many women whose need was straightforward. One woman found herself in Neuhaus' office on September 11, 2001. She was a statuesque African American woman, wearing a red bandanna, and she was in the middle of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer that had metastasized. She didn't think she could even get pregnant, and she didn't find out she was until a CAT scan before a round of chemo indicated that she was six months along. She was probably going to die from the disease and didn't want to leave behind a potentially ill infant with no mother.

"For them to belittle it, to say that its okay for a 10-year-old have a kid by her uncle, and no harm is going to come from it, that's just beyond the realm of decency," says Neuhaus.

Then there was the young woman who had been roofied and raped by multiple men, including an ex-boyfriend. She passed out, and they raped her on top of a pool table in a beach house and videotaped the whole ordeal. There had been a court case, but the judge had ruled against her because she'd had consensual sex with one of the men in the past, and because she wasn't resisting in the video. "She was pregnant as a consequence of that and had horrible PTSD," Neuhaus says. "The trial was like a re-rape. She was literally being raped in public, as the videotape was being shown. That's the kind of backstory I didn't put in the records."

One time, Neuhaus evaluated a 10-year-old girl who had been raped by her uncle, which is one of the files the medical board is investigating. This girl was tiny, maybe 4'8", Neuhaus recalls. There had already been a police investigation, and the uncle was in jail, but it took until the third trimester for the girl to make it to the clinic. "For them to belittle it, to say that its okay for a 10-year-old have a kid by her uncle, and no harm is going to come from it, that's just beyond the realm of decency," she says.

Not all of those details were in the paperwork, however, because Neuhaus says she knew that records weren't truly confidential given the anti-abortion leanings of Kansas law enforcement officials. "I chose to sacrifice details," Neuhaus says. "I risked nothing but my license. I didn't compromise their health care."

At the clinic, Neuhaus' decisions were made in a place that was constantly under threat. Tiller was shot in both arms outside the facility in 1993. To enter, patients had to go through a metal detector. For a while, Neuhaus says, she wore a bulletproof vest to work. She even carried a .40 caliber pistol in her scrubs for a short period and took up target practice. "I was a reasonably decent shot," she says. "I would not have had too much trouble shooting one of those people if I had to." There were also bomb threats. But as time went by, she got more comfortable with the situation: "I think at some point, you get used to it, and you don't have anxiety."

In 2007, Kansas charged Tiller with 19 misdemeanor violations of state abortion law, arguing that Neuhaus wasn't really an independent physician, as the state law required, because she used his office and because Tiller had once sold her a car for $300. But the photos of the banged-up 1994 Toyota Camry with yellow tape holding the bumper together—which Neuhaus still drives today—failed to convince the jury. Tiller was acquitted in March 2009, after jurors deliberated for less than an hour. Shortly after the criminal trial, the Board of Healing Arts—the same group now investigating Neuhaus—began looking into similar charges. But two months later, Tiller was dead. The files that the board is considering in Neuhaus' hearings were released in the course of the case against Tiller.

Neuhaus and Caddell worry about her safety at the hearings. The most recent hearings were held in the basement of a state office building in Topeka, without a metal detector on site. The dates, times, and locations for these hearings are posted online on the board's website and often publicized by anti-abortion groups. Operation Rescue staffers—including Sullenger—were present for the first week of hearings, tweeting from just behind Neuhaus.

In response to a question about safety at the hearings from Mother Jones, the panel's executive director, Kathleen Selzler Lippert, noted that since Tiller's murder, the board "has enhanced security and will endeavor to continue to provide safe and appropriate environments to fulfill our statutory mission."

Neuhaus says she's not interested in providing abortions anymore. "I have too much PTSD about the whole thing," she says. It's not the fear of being shot at. It's the fear of having to deal with hostile abortion rights opponents both inside and outside of the Kansas government. "It makes me feel panicky and sick when I think about it. It's not logically in my interest to deal with."

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