The state's highest court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a subpoena issued to Kansas' attorney general by a grand jury investigating one of the few U.S. doctors who performs late-term abortions.
Attorney General Stephen Six had resisted the subpoena from the Sedgwick County grand jury for patient records and had asked the Supreme Court to intervene. The subpoena ordered Six to turn over by Wednesday the records of 60 patients obtained by his office from the Wichita clinic of Dr. George Tiller.
Tiller's attorneys also have asked the court to quash three subpoenas served on him by the grand jury, including one for the records of about 2,000 patients. They are also challenging the grand jury's authority to investigate the doctor.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the enforcement of the grand jury's subpoenas to Tiller. The court said Tuesday that Six's request was "closely related."
"The same action is deemed appropriate," the court said in a one-page order signed by Chief Justice Kay McFarland.
Six had argued that the records sought from his office were covered by the subpoenas the grand jury served on Tiller — and therefore were covered by the earlier Supreme Court decision.
Like Tiller's attorneys, Six questioned whether the grand jury had the authority to issue the subpoenas and said patients' privacy could be in jeopardy.
Tiller's clinic has been the target of frequent protests and the inspiration for legislative attempts to restrict abortion. His clinic was bombed in 1986, and seven years later, a woman shot him in both arms.
Tiller is "very pleased" that the court and Six "continue their careful protection of patients' constitutional rights to privacy no matter how unpopular that may be to a very vocal minority," said Dan Monnat, Tiller's attorney.
Last year, Six's predecessor, Paul Morrison, filed 19 misdemeanor charges against Tiller in Sedgwick County District Court. Morrison alleged Tiller failed to obtain a second opinion on late-term abortions in 2003 from an independent physician, as required by a 1998 state law. The case is pending, and Six has said it still will be prosecuted.
However, many abortion opponents didn't believe Morrison, an abortion rights Democrat, pursued Tiller aggressively enough. They petitioned for a grand jury using a process allowed in Kansas and five other states. The grand jury convened Jan. 8, before Six took office.
State Sen. Phil Journey, an attorney who strongly opposes abortion, said the practice checks the power of prosecutors and courts to ignore potential wrongdoing. Journey said the court is thwarting the will of the people and, "That's very disconcerting."