Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas physician, has been brought to trial on nineteen criminal misdemeanor charges all related to terminating late-term abortions.  In a state heavily divided by the debate on abortion, and where passions run high on the topic, the “not guilty” verdict, pronounced by a jury of six men and six women, came as a victory of the law over religious morals.

Dr. George Tiller

Dr. George Tiller

Tiller’s patients were mostly teenagers or very young women; one of them was a ten-year-old starting her twenty-eighth week of pregnancy. Kansas law requires that once the pregnancy runs over 22 weeks, a physician is only allowed to perform an abortion if the pregnancy can cause “substantive and important harm to the mother” – this includes emotional and mental harm – and on on the second consultation of another physician. Tiller worked closely with Dr. Neuhaus, practising in Lawrence, the only one who ever accepted to be Tiller’s referral. In Kansas, like in many other states, the ethics surrounding abortion are more political than they are medical, and in such divided times, decision-making bears heavier consequences than it usually does.

Dr. Neuhaus provided the referrals for Dr. Tiller, and they both saw the patients as his own clinic, as both physicians testified that it was “too dangerous” for them to consult anywhere else. Both doctors experienced the pressure and intimidation techniques favored by anti-abortion lobbying groups, from harassing the prospective patients all the way to their hotel rooms to protesting in front of the clinic, distributing pamphlets with pictures of dead babies. Evidence proved that in the majority of Tiller’s patients, most fetuses proved to medically compromised. Tiller respected the law to the point of challenging it in court – once the second opinion bill was passed, the 67 years old doctor called over a hundred physicians, even retired ones, all refusing to help. He would have taken it to court if a public official hadn’t referred him to Neuhaus. The twist is that Tiller was stuck between a rock and a hard place – saving young mother’s lives and well-being, and respecting the law to keep his licence and his conscience clear, a situation in which no medical practitioner should ever find themselves in.

Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, present in court as former spokesperson for Operation Rescue, said he was “disappointed” of the not-guilty verdict, but felt “satisfied it even came to trial”. After assuring all of us freedom lovers we would certainly not be free of their aggressivity anytime soon, the Board of Healing Arts (sic) filed an eleven-charges count – the same ones the Kansas Court found him not guilty of –  against Dr. Tiller that they say is “completely independant” from the criminal trial.  If the Board finds Tiller guilty of these charges, it could result in the suspension or even revocation of his licence to practice. When healing arts  become political, absurdity prevails over formerly sacred oaths in a way that undermines the fabric of trust between patients and their curers. Let’s hope the Board will find it is necessary to uphold the rule of law.