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A New Front in the Abortion Wars

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By Robert D. Novak
Thursday, October 25, 2007

National antiabortion leaders put the finishing touches yesterday on a letter to be sent to all members of Congress, urging suspension of more than $300 million in federal funding of Planned Parenthood until a massive criminal case brought in Kansas against the abortion rights organization is settled. That launches an attack against the nation's largest purveyor of "reproductive health care" -- including abortions.

On Oct. 17, Johnson County District Judge James F. Vano in suburban Kansas City spent eight hours reviewing a 107-count grand jury indictment against Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. He decided there was "probable cause" to proceed. Allegations of unlawful late-term abortions and other abortion-connected crimes were brought by Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline, a pro-life hero nationally who is viewed as a fanatic by advocates of abortion rights. The prosecution alleges violation of state and federal laws and falsification of documents to justify those acts.

This opens a new front in the endless abortion wars. No change in the status quo had seemed possible for pro-lifers. The 5 to 4 Supreme Court advantage for abortion is frozen, and a Democratic-controlled Congress will not pass new antiabortion legislation, much less a constitutional amendment. The offensive against abortion now takes dead aim at Planned Parenthood and attempts to expand a Kansas criminal prosecution into a nationwide assault.

"Bloody Kansas" was the battleground between pro- and anti-slavery forces nearly 150 years ago, and today it is a center of abortion conflict. Though polls show that 60 percent of Kansas voters are pro-life, antiabortion activists call the state "the abortion capital of the world" -- mainly because of George Tiller. At his Wichita clinic, Tiller is one of the few doctors still performing late-term abortions in this country.

The struggle has ripped asunder Kansas's dominant Republican Party, with Kline at the heart of it. He won passage of antiabortion legislation during eight years in the state House of Representatives, before his narrow 2002 election as state attorney general. Kline's vigorous prosecution of alleged abortion offenses made him the principal national target of the abortion industry.

That industry pumped an estimated $1.5 million into the 2006 campaign of Paul Morrison, the pro-choice Republican Johnson County district attorney who turned Democratic to run against Kline for attorney general. Tiller contributed $121,000 to his own ProKanDo PAC, which spent $322,680 in the campaign. An affiliated nonprofit group, Kansans for Consumer Privacy Protection, spent more than $400,000 on "educational mailings" obviously targeting Kline. Badly outspent, Kline relied on an old-fashioned handshaking campaign and was swamped at the polls.

Then came a bizarre event worthy of Shakespeare. Since Morrison had been elected district attorney as a Republican, under state law his replacement was selected by the GOP's precinct committeemen. They chose Kline. The abortion lobby's campaign against him had made him unelectable to any office, ruling out election to a full term as district attorney next year. With time short, he immediately set to work.

His 107 charges against Planned Parenthood include allegations of "unlawful late-term abortions," "unlawful failure to determine viability for late-term abortion," "making false information" and "unlawful failure to maintain records." Antiabortion activists see Kline's prosecution as the springboard for a national campaign. Forty other states have abortion laws similar to the Kansas statute that says abortion is legal only when the fetus cannot live independently outside the mother's womb -- that is, when it is not "viable."

Whether or not prosecutors can be found to seek Kline-type indictments around the country, antiabortion strategists are targeting Planned Parenthood and its 860 facilities nationwide. Concerned Women for America and other pro-life organizations signed this week's letter to Congress asking for suspension of the federal funding that amounts to about one-third of the organization's budget: "We urge you to act to ensure that our tax dollars are not subsidizing abortion clinics that perform possibly illegal abortions."

While the Democratic-controlled Congress surely will not defund Planned Parenthood, it will be pressed to fulfill its oversight responsibility with hearings. Yesterday the socially conservative Family Research Council called for a Justice Department investigation. And Republican presidential candidates -- who proceed gingerly on abortion -- will be called on to fight in this war.

¿ 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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