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07.29.05
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DAVID BRANCACCIO: NOW on PBS...

You need to know what's going on in Kansas. It's about the future of abortion as we know it. The highest law enforcement official in Kansas wants clinics to turn over scads of abortion records. Attorney General Phill Kline says it's about the safety of kids.

ATTORNEY GENERAL PHILL KLINE: Virtually every year in Kansas, we have between 70 and 80 children who receive abortion services. Now in Kansas law, they've been raped.

BRANCACCIO: And what could happen if a 15 year old asks for birth control? Call in the authorities. So what do the people of Kansas think about all this? Lots of them are cheering.

JEANNE: As far as Roe v. Wade, I know someday it will be overturned. and so I look forward to the day when it is overturned.

BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW...on the road again, this time from Topeka, Kansas. In this red state, the issue of abortion is the red-hot center of the culture wars.

I came here to spend time with the state's Attorney General, Phill Kline, who is using the power of subpoena to seek personal information on 90 women who underwent abortions in Kansas. Some of those women are minors — Kline says he needs that information to stamp out what he calls "child rape."

But his critics say he has another agenda and that Kline's true motives are much closer to those who feel the real crime here is abortion itself.

Kathleen Hughes produced our report.

JEANNE GAWDUN: I've been actively involved in the pro-life movement probably since back in '73 when the Roe v. Wade decision was first announced by the Supreme Court. My mother was involved. And so I was involved just from a kid and you know, didn't do a whole lot but I just knew in my heart what the truth was.

BRANCACCIO: Jeanne Gawdun of Topeka Kansas. Her oldest child is 20. Her youngest is six and there are five in between for a total of seven children.

JEANNE GAWDUN: And this is for those babies who died before they were born. I want my kids to grow up realizing how important and valuable human life is at all stages and I couldn't think of a better way to do that then to show them actively by being involved in the pro-life movement.

BRANCACCIO: When she's not with her family, Jeanne Gawdun lobbies for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.

JEANNE GAWDUN: It's a lot of hard work; but it's also very rewarding, because we feel that we're out there trying to tell people the truth about the life issues.

BRANCACCIO: And in Kansas, they're listening. In the state house, four bills aimed at restricting abortions are pending and five others have passed in recent years.

None of that sits well with Samantha Adams. She's a mom, too-she's got three kids and she lives in Shawnee, Kansas, about 60 miles from Jeanne Gawdun. But when it comes to abortion rights the two mothers are continents apart.

SAMANTHA ADAMS: You know, I've lived in Kansas all my life and I always assumed that I would have access to birth control-- that I had the right to an abortion if I decided that was what was right for me. And, I'm watching my Board of Education and my legislators tout this culture of life-- mentality as a way of taking those rights away from me.

And, I have three daughters that I would like to have the same rights as I had when I was growing up.

BRANCACCIO: And while she takes comfort in the fact that the Kansas governor supports abortion rights, she's worried about the way things are going in her state. Adams recently took a job in the communications department at the local Planned Parenthood office.

SAMANTHA ADAMS: We have legislators who walk around and shake your hand and are very happy to tell you that they're pro-life and just assume that you are, too.

BRANCACCIO: Welcome to Kansas, where culture war issues like abortion and reproductive rights are the emotional touchstones that politicians use to push voters out of their chairs and into the voting booth.

Ever since a big event back in 1991 when tens of thousands staged anti-abortion demonstrations in Wichita, the Summer of Mercy it was called, Kansas is where many anti-abortion tornados have touched down.

And if you want a case study in how the movement has moved out of the streets and into the halls of government, you need look no further than Kansas State Attorney General Phill Kline.

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: We've put this… a cloud of secrecy over abortions.

BRANCACCIO: He's a passionately pro-life Republican who built his political career in part by opposing abortion. That said, Kline insists that as the state's chief law enforcer he'll uphold the law as laid down by the Supreme Court.

But since winning his office by a razor-thin margin two years ago, Kline has done a great job stirring up people on both sides of the abortion debate. The controversy began with what he says is an effort to protect children from rape.

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: We have a serious issue with a severe predatory population in the United States that is sophisticated, that is aggressive in its predatory activity towards children. And I'm gonna do all I can to stop 'em.

BRANCACCIO: Just months after taking office Kline took aim at the state's long-standing statutory rape law. He announced a big change in the rules for reporting any evidence of underage sex.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: You issued a new interpretation of this state's child abuse reporting law that required, as I understand it, doctors, school counselors and psychotherapists and others, to report sexual activity of people under the age of 16. Not necessarily rape, but just evidence of sexual activity-- as, under law, evidence of child abuse.

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: Kansas law makes it unlawful for a 15-year-old to have intercourse. That's the law. Most states have these age-of-consent laws.

BRANCACCIO: Kline says he's not out to prosecute some underage Romeo and Juliet who have sex where there's no coercion. But what his new rule will do is require that every girl under 16 who comes into a place like Planned Parenthood looking for birth control, or treatment of a sexually transmitted disease must be reported to the state. Kline says he wants to fix the following scenario.

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: For example, when the 11-year-old is in the abortion clinic saying, "Please don't tell anybody, it was my 13-year-old boyfriend and we made a mistake," the 27-year-old stepfather's out in the car having told her to say that or she won't come home. We have the ability to determine what truly happened and to decide whether we need to act in the best interest of that child.

BRANCACCIO: But people who work in health care clinics say they also are acting in the best interest of children and they have long experience reporting to the state just the kinds of abuse Kline is describing.

Karla Wilmont has been a nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood for 12 years.

KARLA WILMONT: As a health care provider it's always been part of my role to look for signs of abuse. I'm a mandated reporter. So it's always been something that we've done.

BRANCACCIO: Wilmont believes that Kline's re-interpretation of the law would wreck Planned Parenthood's guarantee of confidential health care to kids. If the state knows they're sexually active then perhaps their parents will know.

KARLA WILMONT: I know from working with teenagers that if I were automatically going to report them they would not come in. They would not seek the health care that they need. And we know that a lot of teenagers, will become sexually active.

BRANCACCIO: The medical community largely agrees with her. Check out this study by the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION of girls who come into clinics. It found that reporting kids when their parents found out would keep nearly half of them away from clinics and away from contraceptives. And, in case you are wondering, 99 percent of those girls said they would continue to have sex. The report concluded that mandatory reporting could increase "…teen pregnancies and …spread STDs."

Still, Attorney General Kline's approach to teenage sex has broad appeal in Kansas. I sat down with Jeanne Gawdun and her colleagues at Kansans for Life.

JEANNE GAWDUN: Having a number of children, every year at their schools I have to sign a form that says you know I either give permission for Tylenol or to go on a field trip or whatever. And I would be charged with neglect of a child if my child broke an arm and I failed to go to the hospital and have that arm set or you know any number of different things.

But all of a sudden when it comes to their reproductive organs, it's off limits. And I don't have anything to say about it. I'm there for all those years, but like I say, when it comes to the reproductive organs, I-- I-- it's none of my business. And that to me is frustrating.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: But here's the wrinkle, of course, right? Which is, if the goal, and a-- I don't think this is at all divisive anywhere in America, if the goal is to reduce abortions among these very young girls, if they know that the state or that child services is gonna be alerted if they go into contraception, then they might not go in for contraception, but still have sex, and you end up with more abortions. That's, I think, the worry.

JEANNE GAWDUN: Or they may not have sex.

FEMALE VOICE: Imagine that.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: I mean, well, you can pray they don't have sex.

JEANNE GAWDUN: You know, well, this is-- they-- they may not.

BRANCACCIO: Samantha Adams is taking a different approach with her family.

SAMANTHA ADAMS: Just telling kids no doesn't work. Taking away these providers of reproductive health care — it won't stop sex. It's as old as mankind. And placing more and more prohibitions on it is going to have exactly the opposite effect, in my opinion.

BRANCACCIO: Two years ago, long before Samantha ever thought about working at Planned Parenthood, she and her husband heard what no parent of a 15 year old is ever really ready to hear: Daughter Chelsea told her she had a boyfriend and she wanted birth control.

SAMANTHA ADAMS: Well, you know, it's funny, because my husband and I disagreed on when Chelsea came to me and she said, "You know I'm ready to be sexually active." My husband threw a fit, and I said, you know, "She's gonna do this whether we know about it or not."

BRANCACCIO: Samantha took Chelsea to a health care clinic.

SAMANTHA ADAMS: I mean I told Chelsea, "I don't necessarily agree with this. I don't know if you're ready. Do you know what happens when people's relationships change, because of sex." I told her all of those things. But I said, "If you still wanna do this, I'm with you."

BRANCACCIO: Chelsea says she's grateful to have been able to confide in her mother. She says more than half of her friends in high school were sexually active but that few had the nerve to share that info with their folks.

CHELSEA TICHNOR: A lot of kids are being unsafe about it because they can't talk to their parents. And they're more strict, or they avoid the situation.

SAMANTHA ADAMS: If kids can't go to some place they trust and can't be assured of their privacy, they're still going to have sex. And I bet you'll see unplanned pregnancies skyrocket.

BRANCACCIO: This isn't just about clinics. When it comes to mandatory reporting Kline's new reading of the statutory rape law could change the way many others who care for children go about their work

DR. BETH McGILLEY: I'm routinely involved in treating children and adolescents principally adolescents.

BRANCACCIO: Dr. Beth McGilley is a psychologist specializing in eating disorders and other problems common to young women.

DR. BETH McGILLEY: Sexuality is often a principle issue of concern or conflict. It's one of the things that anorexia in particular is meant to stave off is the whole development of one's sexuality.

BRANCACCIO: Under Phill Kline's interpretation of the law, if, for example, a young woman suffering from anorexia tells her in confidence about a sexual experience -- Dr. McGilley has to report that experience to the state.

DR. BETH McGILLEY: If you read it carefully, we are not just talking here about reporting under age sexual intercourse. We are talking about reporting any known or suspected physical or sexual activity between children under the age of 16 even consensual that has intent to arouse. Theoretically we're talking about hand holding here.

BRANCACCIO: McGilley worries that Kline's effort will clog up the reporting system and make it that much more difficult to sort out who's in real trouble and who's not. She has signed on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights challenging the constitutionality of Kline's initiative.

A bunch of health care organizations have joined the suit. They say the Attorney General's move would violate young patients' privacy in a way that harms the caregivers' "…professional relationship…" with their patients, "…threatening adolescent health."

DR. BETH McGILLEY: If I tell them the minute they walk through the door that they talk about anything related to sexual behavior I'm gonna, knowing kids the way that I do, I've been doing this for over 20 years. If they know that even broaching the subject puts them into a reportable situation I don't think I'm ever gonna get the information I need to even know if I should suspect anything.

BRANCACCIO: A judge has temporarily stopped Kline's reporting requirements but the uproar over his reading of Kansas' statutory rape law was nothing compared to the bombshell he set off earlier this year.

LOCAL NEWS KAKE-TV: Attorney General Phill Kline has come under fire for his move to obtain the medical files of 90 women and girls from two Kansas abortion clinics.

BRANCACCIO: That's when the public learned Kline had persuaded a judge to issue subpoenas for the health records of women and adolescent girls who'd had abortions. Kline says he has evidence that doctors failed to properly report violations of Kansas' statutory rape law.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Are you worried that there are a lot of examples in which Planned Parenthood sees these kids come through that may have been raped and they're keeping their mouths shut?

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: Virtually every year in Kansas, we have between 70 and 80 children of 14 years of age and younger who receive abortion services. Now in Kansas law, they've been raped. And as the chief law enforcement official, it's my obligation to try to protect those children and try to solve those crimes.

BRANCACCIO: Kline says he also has evidence that clinic doctors illegally performed late term abortions.

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: I must say that the women and children who receive abortions are under no criminal liability. They are not culpable. It is only a doctor who wrongfully performs an abortion contrary to the law, who can be pursued with criminal penalties.

BRANCACCIO: Critics accuse Kline of working to intimidate people who've had abortions — and those who might want one in the future — by subjecting their private, doctor-patient relationship to state scrutiny.

PETER BROWNLIE: This is a fishing expedition. This is a sweeping attempt to just gain records and rummage around and see what's there.

BRANCACCIO: The story made headlines across the country. THE NEW YORK TIMES editorial page called Kline's investigation a "shocking abuse of office" While Fox TV painted the political fallout in the stark terms of the culture war.

BILL O'REILLY: The THE NEW YORK TIMES and the L.A. TIMES have both demonized you. I'm sure you're aware of that. The women's groups...

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: I haven't read the L.A. TIMES or THE NEW YORK TIMES, but that's OK.

BILL O'REILLY: All right. Well, the women's groups are basically saying that you're a fascist, that you want to violate the privacy of these women.

BRANCACCIO: Being at the vortex of the abortion debate is nothing new to Phill Kline. Before winning the attorney general's seat, he spent eight years in the Kansas state legislature. While there he helped craft Kansas' controversial law banning most abortions for women who are pregnant 22 weeks or longer.

That's one of the laws which he believes Planned Parenthood and the other private clinic violated. He's asked for 90 complete files: names, medical histories, birth control practices, psychological profiles. He says he's set up a procedure to protect the women's privacy.

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: I do not need to the women's names. I don't have to have names that are attached to the record. The court is going to review that with the doctor and a guardian ad litem for the children, and then produce those records to us. And they're never in the public eye.

BRANCACCIO: Planned Parenthood so far has refused to turn the records over. The group did offer to give the attorney general all the records he's asked for with all private information stripped out. But no deal.

And if this is about child rape, some in Kansas wonder why Kline seems to be focusing his investigation on abortion clinics.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: But if you're worried about the issue of kids being raped and exploitation of kids, why not also seek medical records about very young 12 and 13-year-old kids who've had babies but haven't had abortions, and go after those medical records? Why were they pregnant in those cases?

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: You assume we haven't.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well, have you done that?

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: Yes. Certainly, we look at all instances of child exploitation.

BRANCACCIO: NOW canvassed hospitals near Planned Parenthood's headquarters - none reported receiving subpoenas for medical records. Local President of Planned Parenthood Peter Brownlie is skeptical about the attorney general's claim.

PETER BROWNLIE: I'm reasonably certain that if a hospital in Overland Park or in Garden City or in wherever in Kansas had received a subpoena for medical records of girls who've given birth, we'd probably know about it.

BRANCACCIO: But Mary Kay Culp and the other members of Kansans for Life are pleased their attorney general is moving the battle against abortion clinics into the courts. They sketch some pretty awful scenes in which they suspect clinics play a role.

MARY KAY CULP: I mean for years and years, someone who is-- you know in-- incest. You know, you take the little girl up to the abortion clinic if you happen to get her pregnant. Clean her out and start using her again.

I mean at least with a pregnancy, her tummy gets big and maybe somebody finds out. So it's gone on for years. I'm not saying they plan it. And they-- you know they try to carry this out. But it's just a bi-product of what they do. If they don't ask too many questions or they don't report.

They don't have a real good incentive to report. They have a financial dis-incentive. I'm not saying they're all evil and they're over there, you know, plotting out how to make money from little girls that get pregnant. But I'm not saying they don't either.

BRANCACCIO: Such views are not confined to Kansans for Life or the office of the Kansas Attorney General. They are part of a wider campaign to link abortion with the abuse of kids.

Here it is again on a Web site called Childpredators.com which claims that Planned Parenthood has been caught in a-quote-- "pedophile protection scandal."

This view is being pushed by this man, Mark Crutcher, a radical pro-life activist from Texas who runs a group called Life Dynamics.

Crutcher claims to have set up a "sting" operation. Someone pretending to be a 13 year old girl with a 22-year-old boyfriend called clinics across the country.

CLINIC: Let me stop you right here because if you tell my anything else, I have to call the police.

CALLER: Why?

CLINIC: Because you're 13 and your partner is 22, right?

CALLER: Yeah.

BRANCACCIO: The clinic operators, the group charges, told her how to lie — in other words, how to get around statutory rape laws — in order to get an abortion….

Crutcher says the phone calls are real. But it should be noted that five years ago Crutcher pushed another explosive story about abortion clinics. He accused them of illegally selling fetal body parts. The charges later fell apart after one of his main sources, who was paid 21,000 dollars admitted he was lying.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: To what extent is your office working with Life Dynamics on these issues?

ATTORNEY GENERAL PHILL KLINE: As it relates to the investigation which has made so much news and the subpoenas, absolutely not.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Were you inspired by those tapes?

ATTORNEY GENERAL PHILL KLINE: That evidence and that effort was not relevant to our investigation.

BRANCACCIO: But Kline does have words of praise for Life Dynamics.

ATTORNEY GENERAL PHILL KLINE: I don't understand the problem with Life Dynamics. I would think that people in America would be concerned about audio tapes which seem to indicate that counselors are guiding young children on how to avoid the law.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well, Planned Parenthood has said if someone calls up saying that they're pregnant, it's not the place to initially counsel them. They wanna bring those people in and see-

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: And that is a fair discussion. But-- that's why we didn't rely on anything that Life Dynamics had done. But I don't see that that effort that they engaged in to be harmful.

BRANCACCIO: Last August the WICHITA EAGLE learned that an attorney for Life Dynamics had been hired by Kline's office. His assignment? Defend the Attorney General's reinterpretation of the statutory rape laws in that lawsuit we mentioned, the one being brought by psychologist Beth McGilley and other health care workers.

Once questions were raised the hiring was undone. One more reason his critics say, to question his motives.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Are your efforts really an effort against abortion?

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: We can debate one another's motivations forever and a day and try to disclaim or contradict.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well, I'll take you at your word. What are your motivations?

ATTORNEY GENERAL KLINE: My motivation is to enforce the law. And the law in Kansas says that when you have a ten-year-old who is pregnant, the child has been raped.

BRANCACCIO: It's the Attorney General's repeated reference to l0 year olds that makes Peter Brownlie of Planned Parenthood wonder about what's really going on here.

PETER BROWNLIE: The vast majority of the records that have been subpoenaed are of adult women. A very small percentage is minor women. None of the records subpoenaed from our organization are for women who are children who are ten, eleven or twelve or thirteen.

BRANCACCIO: In September, the Kansas Supreme Court will decide whether Kline gets the private records from abortion clinics. We'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile Kline's supporters at Kansans for Life are energized as they work to convince lawmakers and anybody else who will listen that their vision of abortion is what's best for Kansas and the country.

MARY KAY CULP: What works against it is prejudice. And what works against it is someone says, "Don't listen to them cause they're one of those pro-lifers. Or they're one of those Bible thumpers." Or whatever they want to call us. And everybody's ears get closed. The healthiest thing that could happen is that we can all talk to each other.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Don't you think that your time has come? That, in fact, people are figuring this out?

MARY KAY CULP: Maybe.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: The president believes it. You have two houses of Congress that lean conservative. You have a Supreme Court headed that way.

MARY KAY CULP: You know what? I got-- where we've gotten with the public is partial birth abortion. Parental notification for abortion. What's beyond there, we'll see. We're fighting a-- stem cell issue and a new set of lies and truth that's being avoided on that issue. And so, you know I've got-- we've got plenty to do and a long time to do it, I think.

BRANCACCIO: If you're interested in those topics you can check out the links posted at our website at pbs.org.

Now here's a look at what we're working on for next week: Media reformer Bob McChesney says a spineless press corps in America is undermining democracy.ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Our journalism far more likely parrots those in power and, and volleys between what people in power are saying than it does challenge them critically."

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for NOW. From Topeka Kansas, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

Connect to NOW, online at pbs.org

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