Have women and girls in Wichita and Overland Park, Kansas, and their private medical records become pawns in the state attorney general election?
In this weekend's video from the Bill O'Reilly show on Fox News, called "Tiller the Baby Killer Part 2," Mr. O'Reilly tells Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline that Mr. O'Reilly has accessed medical records for 90 women and girls in the Wichita and Overland Park areas of Kansas:
Bill O'Reilly: "Our information says that on almost every medical sheet - obviously we have a source inside here - it says depression [as the reason for the abortion]. So I don't know if you have seen this information or what..."
Here's the problem with Mr. O'Reilly's statement: He states that he has either access to the records or access to someone who is telling him the contents of these medical records--medical records that were released into the custody of Mr. Kline, who has been charged by the Kansas Supreme Court with protecting their privacy. The privacy of these 90 women and girls who live in the Wichita and Overland Park areas and their medical records is exactly the reason the Kansas Supreme Court initially barred Mr. Kline -- barred the state attorney general -- from accessing these records from February to October of this year.
Some backstory: Mr. Kline (who is against legal abortion) said he wanted the records to "investigate potential violations of state restrictions on abortion and suspected rapes of children" that the clinics weren't reporting, according to this ABCNews story. Mr. Kline also said at the time that the patients' names were not of interest to him, saying "They are under no criminal liability or investigation. Their privacy will be protected." When the records were finally released to Mr. Kline last month, the names had been eliminated by the court (they were "redacted" or crossed out in the documents).
I see in today's Kansas City Star that Mr. Kline denies that he or anyone on his staff was the "source inside" that Bill O'Reilly said gave him information he talked about on last night's show. Mr. O'Reilly is not a journalist - he's a commentator who has a television show where he discusses his opinions, much like Rush Limbaugh.
In that context, it's not clear yet whether we're dealing here with Mr. O'Reilly's inflammatory approach to questions or whether someone has actually "broken state or federal laws by divulging patient information or whether O'Reilly or his staff had viewed any records themselves" as a Gainesville.com article reports. Mr. O'Reilly has yet to respond to questions by reporters.
The consequences for Attorney General Kline and his office would be disastrous if an investigation reflected that he or a member of his staff leaked the information to Mr. O'Reilly and his television show. Two words come to mind: disbarment and impeachment. Because the Kansas Supreme Court has already made it clear that Kline's first duty -- and that of the district court judge overseeing this investigation -- is to protect the privacy of the citizens whose records he has.
From a campaign horserace perspective, I am quite surprised that in such a close election, with the Kansas GOP undergoing a divisive conflict between fiscal and social conservatives, Mr. Kline chose to appear on a show by Mr. O'Reilly -- commentator famous for his socially conservative views, especially his belief that abortion should be illegal. (For more on Kansas, I recommend "Kansas Republicans evolve -- into Democrats: A popular incumbent governor persuades social moderates alienated by fights over abortion and Darwin to quit the GOP and run for office as Democrats" by Nadia Pflaum on Salon. The commercial's short and the article's worth it.)
Kansas' state-wide cultural divide is why Mr. Kline's is facing a serious challenge from Democrat Paul Morrison, who has made AG Kline's investigation into abortion clinic records a primary focus of the campaign months ago. The Lawrence Journal-World reported Sept. 6 that Morrison said "if elected attorney general he would end an investigation into two abortion clinics and instead commit the office's resources to other uses, such as prosecuting domestic violence."
Will getting free commercial air-time on a Fox News show just days before the election backfire on Mr. Kline? It really depends whether Kansans agree with BlogHer's lefty political commentator Morra Aarons that this is a frightening violation of their privacy and that Mr. Kline's approach is "anti-woman". Click on that last link to join the conversation at BlogHer or I welcome your comments below.
Cross-posted from BlogHer.