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LOCAL Commentary :: Elections & Legislation

Phill Kline's win-win witch hunt

Who cares about underage girls having sex -- unless they have an abortion too. Kline's pandering to his conservative base is the ultimate example of exploitation.
Protection vs. exploitation. One means support for those with less power, the other selfishly uses a person or group. Phill Kline claims his demands for access to private medical records is aimed at protecting underage girls from sexual predators. But by targeting minors who end their pregnancies – while ignoring the greater number of them who give birth – exploitation seems a more plausible explanation for his inquisition.

During his tenure in the Kansas House, Kline helped write a law restricting late-term abortions. It is these procedures for which he is now seeking evidence. And because a fraction of a percentage of the records he seeks are for girls under 16 – the legal age of consent in Kansas – Kline can also claim his subpoenas are aimed at shedding light on sexual predators.

Selective interpretation is another key component of Kline’s campaign. In 2003 there were 40 live births vs. 30 abortions to Kansas girls age 14 and under. If Kline were truly concerned about minors, the sexual histories, partners, and health care of this entire population – not just the minority who choose to end their pregnancies with abortion – deserve the same level of scrutiny.

Perhaps Kline feels remorse for not doing more to protect minors during his eight years as a state legislator. Kansas law sets no minimum marriage age, a fact Kline’s counterpart, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, calls "ridiculous." Bruning is now prosecuting a 22-year-old who crossed the state line to marry his 14-year-old bride in Kansas. Kline’s office acknowledges that case law sets the minimum age at 12 for girls, which begs the question: does a marriage license nullify one’s status as a sexual predator?

Kline has already been rebuffed for using the power of his office to require health care providers to report consensual underage sexual activity. His efforts to expose the personal and private information of women who obtain legal abortions should be met with similar resistance.

To demand names and complete sexual histories – whether they are those of minors or adult women – in the name of protecting women is the very definition of exploitation. No organization that honestly claims to protect women and children from abuse has backed Kline’s fishing expedition; no previous effort to obtain unredacted medical information has met with success.

But maybe Kline’s measure of success has already been met: By generating publicity for himself through this outrageous campaign, he has energized his base in a way that humdrum law enforcement cannot.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, underage girls will still have sex in Kansas. Whether they steer aware from legitimate health care because they risk being reported – only to suffer from more sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies as a result – seems of little concern to an Attorney General hell bent on enforcing the most tangential aspects of the law, whatever the costs.

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