Smells Like Teen Snogging
Kansas' wacky attorney general smells sex everywhere.
Well, as it turns out, he still does trust most of them. On Tuesday Kline told an adoring Bill O'Reilly that the real target of the law is (surprise!) abortion clinics: "I get those [abuse] reports from medical offices, from hospitals, from doctor's offices, virtually every other health care provider. I do not get them from the abortion clinics." Indeed, as his 2003 opinion expressly states, its focus in broadening the rules was almost exclusively on "abortion providers." Is there something about abortion clinics that makes them less likely to report abuse? Or does Kline simply need to be informed about every single teen who seeks an abortion?
Curiouser: While Kline's interpretation of the Kansas law has always been read to implicate almost any type of sexual behavior, his office is now retreating on that claim as well. Whereas the sexual abuse statute explicitly sweeps into its definition, "any lewd fondling or touching of the person of either the child or the offender, done or submitted to with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires," at trial this week his office took the position that all such abuse isn't in fact abusive. On Tuesday, state Assistant Attorney General Camille Nohe—who helped write the original opinion—suddenly insisted that the opinion "just talks about sexual intercourse." She bristled at the interpretation of the law as implicating " 'all sexual activity' … I don't know where that's started."
No one was more confused by this sudden turnaround than Judge Marten, who has presided over this case for almost three years and always believed the opinion "extended beyond sexual intercourse." As he pressed her, Nohe clarified that "sexual intercourse" actually includes oral and anal sex but not necessarily "other activities, such as fondling of breasts, kissing and nuzzling." What looks like mere state inconsistency or incompetence (are we dealing with sex, oral sex, or groping here?) starts to look more sinister when you realize that Kline doesn't really care about going after all child abusers. An adult fondling the breasts of a 12-year-old should be reported but may be swept out of Kline's broad policy. Why?
Finally, Kline takes the not-illogical position that since all consensual teen sex is criminal, all teen abortion records provide vital evidence of that crime. Why, then, doesn't he subpoena all hospital records for evidence of all teen births? Is it possible that he is less interested in pursuing the real crime of teen sex than the non-crime of abortion? In two and a half years Kline's sweeping assertion that all health-care providers must report all teen intimate activity has morphed into demands for reports of consensual teenage sex that result in abortions. Which leads to the conclusion that the Kansas reporting law isn't intended to increase reports of child abuse, but to increase reports of teen sex—specifically from abortion providers. Which means that this law—along with Kline's attempts to subpoena state abortion records and force Kansas doctors performing abortions on girls under 14 to preserve fetal tissue—is part of the attorney general's single-minded use of his vast authority in the sole interest of hassling Kansas' abortion providers.
Kline has vociferously argued that every abortion is murder, even though the law of the land holds otherwise. That is why he trusts his own judgment about what constitutes criminal activity over the judgment of the health professionals who actually see and treat it. One nevertheless wonders whether he should really be using all of his resources with no law enforcement purpose in sight beyond fishing through the files of state abortion clinics.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Photograph of girl on Slate's home page by Deborah Jaffe/Picture Arts.