(CBS/AP) TOPEKA, Kan. - A Kansas prosecutor on Friday dropped all remaining criminal charges against a Kansas City-area Planned Parenthood clinic accused of performing illegal abortions, ending what was believed to be the first attempt in the U.S. to prosecute a facility affiliated with the group.
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe announced that 32 misdemeanor charges against the clinic had been dismissed. Those charges were the last part of a criminal case filed in 2007 by Howe's predecessor.
The clinic originally faced 107 criminal charges, including 23 felonies accusing it of falsifying copies of reports on abortions it had filed with the state. All of the allegations stemmed from abortions performed by the clinic in Overland Park in 2003.
Most of those charges were dismissed over the past 10 months for various reasons, leaving only counts related to allegations that 16 abortions violated a state law restricting late-term procedures when a fetus is viable. The remaining counts alleged that the Planned Parenthood clinic had performed illegal abortions after failing to properly determine whether a fetus was viable.
Howe said in a statement that "extensive research" by his office determined the clinic's practices were "within accepted practices in the medical community." He said he reached the conclusion after consulting with Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
"The remaining disputes between experts in the medical field amount to a reasonable medical debate which the U.S. Supreme Court has declared unacceptable grounds for criminal prosecution," Howe said in his statement.
The decision is likely to anger abortion opponents. One group, Operation Rescue, called on Howe to resign earlier this month, when other charges were dismissed.
Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney representing the clinic, said: "Finally, the truth comes out."
Legal disputes surrounding the case have delayed even a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was enough evidence against the clinic to warrant a trial. Johnson County District Judge Stephen Tatum had planned to have scheduling hearing in the case Monday.
The remaining charges were tied to the state's late-term restrictions, which in 2003 applied to abortions at or after the 22nd week of pregnancy if a doctor determined the fetus was viable, or could survive outside the womb. In such instances, abortions were limited to saving a woman's life or preventing "substantial and irreversible harm" to "a major bodily function," which could include mental health. Legislators rewrote the law last year.
The criminal case was filed by Phill Kline, a Republican who began investigating abortion providers as Kansas attorney general in 2003. He lost his bid for re-election to the state office in 2006, but then served two years as Johnson County district attorney, losing to Howe in the Republican primary in August 2008.
Planned Parenthood officials and attorneys repeatedly said the clinic violated no laws and saw the charges as politically motivated. Abortion opponents said abortion-rights supporters - including two Democrats who followed in the attorney general's office - protected the clinic.
In a separate case that went through Kansas courts in 2011, a judge ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, giving them a temporary injunction blocking a law that prevented the organization from accessing federal family planning funds. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten said that the believes the law is unconstitutional and was meant to punish Planned Parenthood for their pro-choice stance. Similarly, a judge in North Carolina decided in 2011 that the state couldn't stop funding the organization while a section of the budget that would potentially withhold funding for non-abortion services was being debated.