The nation's most notorious abortion doctor, George Tiller, went on trial Monday to defend himself against 19 counts of illegal late-term abortions.
Defense attorney Dan Monnat argued that Kansas is prosecuting Tiller for actions that a state medical board official had supported, according to The Associated Press. The Kansas Board of Healing Arts suggested that Tiller get second opinions for late-term abortions from Dr. Kristen Neuhaus.
The attorney is making the case that Tiller tried to comply with late-term abortion laws by getting advice from the state's medical licensing board and a private attorney.
Prosecutors say, however, that Tiller had an illegal financial relationship with Neuhaus who he relied upon for his second opinion that an abortion is necessary. State law requires a second independent physician to sign off on the validity of late-term abortions.
Neuhaus has been granted immunity from prosecution.
Each of the 19 counts Tiller faces carries a possible penalty of one year in prison and a $2,500 fine, according to Agence France-Presse.
Tiller's case is being closely watched by both pro-life and pro-choice activists alike because it is expected to set the precedent for other abortion cases in the country.
In Kansas, late-term abortion is legal when a woman's health is at serious risk.
"The trial of George Tiller is the result of over 25 years of sacrifice by the pro-life community who prayed for this day outside of his clinic under the glare of the blazing Wichita summer sun and in the freezing blustery winds of winter," says the Rev. Pat Mahoney, director of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition, in a statement. "This trial reminds us that God honors faithfulness and dedication,"
Mahoney noted that the trial has national significance and that a conviction will "energize the national pro-life community."
"Tiller's trial also shines a national spotlight on the radical pro-abortion policies of Kansas Governor Sebelius as she is being considered for HHS (Health and Human Services) Secretary and the extremist abortion policies of President Obama," he added.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has close ties with Tiller and other pro-choice groups. In April 2007, Seblius hosted a party to honor Tiller and his entire abortion clinic staff at the Governor's mansion, according to Wichita-based anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.
Mahoney, Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, TheCall founder Lou Engle, members of the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, and others gathered Monday morning outside the Sedgwick County Courthouse in Wichita, Kan., for a prayer vigil before the Tiller case opened.
Morning prayers at the courthouse will continue at 8 a.m. daily while the trail is in session. A prayer rally will also be held in the evening at Living Word Outreach in Wichita until the trial ends.
"If the clinic is closed, that's going to send a message all across the country that abortionists are not above the law and they will be held accountable," says a hopeful Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue's senior policy advisor, to AFP.
But pro-choice supporters contend that even if Tiller is convicted the clinic will likely remain open because although Tiller owns the clinic, other doctors also perform abortions there.
Tiller is said to have performed over 80,000 abortions, according to Priests for Life.