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Thanks to This Lawmaker, Missouri Will Soon Have Only One Abortion Clinic for 2.3 Million Women
By Colleen Curry
Originally Posted on 9.30.2015 Vice News

As Republican lawmakers in Congress held a five-hour hearing on Planned Parenthood's alleged sale of fetal tissue on Capitol Hill this week, state-level legislators elsewhere in the country have seized the moment to wage their own campaigns against local Planned Parenthood chapters.

Following July's release of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal tissue, which were filmed and distributed by an anti-abortion/pro-life activist group, Missouri Senate Leader Kurt Schaefer created and became the chair of a Senate Sanctity of Life Committee, which he said he would use to investigate Missouri-based Planned Parenthood clinics and whether they engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue.

It was one of many investigations launched in several states to examine whether clinics had participated in behavior similar to what was discussed on the videos. So far, none of the investigations have found wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.

In Missouri, Attorney General Chris Koster announced that a thorough investigation by his office had concluded that there was no unlawful sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood in Missouri.

"The evidence reviewed by my investigators supports Planned Parenthood's representation that fetal tissue is handled in accordance with Missouri law," Koster said in a statement. "We have discovered no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Planned Parenthood's St. Louis facility is selling fetal tissue."

But Schaefer used the committee in other ways to push an anti-abortion agenda in the state. Schaefer's committee began to investigate whether the state university, the University of Missouri, was helping to fund any abortions by its relationship with Planned Parenthood in the university's town of Columbia. They subpoenaed documents and school leaders and found that the only connection was that the physician who performs abortions at the local clinic, Colleen McNicholas, had "refer-and-follow" privileges at the university hospital, which allowed her to refer a patient to the hospital for care and then look at her medical records.

Following the subpoena and pressure from the Committee, the university Thursday announced that it had decided to end all "refer-and-follow" privileges, including McNicholas's.

"After a review of University of Missouri Health Care policies and procedures, the executive committee of the medical staff of MU Health Care voted unanimously to discontinue "refer and follow" as a category of privileges at MU Health Care facilities," the university said in a statement. "The review of MU Health Care policies and privileges was prompted by inquiries from various members of the legislature and public to MU's chancellor."

The university declined to answer specific questions about the decision when contacted by VICE News. Schaefer also did not respond to calls from VICE News.

According to Missouri law, an abortion provider must have admitting privileges at hospital within 30 miles of the clinic in order to conduct abortions. Without refer-and-follow privileges, the Columbia Planned Parenthood will no longer be able to provide abortions.

The day after the university's decision was announced, the state Department of Health and Senior Services told Planned Parenthood it would revoke the clinic's license to perform abortions if McNicholas loses her privileges, according to the Missouri Times.

Schaefer boasted of his accomplishment following the university's announcement.

"From day one when we learned of this scandal, I vowed that we would get MU out of the abortion business,'" Schaefer said in a statement. "Thanks to the persistence of our investigation and the public pressure applied by many defenders of life, we achieved that outcome and many unborn lives will hopefully be saved as a result."

Alison Dreith of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri told VICE News that Missouri is in the middle of pro-life "witch hunt."

"[Schaefer] started this Sanctity of Life Committee this summer to investigate Planned Parenthood after the distorted videos came out, and he's really done nothing with that committee to investigate allegations of fetal tissue donations whatsoever," she said. "It's really been an attack on the Planned Parenthood there in Columbia."

Dreith noted that Schaefer had once described himself as a moderate while running for state senate, but is now in a contentious primary for attorney general against a fellow Republican and is trying to appeal to conservative voters.

The decision by the university and Schafer, she said, would result in having only one abortion-provider left in the state, in St. Louis. Since the state also passed a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, patients would have to travel to St. Louis twice in three days, which could make it financially difficult for many women, she said.

"Mizzou is an independent institution and caved into Schaefer's pressures," Dreith said. "I think they just got bullied and scared and decided to sever ties in hopes that funding wouldn't come at a detriment."

The Missouri law requiring hospital admitting privileges is one of dozens of similar laws passed in states around the country, particularly in the south, in recent years in order to restrict women's access to abortion, according to Julie Rikelman, Litigation Director for the Center for Reproductive Rights in Washington, DC, which has mounted legal challenges to similar laws in many states.

"What we're seeing in Missouri is what we're seeing in other parts of the country, which is that state laws are being passed that are supposed to be about the health and safety but are really underhanded," Rikelman said. "These admitting privileges laws are not about making abortion safer, which is why major medical organizations don't support them."

The Center has asked the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a similar admitting privileges law in Texas, which is under consideration by the court now. That law has forced about half of Texas's abortion clinics to close, she said. The group has also asked the court to rule on the constitutionality of a second law requiring abortion clinics in Texas to be ambulatory surgical centers, which she said if allowed to take effect would close 75 percent of the state's clinics.

Schaefer's actions signal something of a reemergence of the culture wars in Missouri. The Missouri Right to Life Group, which supported Schaefer in pressuring the university to cut ties with Planned Parenthood, says it would now like to see the university end its stem cell research. Susan Klein, the group's legislative liaison, told the Columbia Tribune that their stand against embryonic stem cell research is absolute.

"A state-funded university with our tax dollars should not be doing research on aborted baby parts, embryonic stem cell research or human cloning," Klein said.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue filed a lawsuit against the city demanding the release of 911 calls and ambulance records from the city's Planned Parenthood clinic in order to collect data they can use to bolster complaints to the health department over abortions being performed there. The city released heavily-redacted records in response, citing federal patient privacy laws.

"I think the overriding issue really is this is about politics rather than women's health and safety," Rikelman said.

Planned Parenthood of St. Louis and Mid-Missouri, which did not immediately respond to questions from VICE News, told the Kansas City Star it was considering whether to mount a legal challenge against the university's decision, seek hospital privileges elsewhere, or reapply for hospital privileges with the university system to avoid having to shut down.

The Missouri Planned Parenthood Witch Hunt

 By Rep. Stacey Newman 

Originally Posted on 8.25.15 Huffington Post

Although this is my birthday week when I should be indulging in relaxation and excess chocolate, I can't stop thinking about the horrendous seven-hour hearing to "investigate" Planned Parenthood this past week in the Missouri Capitol. But mostly, I can't stop thinking about women who would be hurt if the Missouri GOP have their way.

Our legislature during the interim has zero interest in addressing our exploding gun violence, or kids back to school in woefully inadequate schools, or even how to make our male legislators stop sexually harassing women in the Capitol, particularly young interns.

What is deemed most urgent by the Missouri GOP leadership is jumping on the national Crazy Toons bandwagon, joining other red states in launching their own investigation/witch hunt.

Never mind that the undercover sting videos of Planned Parenthood, which sparked these investigations, continue to be proven bogus.

Never mind that officials in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota have spent thousands of state dollars and have concluded there was no evidence of any wrongdoing in their states by Planned Parenthood. Never mind that the Center for Medical Progress, responsible for the videos, is widely known as an anti-abortion group on a mission to annihilate Planned Parenthood.

Never mind that there are no Missouri lawmakers who are obstetricians or, heaven forbid, real gynecologists.

And certainly never mind these facts:

Fact #1 -- Per Missouri's constitution amended by voters in 2006, embryonic stem cell research is legal.

Fact #2 -- Planned Parenthood in Missouri along with numerous affiliates throughout the country, do NOT offer patients the option to donate fetal tissue.

Fact #3 -- Fetal tissue cell research has produced life-saving medical treatments and vaccines many of us count on.

Fact #4 -- Only three percent of Planned Parenthood health services, even in Missouri, involve abortion.

Fact #5 -- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have found no violations of fetal tissue laws after the deceptively-edited videos.

The Missouri House hearing was a disaster. No agenda was given to us committee members except for a jumble of abortion statute links. The hearing began with the joint chairs asking what we all wanted to address. It was then that I wanted to stand up and scream.

The first hour and a half consisted of a summary reading of the bogus video transcript, followed by Children and Families Chair Rep. Diane Franklin citing a incredibly long list of abortion statutes. It had to have been hair pulling agonizing for anyone following along online on the House's live video stream. GOP Rep. Sue Allen asked that the department directors who would be testifying later if they could be "sworn in" so "we could know they were telling the truth." Never mind that we legislators never take that oath. Then we broke early for a two and half hour lunch.

So, why were taxpayers funding this circus? Why were we holding a third interim hearing on Planned Parenthood? Just for our per diem and mileage check for the day?

Then my "aha" moment. Our session beginning in January coincides with the 2016 presidential election when we have contested Missouri gubernatorial and attorney general races (many of those candidates currently serve in the legislature). They must find a "women's" wedge issue to motivate their Tea Party base. Duh.

At 2 p.m. the action resumed. Various state department directors answered questions ranging from surgical center licensing to federal Medicaid Planned Parenthood reimbursements to what happens to aborted fetal tissue after being delivered to private pathology labs.

Questions asked by the committee ranged from, "How do we know anyone is doing their job?" to "How to we know tissue is not being sold?" and to my absolute favorite, "How do we know if pathology labs aren't selling baby body parts?"

Mentioning "baby body parts" became a favorite sport or an at-home drinking game as my conservative colleagues tried to outdo each other in their comments.

Almost every question asked of the directors was found either in the links provided to us or directly online. I know this because I easily found the answers on my laptop during the hearing.

Finally, late in the day, after the chairs tried hard to deny his testimony but I insisted, Dr. Ed Weisbart, who has actually treated pregnant women and delivered babies, spoke. His patience for sitting quietly up to this point should be commended.

He blasted the committee: "That video ... was clearly produced by an organization which was created to produce videos like that. It was done with false identifications, it was based on lies and badly edited to create a message that would then justify having hearings of this nature, and you guys are taking advantage of the material they gave you. There is no evidence that any of those things is going on... This could clearly be defined as a witch hunt or a fishing expedition."

As you can imagine, the committee did not like an actual physician with medical expertise testifying and were fairly hostile to him. Certainly, not a physician who cares about reproductive healthcare that all women, of every zip code, need and deserve.

To conclude the day, the chairs also allowed two local abortion clinic protestors to testify. Really.

The result of the all day hearing? Before adjourning, the chairs called for yet one more hearing, making a total of four Missouri taxpayer funded Planned Parenthood witch hunts this summer. Stay tuned -- maybe there will be more.

This is the Missouri legislature, elected by few voters but making big decisions, spending your tax dollars and treating women like... well, crap.

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