Kurt Schaefer, the power-hungry Missouri senator who wields outsized control of the state’s appropriations process, promised the University of Missouri there would be “consequences” for licensing a doctor.
And there are.
And for the ideal of an independent university system.
MU announced Thursday it was revoking low-level hospital privileges for a doctor who performs non-surgical abortions at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic. Without “refer and follow” privileges, the clinic will no longer meet a state licensing requirement. It appears that Planned Parenthood will have to cease offering abortions at its mid-Missouri location on Dec. 1.
That will mean women must travel to the St. Louis or Kansas City areas, making the process of terminating a pregnancy more onerous and traumatic for many.
Officials said the decision was a result of a review by the executive committee of the medical staff of MU’s hospital, the University of Missouri Health Care. They called the refer and follow designation “outdated and unnecessary” and framed the move as a step toward a more fully engaged medical staff.
But the university’s action is a dismaying and dangerous cave-in to pressure from Schaefer and his “sanctity of life” committee, which formed this summer after misleading sting videos about Planned Parenthood’s national fetal tissue donation program provided a convenient excuse for ambitious politicians to attack the medical provider.
For Schaefer, getting the chairmanship of the committee was doubly fortuitous. The Republican senator from Columbia is seeking the GOP nomination for Missouri attorney general and he needs a platform from which to court the anti-abortion vote. Also, Schaefer is reported to have been furious when the University of Missouri granted a sabbatical to law professor Josh Hawley, who also is running for attorney general on the GOP ticket.
Schaefer’s anti-abortion committee has spent almost no time investigating fetal tissue donation. Instead, it zeroed in on the Columbia clinic, which resumed offering abortions this summer after a hiatus.
Schaefer summoned state licensing and university officials, including MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, for what amounted to public interrogation sessions. When he established that the University of Missouri had granted limited privileges to Planned Parenthood doctor Colleen McNicholas, Schaefer falsely accused the university of being in “the abortion business” and suggested there could be “consequences” to the university’s budget.
It was bullying. And it worked.
University of Missouri officials apparently weren’t troubled by the refer and follow designation when they granted privileges to McNicholas. If they’ve now decided it is unnecessary, the fair approach would be to grandfather in McNicholas and the one other doctor with the designation.
Instead, the University of Missouri has shown it will sacrifice its independence in response to political pressure. That’s a shameful action for an academic institution, and one that could have more unintended consequences than any that Schaefer envisioned.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @bshelly.