Hank Foley, interim chancellor of the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus, did his best on Monday to tiptoe through shards of glass as he addressed the incendiary Planned Parenthood controversy confronting Mizzou.
In a statement, Foley noted the high emotions involved. He has been touched by the many communications his office has received on the subject. He is especially sympathetic to “women who have relied on Planned Parenthood for health care.”
Bottom line, though: He is standing by the decision of his predecessor, R. Bowen Loftin, to discontinue the category of privileges previously granted to Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a physician who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology and who had been performing non-surgical abortions at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic.
Without admitting privileges at a hospital close to the clinic, McNicholas cannot perform abortions without violating state law. For the time being, abortion services will not be available in mid-Missouri.
Foley’s decision, though a triumph for intimidation, isn’t much of a surprise. As an interim chancellor, he’s understandably going to be reluctant to reverse a decision that came from the medical staff of MU’s hospital, the University of Missouri Health system.
The problem was started by Loftin, who caved in to pressure from anti-abortion state lawmakers and ordered a review of the privileges, and then canceled them without giving McNicholas time to apply for a more standard category of admitting privileges at the hospital.
McNicholas held refer and follow privileges at MU’s hospital, meaning she could refer patients there and monitor their progress. It’s a useful category for doctors who rarely need to admit patients, and McNicholas was one of two physicians with that designation at the University of Missouri Health System.
“Obtaining privileges at a hospital is a tedious, not to mention, medically unnecessary requirement that can take six months, or even more, to fulfill,” Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said in a prepared statement Monday. “MU Health Care imposed an impossible timeline for our physician when it terminated Dr. McNicholas’ privileges just more than two months ago.”
Also on Monday, Planned Parenthood sued Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services to prevent its acting director, Peter Lyskowski, from revoking Planned Parenthood’s license to perform abortion services at the Columbia clinic. The health care provider contends the license should be kept valid but inactive until a physician can be properly credentialed to perform medication-induced abortions.
U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey granted Planned Parenthood a temporary injunction, pending a hearing in the next day or two.
Court papers filed Monday give some indication of the struggles of Planned Parenthood to continue to offer abortion services in mid Missouri.
Two doctors who have hospital admitting privileges in Columbia looked into the possibility of providing abortions at the clinic. But both decided they could not subject themselves and their families to the harassment that might result.
So what we have at the moment is a victory for political bullying at the expense of women.
State lawmakers, led by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia who became an anti-abortion crusader when he decided to run for state attorney general, cowed Loftin into reviewing and revoking admitting privileges for McNicholas.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services wants to hastily cancel Planned Parenthood’s license to perform abortions in Columbia, no doubt because the staffers there want to avoid being summoned for interrogation before Schaefer’s “sanctity of life” committee.
And two doctors who looked into the possibility of performing abortions backed out because they feared for themselves and their families.
Foley, in his statement, tried to split the difference by saying he would “support academic freedom” when it comes to clinical and research projects in cooperation with Planned Parenthood.
Schaefer has set his sights on a research project in which a doctoral student in the university’s School of Social Work is studying the impact of Missouri’s new law requiring women to wait 72 hours before obtaining an abortion. He claims, absurdly, that the project looks like “a marketing aid” for Planned Parenthood.
Based on Foley’s statement, it looks as though the research project will survive. But the right of women to obtain legal abortions in mid-Missouri is severely endangered. And, sadly, the cowardice shown by MU’s administration over the past few months is a big factor in that reality.