The Buzz

Missouri Senate committee discusses contempt charges against Planned Parenthood leader

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, is sponsoring a pair of resolutions that could result in Planned Parenthood officials being held in contempt of the Senate.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, is sponsoring a pair of resolutions that could result in Planned Parenthood officials being held in contempt of the Senate. The Star

The Missouri Senate moved a step closer Tuesday to holding the leader of the St. Louis Planned Parenthood in contempt, a charge that could result in up to 10 days in jail.

A Senate committee discussed a pair of resolutions Tuesday demanding that the president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri and the owner of a pathology lab that reviews tissue from Planned Parenthood appear before the Senate at 10 a.m. April 18 to explain why they have not complied with subpoenas related to the disposal of fetal tissue.

Chuck Hatfield, a Jefferson City attorney representing Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, told the Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee that the subpoenas were too broad and could result in the violation of federal patient privacy laws.

Planned Parenthood has never refused to turn over documents to the Missouri Senate, Hatfield said, but they cannot legally comply with the subpoena in its current form.

“We’ve said over and again in correspondence from my office that we will discuss production of documents,” Hatfield said, “but we object to the subpoena as issued.”

But Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican who chairs a Senate committee investigating Planned Parenthood, balked at Hatfield’s argument. Schaefer on Tuesday pushed for a pair of resolutions that would begin the process of holding the health care organization’s leader in contempt — a charge that could result in a $300 fine, 10 days in jail or both.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican, issued the subpoenas on behalf of Schaefer’s committee, which has been investigating videos that emerged last summer alleging Planned Parenthood officials were selling fetal tissue for profit.

The subpoenas were issued in November demanding six years of documents pertaining to the handling of fetal tissue by the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic — the only facility in Missouri that currently offers abortion services.

The subpoena also requested documents on any time an ambulance was called to the St. Louis clinic.

Planned Parenthood vehemently denied the accusations in the videos, and Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, said his office found no evidence of wrongdoing in Missouri. Eleven other states conducted investigations that similarly found no wrongdoing, and in Texas a grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood and instead indicted two anti-abortion advocates involved in making the videos.

Schaefer said the Senate is “not in any way seeking personally identifiable medical records of an individual.” If that information is part of the requested documents, Planned Parenthood could redact it.

“The issue is an entity simply refusing to comply with a subpoena,” Schaefer said. “To uphold the integrity of the process, we need to make sure we enforce these subpoenas.”

The Senate committee will vote on Schaefer’s resolutions Thursday.

Hatfield said Planned Parenthood has tried to have a discussion on their issues with the subpoenas, a process that is common in these types of situations. But the Senate didn’t respond to patient privacy concerns raised by Planned Parenthood until March 21, Hatfield said.

Therefore, he said, it’s too early to be talking about contempt charges.

Planned Parenthood could have turned over redacted documents, Hatfield said, but the concern would then be that they would be held in contempt for the redactions.

Schaefer called Hatfield’s argument a “stall tactic,” adding that it is “time to fish or cut bait” in regards to the Senate’s ability to subpoena documents.

The state constitution gives the Senate the authority to issue subpoenas and to punish someone for contempt.

Mary Kogut, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri who could be held in contempt by the Senate, said last week that it is “deeply, deeply concerning that in 2016 we are talking about jailing women’s health care providers for protecting their patients’ privacy.”

Possible contempt charges are just one way Missouri Republicans are targeting Planned Parenthood this year.

The state’s $27 billion budget currently includes language aimed at blocking Planned Parenthood and any other clinic that counsels women to have abortions from receiving any money through Medicaid. Lawmakers are also considering a bill that would impose new inspection requirements on Planned Parenthood clinics and tougher restrictions on doctors who perform abortions.