The Buzz

Missouri Planned Parenthood official faces threat of jail time

Abortion opponents and abortion rights advocates demonstrated last July outside Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Columbia.
Abortion opponents and abortion rights advocates demonstrated last July outside Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Columbia. Columbia Daily Tribune

After a vote in the Missouri Senate on Thursday, Mary Kogut faces the possibility of 10 days in a county jail for refusing to comply with Senate subpoenas.

The organization she leads, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, has refused to turn over documents it believes would violate doctor-patient confidentiality and federal privacy laws.

For three days this week, the Missouri Senate debated a pair of bills demanding that Kogut and James Miller, the owner of a pathology lab that reviews tissue from Planned Parenthood, appear before the Senate at 2 p.m. April 25.

The bills were approved Thursday on a 24-8 party-line vote.

That means Kogut and Miller are now expected to show up April 25 and explain why they have not complied with the subpoenas that were issued in November. The subpoenas are part of an investigation of videos that emerged last summer alleging Planned Parenthood officials were selling fetal tissue for profit.

If they refuse to show up or provide the requested documents, the Senate could vote to hold them in contempt, a charge that carries a possible punishment of at least a $300 fine and up to 10 days in jail.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican who is running for Missouri attorney general, balked at Planned Parenthood’s privacy concerns. He said that if there are any personally identifiable medical records in the requested documents, Planned Parenthood attorneys could just redact them.

“The misinformation campaign has been unbelievable,” Schaefer said. “The Senate is not seeking any personally identifiable medical records.”

If Planned Parenthood believed that the subpoenas requested documents it couldn’t provide, Schaefer said, then it could still have turned over something.

“There’s no way all of these documents violate doctor-patient confidentiality,” Schaefer said.

Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, said the politics of the issue must be set aside. The state constitution gives the Senate the authority to issue subpoenas and to punish someone for contempt, he said, and organizations can’t simply “thumb their nose” at that authority.

“This is all about the rule of law at this point,” Silvey said.

Senate Democrats vehemently disagree.

“The constitution grants the Senate the power to subpoena. No one is questioning that,” said Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat. “Just because you have the power to do something doesn’t mean you should use it.”

The videos that sparked Schaefer’s investigation of Planned Parenthood have been discredited, Holsman said. Investigations by the Missouri attorney general and in 11 other states found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, he said, and in Texas a grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood and instead indicted two anti-abortion advocates involved in making the videos.

Holsman questioned whether Schaefer’s political ambitions, and the fact that he’s running in a contested GOP primary for attorney general, are what’s actually fueling the investigation. He called the subpoenas “political theater.”

“This is election propaganda at its finest,” he said.

To buttress his call for Planned Parenthood to turn over documents, Schaefer pointed to the fact that an Indiana waste disposal facility called MedAssure was fined $11,000 by the state of Indiana for illegally accepting thumbnail-sized tissue samples taken from aborted fetuses. The samples originated from the pathology lab that works with the St. Louis Planned Parenthood.

The company said it accepted the fetal tissue by mistake.

Medical privacy

The Missouri Senate issued its subpoenas two days before Thanksgiving last year, demanding six years of documents held by the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic — the only facility in Missouri that offers abortion services.

An attorney for Planned Parenthood responded a week later stating its objections. The Senate tried to clarify the subpoenas in a letter to Planned Parenthood on March 21. Two weeks later, a Senate committee approved Schaefer’s bills summoning Kogut and Miller.

Among the 13 types of documents requested of Planned Parenthood:

▪ Any consent form that must be signed by a patient prior to any chemical, surgical and/or medication induced abortion.

▪ All documents relating to the procedures used by a facility operated by Planned Parenthood to perform abortions.

▪ All documents that record an incident where an emergency medical technician and/or an ambulance has been dispatched to a facility operated by Planned Parenthood.

▪ All documents or written communications relating to the disposal of human tissue or fetal remains.

Sen. Scott Sifton, a St. Louis County Democrat, said that despite Schaefer’s claims that he isn’t seeking individual medical information, by using phrases like “all documents” or “any form,” the subpoenas are overly broad and would include material that could violate privacy laws.

Critics of the Missouri Senate’s subpoenas point to a 2006 incident involving then-Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline.

Kline launched an investigation into a pair of Kansas abortion clinics, and in the process he requested and received medical records on women who received abortions at the clinics. Some of those private medical records were leaked to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who discussed them on air.

Kline repeatedly denied the records came from his office. By 2015, the Kansas Supreme Court voted to suspend his law license after finding that he violated 11 rules of professional conduct in prosecuting abortion providers.

Contempt of the Senate

According to The Associated Press, the last time the Missouri Senate held someone in contempt was 1899, when they voted to hold a man named Harry Nuttall in contempt for his “conduct, bearing, demeanor and profanity” during a corruption investigation.

In 1903, the House voted to jail two men for refusing to tell a committee investigating bribery why they were changing a $1,000 bill and two $500 bills into smaller denominations.

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

The state’s $27 billion budget blocks Planned Parenthood and any other clinic that counsels women to have abortions from receiving any money through Medicaid.

Lawmakers have also filed 21 abortion-related bills this year. The one that’s had the most success would require girls younger than 18 to inform both of her parents before being legally permitted to have an abortion. Currently, written consent from one parent or guardian is required. Under a bill that’s cleared the House and a Senate committee, the consenting parent has to notify, in writing, the girl’s other parent.

Also this week, a Missouri House committee signed off on legislation that would amend the state constitution to grant the right to life for “unborn human children at every stage of biological development.”

Critics say the legislation, which if passed by lawmakers would have to be approved by voters, would make abortion illegal in Missouri. Its proponents disagree. The bill, House Joint Resolution 98, was amended Tuesday to remove any exemptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock