Government & Politics

Missouri health director kept spreadsheet of Planned Parenthood patients’ periods

The Missouri state health director, Dr. Randall Williams, testified at a state hearing Tuesday that he kept a spreadsheet to track the menstrual periods of women who visited Planned Parenthood, an action that one lawmaker has called on the governor to investigate.

The spreadsheet, which was made at Williams’ request by the state’s main inspector, helped to identify patients who had undergone failed abortions.

The revelation came on the second day of an administrative commission hearing that will help decide whether Planned Parenthood can keep its license to perform abortions.

Williams testified that the investigation of Planned Parenthood began after state inspectors found evidence of a failed abortion that didn’t have a corresponding complication report logged with the state.

The spreadsheet, which was based on medical records the investigator had access to during the state’s annual inspection, also included medical identification numbers, dates of medical procedures and the gestational ages of fetuses.

The last column of the spreadsheet included the date of the last menstrual period of each patient calculated by the health department. The patient’s names were not included.

The investigation eventually found four patients that had to return to Planned Parenthood more than once to have a successful surgical abortion. The failed abortions led the department to have “grave concerns” that caused it to withhold the St. Louis clinic’s license.

Williams, who was an expert witness for the state, was questioned by one of Planned Parenthood’s attorneys, Richard Muniz.

The spreadsheet was attached to an e-mail sent between health department employees with the title “Director’s Request,” and found through legal discovery. The subject line of the email was “Duplicate ITOPs with last normal menses date.”

The Missouri House minority leader has called on Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, to “immediately investigate” whether “patient privacy was compromised or laws broken” or whether Williams was a “a person who Missourians can be comfortable having in a position of public trust.”

“State law requires the health department director to be ‘of recognized character and integrity,’” state Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said in a statement. “This unsettling behavior calls into question whether Doctor Williams meets that high standard.”

Shortly following the hearing, the head of the St. Louis Planned Parenthood said she found the spreadsheet “deeply disturbing.”

“This is government overreach at its worst,” Yamelsie Rodriguez, CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said in a statement. “It shadows the Trump administration’s history of tracking the periods of refugee girls under the government’s care. This is outrageous and disgusting.”

A request for comment from the Department of Health and Senior Services was not returned, and the attorney general’s office declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Williams, an OBGYN, was appointed director of the Department of Health and Senior Services by former Gov. Eric Greitens in 2017. Previously, he served in leadership positions with North Carolina’s health department.

Williams said during testimony that there has been “a false narrative propagated” that the investigation of Planned Parenthood was “a top-down initiative.”

Williams, who testified he was “pro-life” and had never performed an abortion, was pivotal to the state’s investigation as he provided some of the medical knowledge to investigators for flagging issues with the care of the four patients.

One of the obstacles that kept the state from completing its investigation was not being able to interview some of the physicians who helped provide care. Those physicians were medical residents or training fellows placed at the clinic on rotation, which meant Planned Parenthood couldn’t compel them to cooperate.

However, two of the physicians agreed to be deposed by the state in the licensing dispute.

Williams said the issues presented at the clinic, which were listed in a statement of deficiencies, were “imminently fixable.”

“Because we now talked to clinicians that took care of those patients, we are very, very far along on feeling (we can improve) that care with some new policies that we can collaborate with them to implement,” Williams testified.

Williams drew national attention earlier this year over a state policy requiring that physicians perform a pelvic exam three days before a woman receives a surgical abortion, even though physicians already do the exam immediately before the procedure.

Planned Parenthood called performing two pelvic exams ‘invasive’ and ‘medically unnecessary,’ and the rule ‘unethical.’

Williams eventually reversed the rule. Pelvic exams before medication abortions are still required. Because of this rule, Planned Parenthood does not offer medication abortions.

This story has been updated.

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Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.
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