Government & Politics

Missouri governor won’t investigate health department spreadsheet with patient periods

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said on Friday he will not call for an investigation into the state’s health department following the revelation that the agency kept a spreadsheet that tracked the menstrual cycles of Planned Parenthood’s abortion patients.

Parson, a Republican, has remained largely silent since the spreadsheet’s existence was revealed Tuesday during a state administrative commission hearing in St. Louis. His office did not respond to a request for comment earlier in the week. He spoke to reporters in Kansas City following a round-table discussion on workforce development with Mayor Quinton Lucas and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

“The truth of the matter is there is no special spreadsheet of what the accusations are,” Parson said. “The information that’s been coming into the department of health — that’s been going on since 1981 under state law, and lawmakers that don’t know that should probably take a good look at the laws in the state of Missouri. If you run an abortion clinic in the state of Missouri, you’re required to provide that information to the department of health.”

Parson said the claims regarding the spreadsheet had been “totally misleading.”

Disclosure of the spreadsheet’s existence came during the testimony of Dr. Randall Williams, the department’s director, during the hearing that will help decide whether the St. Louis clinic can retain its license. The state refused to renew the clinic’s license after physicians who provided care at the clinic would not submit to interviews with state regulators.

Parson said the process was about ensuring the clinic is operating safely and can retain its license.

“That’s what this whole issue was about,” Parson said. “Are they operating safely? Are they doing botched abortions in the state of Missouri?...If they meet the guidelines of the state of Missouri, they have every right to have their doors open. They have every right to perform abortions under the state law, and as governor, my job is to make sure that those rights are upheld for everybody.”

Williams testified that the spreadsheet, titled “Director’s Request,” was created to help find “failed” abortions, or instances in which patients returned multiple times to the clinic to receive a successful abortion.

More than 24 hours hours after Williams’ testimony, the department claimed Williams had never possessed or requested the spreadsheet.

“Without a directive from Dr. Randall Williams, regulators devised a means to efficiently investigate that concern using legally-obtained information which was required by law and which Planned Parenthood routinely submits,” the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said in a statement late Wednesday.

The department said the state investigator looking into Planned Parenthood took records of the 3,000 abortions conducted in 2018 and found 67 instances in which the same patient had multiple abortions. The data was further “narrowed” and the department was able to find a case in which a “failed” abortion was not reported by Planned Parenthood.

The spreadsheet was attached to an email with the subject line “Duplicate ITOPs with last normal menses date” sent by an employee of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, which falls under the health department.

The spreadsheet included patient’s 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 state’s investigation found four patients with “failed” abortions, and much of the hearing focused on the medical circumstances and decisions made by physicians.

Prior to Parson’s comments late Friday, Democrats and abortion rights activists decried the state’s compilations of private patient information and have called on Parson to fire Williams.

Activists have started a social media campaign called #TrackThisRandy, in which they post a photo of a period products, like a box of tampons or pads, to Twitter in protest.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who is challenging Parson in 2020 for his seat, said she was committed to replacing Williams on the first day of administration, if she were to win. She called the spreadsheet a “brazen violation of women’s private health information.”

“Governor Mike Parson has shown his willingness to weaponize his regulatory authority to interfere in gross, weird, and medically unnecessary ways,” Galloway said in a statement. “If the Governor won’t take this step now, then Missourians will hold him accountable at the ballot box.”

House Minority Leader, state Rep. Crystal Quade, said Parson is responsible for the actions of his subordinates.

“This scandalous action has been described as disturbing, unethical and even creepy. All three seem to fit,” Quade, D-Springfield, said in a statement early Friday. “Since Governor Parson has failed to condemn this behavior, one must conclude he condones it. But this is disturbing. This is unethical. This is creepy. And it absolutely is wrong.”

State Sen. Gina Walsh, the top Democrat in the Missouri State Senate, noted that the state has a history of protecting private citizens’ information. It was one of the last states to provide citizens the option of a driver’s license that complied with the federal REAL ID Act, which asks states to retain significantly more documentation as an anti-terrorism measure.

“With this kind of history and tradition in our state, I cannot imagine how Director Williams, a member of your cabinet, thought it proper to track the menstrual cycles of Missouri women,” Walsh, who is from the St. Louis-area, said in a statement. “If the zeal in your administration’s attempts to oppose abortion lead to this kind of shocking and unsettling behavior, it is then time for your administration to engage in some serious self-reflection.”

Parson has said the investigation into Planned Parenthood is not reflective of his anti-abortion agenda and health department officials have testified the investigation began after they found that Planned Parenthood failed to file a complication report with the state.

In May, Parson signed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the country. It criminalized abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for survivors of rape and incest.

Court orders have kept both parts of the law from being implemented and the St. Louis clinic open.

Thomas reported from St. Louis.

Allison Kite: 816-234-4088, @Allie_Kite

Crystal Thomas: 573-635-7839

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Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.
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.