JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A Republican Missouri senator running for attorney general on Thursday said the state health department director could be held in contempt if she refuses to name a hospital that grants admitting privileges to a Columbia Planned Parenthood, which last month was licensed to provide abortions.
Health and Senior Services Department Director Gail Vasterling told a Senate committee investigating Planned Parenthood that the Columbia center or a doctor at the center has admitting privileges at an area hospital. But she declined to name the hospital, saying that’s not a public record.
“I don’t know that I can legally talk about what’s in the closed records,” Vasterling said.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who is running for attorney general, gave Vasterling until Aug. 21 to name the hospital.
If Vasterling doesn’t cooperate, Schaefer said she faces contempt. The Missouri Constitution allows the Senate to punish those who demonstrate “contemptuous behavior in its presence during its sessions” with a $300 fine, 10 days in jail or both.
Schaefer also said the Senate could ask the courts to intervene.
“The biggest issue is they are refusing to tell the public,” Schaefer said.
Admitting privileges are required for Missouri abortion centers, although members of the Senate committee disputed whether an individual doctor or a hospital as a whole needs those privileges.
Lawmakers questioned Vasterling and another health department employee for hours over the July licensure of the Columbia abortion center. The health department issued a license for the center to provide abortions within days of anti-abortion activists releasing an undercover video showing Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services discussing procedures for providing fetal body parts to researchers.
That’s placed the center’s license in the middle of a Senate committee investigation into abortion practices in the state.
Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said in a statement that the committee meetings are “about political grandstanding, not facts.”
“This is yet another orchestrated attempt to restrict access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri and to the needed services Planned Parenthood has provided for nearly 100 years,” McQuade said.
Schaefer said calling the investigation a political maneuver is “sickening.”
Calls to Boone Hospital Center and University of Missouri Health System – both based in Columbia – were not immediately returned Thursday.