An inspector from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will arrive at the Planned Parenthood clinic here Dec. 1 to revoke its state license to perform abortions — leaving Missouri with only one abortion clinic.
Planned Parenthood officials hope that visit never happens.
Fueling that optimism were the resignations last week of the University of Missouri’s system president and Columbia chancellor after weeks of protests roiled the campus.
Racial injustice and discrimination on campus were at the heart of the protest movement, but lingering in the background was a decision by the university to cut ties with Planned Parenthood, putting the Columbia clinic’s license in jeopardy.
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Abortion-rights advocates are pressing the university to reverse course now that interim leaders are in place.
“This isn’t over yet,” said Laura McQuade, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. “Public pressure can make a difference.”
The university’s decision in September to revoke the admitting privileges of a Planned Parenthood doctor apparently was driven by then-Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. Absent those privileges, the clinic can’t get a state license to perform abortions.
Now that Loftin has been forced to step down, the fate of the Columbia clinic is up in the air.
“We’re making no predictions because the situation is quite fluid right now,” said Sam Lee, a veteran of the anti-abortion movement and president of Campaign for Life Missouri.
Whatever the outcome in Columbia, both sides of the debate expect that it will spur continued anti-abortion moves of the Republican-dominated General Assembly when it returns to the Capitol in less than two months. Planned Parenthood is expected to be in the crosshairs.
Lawmakers reportedly are considering ideas ranging from cutting off government funding for Planned Parenthood to tougher regulations on those doing business with Planned Parenthood clinics.
State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia, has vowed to investigate MU’s School of Social Work over a doctoral student’s research on the effects of the state’s recently imposed 72-hour waiting period for abortions.
“From legislative leadership on down, we’re consistently hearing that during the next legislative session, legislators want to end any partnerships between publicly-funded institutions of higher education and abortion providers,” Lee said.
McQuade said abortion rights advocates are prepared to fight.
“Our supporters have become galvanized, not just our base but also a broader community, to fight back,” she said.
Two events in July
After a three-year hiatus, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia announced in July that it would again offer nonsurgical abortions.
That month, a national anti-abortion group released the first in a series of undercover videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood illegally profiting off of the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses.
Planned Parenthood has vehemently denied those accusations, and investigations in several states — including one by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster — found no violations of state or federal law.
But the videos inspired a pair of Missouri legislative committees to convene hearings, which quickly focused in on how the Columbia clinic obtained its license to perform abortions.
The license was issued after MU granted a Planned Parenthood physician “refer and follow” privileges, which allow doctors to refer patients to a hospital if necessary and then access their medical records. State law requires physicians or centers providing abortions to have certain agreements with local hospitals for patient care.
Under pressure from Republican lawmakers for the university to sever ties with Planned Parenthood, Loftin announced a review of policies and procedures. That resulted in the school ending all “refer and follow” privileges as of Dec. 1, putting the Columbia clinic’s state license to perform abortions in peril.
The university also canceled longstanding contracts with Planned Parenthood that allowed allowed nursing and medical students to gain experience at the health provider’s clinics in four states.
A month later, officials announced the university again would allow nursing students to gain clinical experience at Planned Parenthood clinics. McQuade said she thinks public pressure forced the university’s hand, and she hopes that continued pressure will cause the school to rethink its decision regarding refer and follow privileges.
The university’s Board of Curators reportedly discussed dismissing Loftin last month, in part because of the Planned Parenthood decision.
Jonathan Butler, the graduate student whose hunger strike attracted national attention to the Mizzou protests, pointed to “Planned Parenthood services being stripped from campus” in a letter listing incidents that “disrupted the learning experience for marginalized/underrepresented students.”
Butler also spoke in September at a rally in support of Planned Parenthood.
St. Louis clinic
With the Columbia clinic’s license to perform abortions in flux, attention has turned to the only other facility in Missouri offering abortions — a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic.
State law requires that Planned Parenthood contract with a pathology lab, which must send reports about fetal tissue to the Department of Health and Senior Services.
“Whether they fully appreciate it or not, your lab workers are part of the assembly line of the abortion industry,” Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, said in his letter.
The owner of the pathology lab was subsequently called to testify before a Missouri House committee.
One idea lawmakers are considering is implementing new requirements for the tracking of fetal tissue, a move that abortion-rights supporters think is designed to make it more difficult for Planned Parenthood to find a pathology lab willing to work with the clinic.
“If they can’t go after us, they go after our partners and try to make it so uncomfortable to go about the normal course of business,” she said.
Lee said the top priority of 2016 will be to cut off any government funding for Planned Parenthood.
Federal law bans Planned Parenthood from using government money to subsidize nearly all abortions, which the organization says account for just 3 percent of its services nationwide. The organization has long noted that thousands of women seek other health care services through Medicaid at its clinics.
Federal courts have blocked those efforts, and in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar effort in Indiana. The court ruled that Medicaid regulations give program participants the power to select their own qualified health care provider.
Missouri lawmakers already voted to cut all state funding for family planning services in 2003, a move seen as a way to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving state money.
Lee said it’s not just about money, but also cutting off any collaboration between “a tax-funded higher educational intuition like Mizzou and Planned Parenthood.”
McQuade said the protests that roiled MU have given hope to supporters of Planned Parenthood, serving as proof that public pressure can affect change.
“We have a fast-approaching deadline,” she said. “Our supporters need to know that. They should use all the resources at their disposal to put pressure on the university. That goes for students, faculty, administration, people associated with the hospital.”
Lee said that the protests haven’t affected the resolve of abortion opponents.
“If anything, lawmakers and pro-lifers are more committed now than earlier this year to expose and end any connection between government institutions and the abortion industry.”
Abortion restrictions in Missouri
Missouri lawmakers didn’t pass any major abortion legislation this year, breaking with a tradition of slowly restricting abortion year after year.
▪ 2010: Women seeking abortions were required to be provided with a state-produced brochure stating: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
▪ 2011: More restrictions were added for women seeking abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
▪ 2012: New religious and moral exemptions from insurance coverage of birth control were created.
▪ 2013: Doctors were banned from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs remotely via telemedicine.
▪ 2014: The waiting period for a woman to have an abortion was tripled, from 24 hours to 72 hours.