Barbara Shelly

Missouri loves secrecy, except for Planned Parenthood

Controvery over resumption of abortion services at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia, Mo., clinic looms large in the Missouri Senate.
Controvery over resumption of abortion services at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia, Mo., clinic looms large in the Missouri Senate. The Associated Press

A Missouri Senate committee that formed to find out whether the state’s two Planned Parenthood affiliates have broken any laws regarding the donation of fetal tissue and organs for research purposes has morphed into an attempt to prevent abortion services from taking place at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic.

The provider recently applied for, and obtained, a license to resume abortion services after a three-year hiatus during which no physician was available.

Thursday’s hearing of the Senate’s “sanctity of life” committee began with members solicitously questioning the clerical employee in the state Department of Health and Senior Services who had processed the application.

GOP senators, who form the majority of the committee, seemed to be trying to get the clerk to reveal some kind of impropriety on the part of higher-ups in the department, but nothing materialized.

The second part of the hearing was more lively, as senators interrogated Health and Senior Services Director Gail Vasterling. The senators wanted to know the name of the hospital that has an agreement with the Columbia clinic to receive patients experiencing medical emergencies.

Vasterling declined to name the hospital, citing a state statute that the department’s attorney has interpreted to mean the name of the hospital is to be kept confidential.

Missouri statute 197.477 specifies that the department can make public the results of inspections or evaluations of medical treatment facilities, and follow-up information regarding the facility’s steps to correct deficiencies.

It then states that “all other information whatsoever,” including information submitted “for licensure purposes” shall be kept confidential.

Hey, I am not a lawyer. I am not even a first-year law student — someone who, according to GOP Sen. Eric Schmidt of St. Louis County, would know there is “no possible way that (the name of the hospital) is a closed record.”

So I have no opinion on who is right here — the department’s legal counsel or Schmidt and other legal eagles on the Senate committee. I’m guessing a judge will have to weigh in pretty soon, as committee chairman Kurt Schaefer of Columbia has threatened legal sanctions against Vasterling if she won’t give up the name of the hospital.

I am just an observer of Missouri government, and as such I can’t resist sharing an observation:

Missouri is very secretive about all aspects of executions; it won’t even reveal the source of the drugs it uses. And Missouri is one of eight states with an “ag gag” law, meaning it’s illegal to secretly film suspected animal and environmental abuse on industrial agricultural operations.

But when it comes to revealing all aspects of abortion services — even if the information could put providers in danger — the politicians in charge insist on total transparency.

I don’t need a law degree to recognize how vindictive and hypocritical that is.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to On Twitter @bshelly.