Planned Parenthood seeks alternative abortion options in Columbia
COLUMBIA - In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri CEO Laura McQuade addressed the news late Tuesday the Columbia clinic would no longer perform medication induced abortions. McQuade said the organization is considering legal action in the coming days to be able to continue providing what it called an essential service for women in mid-Missouri. Any sort of lawsuit, McQuade confirmed, would have to be filed before Dec. 1, which is the deadline for the Missouri State Department of Health to pull the Columbia clinic's license.
“Missouri goes back to being a one provider state," McQuade said. "Access to this service is needed. Women are traveling hundreds of miles to get to Kansas or St. Louis. Missouri already has the highest burden to abortion care in the U.S. due to 72 hour waiting period."
Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri announced in September MU would revoke "refer and follow" privileges effective Dec. 1 for Dr. Colleen McNicholas, who it said is a licensed, board-certified OB/GYN that began performing medication abortions in August. Planned Parenthood said then MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin caved into political pressure from state lawmakers, specifically Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who chaired the Senate's Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life. The committee was formed to investigate whether Planned Parenthood and MU were following state law.
The Senate committee was one of three efforts to investigate the non-profit. The Missouri House formed a similar committee and Attorney General Chris Koster launched an investigation into whether Missouri clinics donated or sold fetal tissue after a controversial video was released earlier this year shedding light on the issue.
McQuade called Schaefer's effort "political grandstanding" and said Schaefer bullied MU and physicians into not providing what she called a critical health care service.
KOMU 8 News reached out to Sen. Schaefer for comment Wednesday and he had not gotten back to us as of noon. Previously, Sen. Schaefer raised concerns in a letter to MU saying the university could be violating state law if it is funding abortion services with taxpayer dollars. Schaefer called it and issue of "substantial public interest and concern."
During the four month period from August through November in which McNicholas performed medication abortions on a two day per month schedule, McQuade said the clinic saw a "dramatic increase" in care for women, citing somewhere between 80 and 100 abortions were performed during the four months.
With the Dec. 1 deadline looming, Planned Parenthood and MU graduate students requested a meeting with MU Interim Chancellor Hank Foley prior to that date to discuss the university's relationship with the organization and to urge MU to reinstate Dr. McNicholas' privileges. That meeting, Planned Parenthood said had not happened as of Wednesday and McQuade said MU made no effort to reschedule it with only one business day left - Monday, Nov. 30 - before the deadline. Despite that, McQuade said she has been in regular conversations with Foley's legislative liaison, but has had no direct conversations with Foley.
McQuade said after Chancellor Loftin's resignation, the organization had renewed hope for the privileges to be reinstated, but at this point they have not seen or heard anything to suggest that will happen, calling Chancellor Loftin's move a "mistake."
Earlier this month, abortion opponents delivered letters and petitions to Loftin from mid-Missourians stating they did not want the university to be involved with Planned Parenthood, using tax dollars. The groups said they gave Loftin 3,000 signed letters and 600 petitions from people who wanted the university to stand by an earlier decision to cut ties with McNicholas.
Bonnie Lee, a member of 40 Days of Life, said she doesn't want her tax money to, in any way, support Planned Parenthood. At the time, Lee said, "We know he's [Loftin] been under heavy fire and we want him to know that many Missourians are backing him, his decisions to obey the law and to prevent my tax money from either assisting or promoting abortion in any way."
In addition to considering its legal options, Planned Parenthood also said it was actively pursuing other physicians who currently have "refer and follow" privileges and if necessary will pursue others who don't, but could get the privileges. Missouri state law requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at another hospital in the area they work. Dr. McNicholas is employed by Washington University in St. Louis and has admitting privileges with Barnes Jewish Hospital, which is owned by BJC HealthCare. BJC also owns Boone Hospital in Columbia, which is the only other hospital in Columbia outside of University Hospital that could admit trauma patients.
When asked whether Boone Hospital or any other hospital or physician would be able to grant privileges, McQuade said, "MU [Health Care] came under dramatic political pressure to revoke privileges and that has a chilling affect on other hospitals and physicians who are willing to provide services."
"They are watching what MU and MUHC are going through," she added.
A spokesperson for tje Washington University School of Medicine said late Wednesday McNicholas has admitting privileges there, but does not have privileges at Boone Hospital.
In a statement from University of Missouri Health Care Wednesday, spokesperson Teresa Snow said in part:
"The executive committee of the medical staff unanimously voted Sept. 21 to end refer and follow privileges. The decision affected two out of more than 800 privileged providers at MU Health Care. She said that under MU Health Care’s open staff and credentialing guidelines, any community physician who meets the criteria set out in the medical staff bylaws and credentialing manuals may apply for privileges. Privileges are granted to individual providers based on education, training and experience and how they will contribute to MU Health Care’s three primary missions, education, research and patient care."
MUHC added in the meantime Dr. McNicholas has inquired about applying for "clinical" privileges and that application is being reviewed and could take months. Consistent with state law, MUHC said physicians can only perform abortions at MU Health Care facilities if it is necessary to save the life of the mother.
During the call with reporters Wednesday, McQuade said MU has kept parts of its agreement with Planned Parenthood. Specifically, she said its academic contracts have been restored and Planned Parenthood will host three nursing students in the spring and has kept a contract with a social worker in a research capacity.
McQuade also reiterated the various other services Planned Parenthood provides, including contraceptive counseling and reproductive services. She said abortion care accounts for only about 10 percent of the full range of services they provide.
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