A Republican lawmaker in Missouri said during a committee hearing last week that the state health department director could be held in contempt if she refuses to name a hospital that grants admitting privileges to abortion providers.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), chairman of the Committee on the Sanctity of Life, made the threat while questioning Gail Vasterling, director of the state’s Health and Senior Services Department.
The formation of the committee was announced in July in response to a series of videos published by an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress. The videos feature heavily edited footage of secretly taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.
“Missourians deserve to know the truth behind this potentially atrocious violation of our state laws and humane values,” Schaefer said in a statement. “Over the next few months this committee will conduct a rigorous investigation into the monstrous and inconceivable acts carried out by Planned Parenthood.”
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Schaefer is a candidate for attorney general. Attorney General Chris Koster (D), who is a candidate for governor, is also conducting an investigation.
Republican lawmakers in states around the country have called for investigations and hearings, but to date no investigation has found any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. The Missouri committee is expected to issue a full report to the state senate later this year.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said he would not investigate Planned Parenthood, despite calls to do so from Republican state lawmakers, including Schaefer, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Sen. Mike Parson (R-Bolivar).
“We’ve got to focus on what matters in this state—creating a good job environment, moving the economy forward, not taking the story of the day and trying to sensationalize it,” Nixon said, reported KOLR.
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,” reported the Associated Press.
“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.
Along with investigating whether Planned Parenthood violated any laws concerning fetal tissue, the committee is investigating the re-opening of the Columbia Planned Parenthood facility. The facility stopped providing abortions services in 2012. A new physician began providing abortion care at the facility this month.
Prior to last week’s hearing, Schaefer sent a letter to Vasterling taking issue with the fact that DHSS had not sent a representative “with knowledge of the license issuance” to a committee hearing in July. In the letter, Schaefer requested that DHSS suspend the Columbia Planned Parenthood’s license “pending sufficient investigation” by the committee to “determine whether the facility is in compliance” with Missouri law.
Members spent several hours during a committee hearing last week questioning Vasterling about abortion clinic regulations and oversight provided by DHSS.
Vasterling told the state senate committee investigating Planned Parenthood that the Columbia center or a doctor at the center has admitting privileges at an area hospital, but declined to identify the hospital because she said it is not a matter of public record.
“I don’t know that I can legally talk about what’s in the closed records,” Vasterling said.
Schaefer demanded that Vasterling name the hospital and gave her until August 21 to meet his demand, or face contempt charges. The Missouri Constitution allows the Senate to punish those who demonstrate “contemptuous behavior in its presence during its sessions” with a $300 fine, ten days in jail, or both.
“There’s no assurance that what was admitted in those videos isn’t occurring,” Schaefer said, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Schaefer has been accused of using intimidation tactics while campaigning for attorney general.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a conservative think tank, filed an open records request with the University of Missouri to obtain any records they suspect might show Schaefer put pressure on the university to prevent associate professor Josh Hawley from entering the Republican primary campaign for attorney general.
Schaefer claims that the university may have given Hawley preferential treatment when it granted him an unpaid leave of absence to campaign for attorney general. “Everything I can see is they are giving him a sweetheart deal to run,” Schaefer told the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Schaefer is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees the budgets of state agencies, including the Department of Higher Education.
The University of Missouri has once again found itself in Schaefer’s crosshairs, as he is now questioning whether or not there is an agreement between the abortion provider at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic and the University of Missouri Hospital. Schaefer claims this would be a violation of Missouri law.
“It is against the law for the use of public funds to in any way promote or assist in the performance of abortions, and so I think that raises a real question if in fact it is the University that enabled this license to be issued by giving that agreement, I think there are some potential issues there with that law as well as others,” Schaefer told Missourinet.
Schaefer sent a letter to University Chancellor Bowen Loftin Monday requesting documentation regarding any agreement between the University of Missouri and the Columbia Planned Parenthood affiliate, reported the Missouri Times.
The next hearing of the Committee on the Sanctity of Life will take place on August 25.