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Under Pressure From Anti-Choice Lawmakers, University of Missouri Ends Admitting Privilege

Teddy Wilson

The executive committee of the medical staff of University of Missouri Health Care voted unanimously to discontinue “refer and follow” as a category of privileges at MU Health Care facilities.

The University of Missouri, capitulating to political pressure from anti-choice Republican state lawmakers, will discontinue hospital privileges for a physician who in July allowed the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, Missouri to be licensed by the state to resume abortions.

The executive committee of the medical staff of University of Missouri Health Care voted unanimously to discontinue “refer and follow” as a category of privileges at MU Health Care facilities. The committee’s decision was made after Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin promised state lawmakers he would initiate a review of MU Health Care policies and procedures.  

The change will be effective December 1. 

The decision comes after the University of Missouri recently canceled contracts with Planned Parenthood to allow medical and nursing students to complete clinical hours at the organization’s facilities as an optional rotation, ending a 26-year relationship.

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Steve Whitt, chief medical officer of MU Health Care and a member of the executive committee, said in a statement that the “refer and follow” admitting privileges policy was outdated.

State law requires that a physician have admitting privileges at a hospital that offers obstetrical or gynecological services and is located within 30 miles of the facility in which the abortion services are being performed.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a physician at the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic, was granted “refer and follow” privileges by MU Health Care in December, which allowed Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri to apply for renewal of the license to offer abortion services in Columbia.

“Refer and follow privileges only allow physicians to access their own patients’ information,” Whitt said. “This level of access to patient information is already permitted by any referring provider, including those not on MU Health Care’s medical staff; therefore, the designation of refer and follow privileges was outdated and unnecessary.”

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri denounced the university’s decision.

Laura McQuade, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said in a statement that the claim that “refer and follow” privileges are “outdated and unnecessary” is simply not true.

“These privileges are increasingly used in hospitals across the country to allow physicians who seldom or never need to admit patients to a hospital the ability to maintain staff privileges,” McQuade said. “Referring physicians can then follow their patients’ progress if ever needed, but the attending physician at the hospital provides the necessary patient care.”

McQuade blasted MU Health Care for giving in to political pressure from anti-choice policymakers. 

For weeks, state legislators on the Committee on the Sanctity of Life, led by Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), held hearings in response to a series of videos published by an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress. The videos, released in coordination with GOP lawmakers, feature heavily edited footage of secretly taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

Schaefer is a candidate for attorney general, and in a recent fundraising letter, he condemned “an alarming role by University of Missouri in keeping” the Columbia clinic open and promised to maintain pressure until the privileges were revoked, reported the Columbia Daily Tribune.

“I think the committee was very upset that the university was engaged in the abortion business and if this is the first step in getting them out of it then it is a very positive one,” Schaefer told the Columbia Daily Tribune.

“We are outraged that MU Health Care caved to the political pressure from Senator Kurt Schaefer’s ‘Sanctity of Life’ Committee and has eliminated refer and follow privileges for physicians,” McQuade said. “This is a continuation of the orchestrated attempt to restrict access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri.”

Whitt told the Columbia Daily Tribune the timing of the MU Health Care committee’s decision created the perception that it was politically motivated. “They are well aware of the political grief we are probably going to get about it because of the timing,” Whitt said. “The timing is bad but we are not going to do this anymore.”

The decision by MU Health Care was well received by anti-choice activists in the state. Sam Lee, president of Campaign Life Missouri, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was “pleasantly surprised” with the university’s decision.

Martha Stevens, a Democratic candidate for the state house, said in a statement that the university’s decision is the latest example of how “extremists” in the state legislature have attacked reproductive health-care access. 

“In order to placate these ideological special interests and play political games with women’s healthcare,” Stevens said, “these same legislative extremists have succeeded in their efforts to bully our University, the largest healthcare provider in our community, for purely political purposes.”

McQuade said that Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri will take any and all legal action necessary to ensure that the full range of reproductive health-care services, including abortion, remain legal, available, and accessible in the state.

“MU Health Care’s decision puts politics above patients and is also a violation of longstanding federal law that prohibits discrimination in the extension of staff or other hospital privileges based on opposition to abortion,” McQuade said.  

Planned Parenthood has not commented on the status of abortion services after McNicholas’ admitting privileges end on December 1.

Planned Parenthood is holding a rally as part of a national “Pink Out Day” protest at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Speaker’s Circle on the University of Missouri campus. The recent decisions made by the university are expected to be the focus of the action.

CORRECTION: A version of this story stated that Martha Stevens, who is running for a state house seat, is an elected official.

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