Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in August directed officials from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to conduct surprise inspections of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s clinics in Lincoln and Omaha.
The governor ordered the inspections in response to the release of surreptitiously recorded videos of Planned Parenthood employees by the anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which has coordinated with GOP lawmakers on the state and federal level.
However, nearly two months after state investigators completed the investigation, Ricketts penned a column attacking Planned Parenthood and repeating dubious claims made by CMP that have been repeatedly debunked, including by the investigation he ordered.
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“Videos from this investigation revealed top Planned Parenthood doctors negotiating prices for the body parts of aborted babies,” Ricketts wrote on October 9, repeating a claim that has been discredited by a range of observers.
The three-day inspection began at both clinics on August 18, and after officials interviewed clinic staff and reviewed documents including patient lists and incident reports, they concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
Sue Ellen Wall, board member of Planned Parenthood Voters of Nebraska, wrote in an op-ed that Ricketts had perpetuated the allegations against Planned Parenthood while failing to release the results of the investigation to the public.
“Nebraskans deserve the truth, Gov. Ricketts, even when it doesn’t fit your agenda,” Wall wrote.
Unlike many of the other investigations ordered by Republican governors, there was no announcement of the investigations in Nebraska. The Ricketts administration had not made any official announcement of the results of the investigations.
Omaha clinic director Brenda Hervey told the Lincoln Journal Star that investigators were particularly interested in speaking with staff members that handled fetal tissue. “They wanted to make sure they talked to those people,” Hervey said.
The investigators found that the clinics had not filed the required reporting statistics with the state, but those discrepancies have since been remedied.
State investigators observed staff members handling fetal tissue. Jennifer Warren-Ulrick, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s director of health services, told the Lincoln Journal Star that the organization offered state officials the chance to observe abortion procedures, which they declined.
“If they want to come in and look at our office and our procedures, then they can absolutely do that,” Warren-Ulrick said. “We know that we follow the rules … We know that we’re not doing anything wrong.”
A lead investigator concluded the clinic was operating in accordance with the law. “She was convinced that we were not doing anything improper or illegal with our fetal tissue.,” Hervey said.
State investigators also inspected a Bellevue clinic operated by independent abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart, and like the two Planned Parenthood clinics, found no evidence of any wrongdoing.
However, unlike the inspections conducted at the Planned Parenthood clinics, the inspection of Carhart’s clinic was not conducted at the direction of the governor but instigated by complaints against the clinic. Who made the complaint or the substance of the allegations against the clinic is unknown.
Investigators found three regulatory violations regarding the maintenance of clinic equipment, and state officials reported that the violations had been corrected after a follow-up inspection of the clinic on October 13.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland spokeswoman Angie Remington told the Lincoln Journal Star that she was surprised there wasn’t the same level of outcry for investigations in Nebraska that there has been in other states.
“Lawmakers aren’t demanding an investigation. Our opposition has not publicly called for an investigation,” Remington said. “Yet everyone has no problem letting the abhorrent claims against [Planned Parenthood] go unchecked.”
Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, told the Lincoln Journal Star that she was pleased the clinics were inspected without prior notification.
“It’s good to know that DHHS is actually going inside Nebraska abortion facilities and doing some type of investigation,” Schmit-Albin said. “That sounds more aggressive than what has happened in the past.”
Nebraska Right to Life had been “in communication with several top elected officials” in the state, including the governor, according to the organization’s September newsletter.
Schmit-Albin said that legislation is needed to increase oversight and regulatory requirements of abortion clinics, such as a bill introduced in the GOP-majority state legislature this year to require clinics that provide abortion services meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.
The anti-choice group is working with a state lawmaker ahead of the 2016 legislative session to draft a bill that would criminalize a common medical procedure used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions.