Missouri Republicans Go After Abortion Patients’ Personal Information

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Missouri Republicans Go After Abortion Patients’ Personal Information

Michelle D. Anderson

"It is deeply, deeply concerning that in 2016 we are talking about jailing women’s healthcare providers for protecting their patients’ privacy," said Mary Kogut, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood's St. Louis affiliate.

Officials from a Planned Parenthood affiliate in St. Louis are protecting the privacy of people seeking abortion care after a Republican-led Missouri Senate committee moved to punish the clinic’s leader with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents.

State Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), the chairperson of the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life, filed SR 1793 on March 30, which summons Mary Kogut, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, to appear before the state senate on April 18 to explain why she has not complied with a GOP-led subpoena.

Issued in November, the subpoena is part of Republican lawmakers’ ongoing investigation into Planned Parenthood’s operations, particularly around its fetal tissue donation practices. It demanded six years worth of documents about the St. Louis Planned Parenthood affiliate’s abortion care patients, including consent forms, according to the St. Louis Dispatch. The legal request came after Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, cleared the affiliate of wrongdoing in September.

Koster’s office came to the conclusion after reviewing thousands of pages of documents and conducting interviews with representatives from Planned Parenthood and James Miller, owner of Pathology Services, Inc., the laboratory that examines fetal tissue for the St. Louis affiliate.

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The Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life this legislative session has also filed SR 1794, which summons Miller to appear before the state senate. 

Like Kogut, Miller had declined to comply with the GOP-backed subpoena.

Just before Missouri’s 2016 legislative session, some state lawmakers said they were contemplating holding Kogut and Miller in contempt for not fulfilling the subpoena request, according to the Associated Press. The news agency reported that the most recent contempt proceedings in Missouri occurred in 1903.

Filing the resolution represents the first step in the state’s contempt proceedings, which, according to the Missouri Constitution, could lead to Kogut and Miller facing ten days in jail, a $300 fine, or both, the AP reported.

The Missouri State Senate held a hearing April 5 to introduce SR 1793 and to determine whether Kogut and Miller should be found in contempt.

The bill would authorize the state senate Republicans to direct the sergeant-at-arms to bring Kogut and Miller to the state capitol, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

“It is deeply, deeply concerning that in 2016 we are talking about jailing women’s healthcare providers for protecting their patients’ privacy,” Kogut said in a statement published in the Guardian.

Along with patient consent forms, the subpoena demanded the Planned Parenthood affiliate provide the Missouri Senate with all documents referring to Dr. Mary Gatter and Dr. Deborah Nucatola.

The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-choice front group that has published heavily edited videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials illegally trafficking in fetal tissue, featured Nucatola and Gatter in its smear campaign.

CMP officials have worked closely with Republican legislators around the country in attacking Planned Parenthood and its funding. A grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood instead indicted two CMP activists who covertly recorded videos of the health-care provider and its employees.

In response to the Missouri Senate’s request, a lawyer representing Planned Parenthood said the state senators did not have the authority to subpoena the patient documents and that doing so would violate federal privacy policy, the Guardian reported.

The Planned Parenthood affiliate based in St. Louis provides patients notice of its commitment to following the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The clinic also provides information about so-called informed consent, which it must follow before performing abortions.

The attack on Planned Parenthood in Missouri is part of a flurry of anti-choice measures in the state, including a pending attempt to defund Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid and Title X provider.

The University of Missouri in September ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood by canceling contracts in response to GOP lawmakers’ failed investigations into the health-care organization.