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Mo. lawmakers consider holding Planned Parenthood affiliate president in contempt

The president of a Missouri Planned Parenthood affiliate could be held in contempt for refusing to give state lawmakers documents that contain private medical information, The Guardian reports (Gerson Uffalussy, The Guardian, 4/5).

Background

Conservative lawmakers in Missouri established a Senate committee to investigate abortion practices in the state after an antiabortion-rights group released a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/14/15). According to The Guardian, the investigation is one of several recent state efforts targeting Planned Parenthood and restrictingaccess to abortion.

In November, the committee issued a subpoena calling for Mary Kogut, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, to provide lawmakers with all consent forms patients signed during the process of receiving care at the St. Louis affiliate. The subpoena also requests materials that reference two Planned Parenthood staff members targeted in the misleading videos (The Guardian, 4/5).

In response, Planned Parenthood in a letter to state Senate President pro tempore Ron Richard (R) said providing certain documentation would violate federal law on patient privacy. The organization also questioned the state Senate's authority to issue subpoenas on private organizations. In addition, the organization noted there is an "increased concern over the sensitivity of abortion-related records," especially after a fatal shooting incidentlast November at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado.

Moreover, Kogut stated that Planned Parenthood's clinic in St. Louis, the only Planned Parenthood facility in the state that provides abortion care, does not donate fetal tissue. She also cited a review by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster (D) that foundthe organization did not commit any wrongdoing, noting that

Planned Parenthood "believe[s] the issue has been resolved" (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/14/15).

Latest developments

State Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R) has filed resolutions (SR 1793, SR 1794) calling for Kogut and the owner of a pathology lab that reviews tissue from Planned Parenthood to come before the state Senate on April 18 and provide an explanation as to why they have not provided the requested information.

The Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee will vote on the resolutions on Thursday. According to the Kansas City Star, a person found in contempt of court could face up to 10 days jail time, a $300 fine or both (Hancock, Kansas City Star, 4/5). The state Legislature last initiated contempt proceedings in 1903, The Guardian reports (The Guardian, 4/5).

Planned Parenthood's response

Chuck Hatfield, an attorney for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said the subpoena was too broad and that complying with the order could violate federal law protecting patient privacy.

Moreover, Hatfield said the organization never said it would not provide state lawmakers with certain materials, only that it could not do so while the subpoena was in its current form. He said, "We've said over and again in correspondence from my office that we will discuss production of documents ... but we object to the subpoena as issued."

Hatfield explained that Planned Parenthood has tried to raise their privacy concerns with state lawmakers, as is common with subpoena requests. However, according to Hatfield, the state Senate did not respond to Planned Parenthood's concerns regarding patient privacy until March 21. He said it was too soon for state lawmakers to issue contempt charges. Hatfield added that while the organization could have submitted redacted documents, it feared receiving contempt charges based on the redacted information (Kansas City Star, 4/5).

Kogut also noted that the committee issued a "very broad subpoena without specifying how the requested documents relate to a legitimate legislative inquiry" (Bult, New York Daily News, 4/5). Kogut noted, "It is deeply, deeply concerning that in 2016 we are talking about jailing women's healthcare providers for protecting their patients' privacy." She added, "These baseless threats to our healthcare professionals and providers are disturbing."

Separately, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "We can't continue to pretend like these attacks are theoretical or merely rhetorical." She noted, "As a result of these very same attacks, women are already being punished -- having been left with one health center providing safe, legal abortion in Missouri, being forced to wait 72 hours before receiving care, and some forced to travel out of state" (The Guardian, 4/5).