STL Post-Dispatch: Senate moves forward with contempt proceedings against Planned Parenthood

by Kurt Erickson
JEFFERSON CITY • After more than seven hours of debate spread over two days, the Missouri Senate endorsed a plan requiring a top Planned Parenthood official to comply with a subpoena seeking information on how the organization disposes of fetal remains.

On a 24-8 vote, senators agreed to move forward with contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis and Southwest Missouri and Dr. James Miller of Pathology Services Inc. The vote was along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.

Under the legislation, the two are required under Senate rules to appear in Jefferson City on April 25. Depending on what happens that day, the Senate could choose to pursue charges against the duo carrying possible penalties of $300 in fines and up to 10 days in jail.

The vote marked the latest chapter in an ongoing tussle between Republicans who control the Senate and the abortion provider over documents outlining how fetal tissue is disposed.

Planned Parenthood says a 2015 subpoena issued by a special Senate panel would violate patient privacy laws.

Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who is running for attorney general, said the Senate is not seeking any personally identifiable medical records.

Planned Parenthood was put under a microscope last year after videos surfaced alleging the abortion and health care provider illegally sold fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has denied these allegations and Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat running for governor this year, found no evidence of wrongdoing.

A grand jury in Texas later found the activists involved in creating the videos allegedly tampered with government documents. In addition to felony charges, the activists also face a misdemeanor charge related to purchasing human organs.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood called the action “unprecedented in both its overreach of authority and its attempt to criminalize a private health care provider’s efforts to protect patient privacy.”

“We are deeply disappointed by the Senate’s actions today and we stand firmly by our objections to the Senate subpoena. Our highest priority will continue to be providing quality, compassionate health care to Missourians while protecting patient privacy and adhering to the highest medical and ethical standards,” Kogut said.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said the videos that launched the Senate probe were later proven to be “dubbed, doctored and taken out of context.” For that reason, he said pursuing the subpoenas was more about Republican re-election efforts in November than following Senate rules.

Holsman decried the time spent on an anti-gay marriage proposal, a voter identification law and a plan to loosen firearms laws.

“This is political theater. This is an attempt to engage the base,” Holsman said. “This is election propaganda at its finest.”

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, called it a “witch hunt.”

“This is wrong,” Schupp said. “We can’t support resolutions that are based on false premises.”

Republicans say the Senate’s rare action is needed in order to avoid setting a precedent for future subpoenas.

The legislation is Senate Resolution 1793 and 1794.

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