STL Post-Dispatch: Senate Republicans: Planned Parenthood probe led to ‘more questions than it has answers’

By Celeste Bott St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY • Senate Republicans said Tuesday that the findings of a special committee formed to investigate how Planned Parenthood disposes of fetal tissue point to the “callous treatment of women,” but offered little proof, admitting the investigation turned up more questions than answers.

After more than a year of hearings and reviews, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican who chaired the special panel, acknowledged that the effort fell short of getting all the information.

“The Legislature’s ability to conduct investigations is very, very limited,” said Schaefer, who is running for attorney general.

The panel’s efforts have mirrored similar probes in other states, which began last year when videos surfaced nationally alleging that the women’s healthcare provider illegally sold fetal tissue.

Other investigations nationwide – including one by Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat running for governor – uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. But Republicans are questioning Koster’s investigation as well.

After a review of some of Planned Parenthood’s internal documents, GOP senators point to the mishandling or mislabeling of fetal tissue and argue that Planned Parenthood refuses to turn over a complete contract with its pathologist, including a confidentiality agreement they allege would be damning. They also questioned in-house protocols for medical emergencies, accusing the organization of discouraging women from going to an emergency room.

Under state law, only a “representative sample” of fetal tissue from an abortion should be sent to a pathologist for review. The committee alleges Planned Parenthood submitted multiple parts, and submerged them in preservative solution against Missouri Department of Health regulations, something it says Koster made no note of in his investigation.

Koster’s office could not be immediately reached for comment.

Committee members also said some pathology reports indicate “no fetal parts identified,” contending the fetuses would be mature enough for identification between nine and 20 weeks of age.

Republicans also took issue with Planned Parenthood’s emergency response, saying consent forms list its own help line, rather than telling women to call 911. They also point to written instructions to Planned Parenthood staff that say if 911 must be called, staffers should request no sirens be used by the ambulance, refrain from telling paramedics the emergency is abortion related and keep paramedics out of the procedure room unless absolutely necessary.

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“(This is) about quality health care you and I would consider standard in any other circumstance,” said Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Fulton. “Knowledge is power.”

A Senate report detailing the findings called for the strengthening of Missouri’s laws on inspections, medical malpractice, transparency and whistleblower protections as a possible response. Otherwise, it’s unclear what further measures may be taken, as the special committee dissolved at the end of the legislative session.

The statement was signed only by Republicans. Sen. Jill Schupp, a Creve Coeur Democrat who served on the committee, said she’s been left out of the loop.

“I was not even included as part of the communication,” Schupp said. “I wasn’t notified of any hearing or get-together other than being told this (news conference) was happening and it was going to be handled by the Republicans on the committee.”

Schupp said the panel didn’t operate as a bipartisan committee and that she wasn’t involved in the findings. She chalked it up to election-year politics, with GOP lawmakers bolstering their anti-abortion credentials.

“Planned Parenthood of Missouri is in full compliance with state and federal laws. The information that launched this investigation has been widely discredited,” Schupp said. “It is a misuse of taxpayer time and dollars to undermine a woman’s access to the full range of safe, legal, and affordable reproductive health care services.”

Planned Parenthood officials echoed a similar sentiment Tuesday.

“The time for them to move on from this sham has long since passed,” said Mary Kogut, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, in a statement.

Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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