Despite controversy, Planned Parenthood resumes abortion services in Columbia

Missouri now has two abortion facilities in the state, however one of them is being investigated by state lawmakers.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, the Columbia Health Center, announced July 15 that the health services offered were expanded to include abortion services.

The Planned Parenthood facility in Columbia, which is less than a mile from MU’s campus, began offering medication abortion services on Aug. 1 and will also provide surgical abortions in January 2016. Previously, the St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility was the only facility in Missouri that offered abortions.

“We are proud to support women making their own health care decisions by expanding reproductive health services in an area where women have faced extreme barriers for too long,” said Laura McQuade, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, in a news release. “Access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care services, including abortion, is necessary to the health and vitality of our communities.”

The expansion of health care services coincides with the recent call for investigations of the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic after a video surfaced July 14 showing an executive of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America discussing the removal of various parts from aborted fetuses. The video has sparked a national debate over whether Planned Parenthood facilities have been selling tissue from aborted fetuses for profit. The state Senate will also investigate the licensing of the Columbia facility, said a state representative who is spearheading the investigation.

The Columbia facility is able to provide abortion services after hiring a new physician. The clinic provided abortion services in 2012, but the physician left the facility and the service ended. The facility also added Coventry Health Care and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri to its list of accepted health care insurance providers.

While the health services in Columbia are expanding, the services offered at the St. Louis clinic are being called into question by state lawmakers.

Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, said the goal of the investigation is to determine if funding guidelines and Missouri laws are being followed. She said concerned Missourians who have requested a review of the Planned Parenthood practices in Missouri prompted the investigation. Franklin is conducting the investigation with Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester.

The Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion organization, released footage of secretly recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood executives and staff. The edited version of the nearly three hour full-length video features Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services, speaking about procedures to remove fetal tissue and distribute it to researchers.

As part of a two-and-a-half year long investigative project, the Center for Medical Progress posed as buyers of fetal tissue representing a fake biomedical research company and said the video is proof of Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue for profit.

Planned Parenthood does have a legal fetal donation program set up at some facilities that allows women who are having abortions to give their consent to donate their aborted fetuses for research purposes, such as finding vaccines for diseases such as as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, said McQuade and Mary Kogut, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

However, the St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility said it doesn’t have the fetal donation program in place at their facility.

Missouri Lt. Governor Peter Kinder who called on state legislative leaders to conduct hearings after the video was released, said that an investigation is still necessary despite the St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility’s claims. He notes that in the video of Nucatola she specifically mentions the St. Louis market and the medical director of the Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri by name.

“We shouldn't take Planned Parenthood's word for it,” Kinder said in an email. “Of hundreds of clinics that Planned Parenthood operates across the country, it’s telling that she would mention Missouri, and it certainly should be investigated, regardless of what Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri claim.”

McQuade and Kogut responded to the recent investigations by defending the Missouri Planned Parenthood affiliates saying that they follow all laws and only the highest medical and ethical standards.

“The fact that Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri do not participate in tissue donation programs underscores that calls for an investigation are about political grandstanding, not facts,” they said in a joint statement. “We will, of course, cooperate fully with any investigation; however, important medical issues shouldn't be politicized like this.”

Hearings will be held by the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Children and Families Committee, with the first hearing taking place on Aug. 19. They will not only examine if fetal tissue donation occurs and if there is any profit, but also look into state and federal funding as well as the recent licensure of the Columbia Health Center to provide abortion services, Franklin said in an email.

Investigations of Planned Parenthood facilities are also taking place in states such as Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana. Indiana Planned Parenthood facilities were cleared of any wrongdoings after a two-week investigation, as no facilities in the state participate in the fetal tissue donation program.

On a national scale, Tennessee Rep. Diane Black, a Republican, recently introduced the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which would place an immediate moratorium on all federal funding of Planned Parenthood for the span of one year while Congress conducts a full investigation into the organization’s activities. The legislation had the support of Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who represents Missouri’s 4th Congressional District, which includes Columbia.

“It is clear that Planned Parenthood places profit not women’s health and safety ahead of all else,” Hartzler said on the House floor July 21. “They must be stopped.”

While Planned Parenthood has received federal funding since 1970, the Hyde Amendment prevents federal funding to go toward abortions. Calls to cut federal funding of Planned Parenthood arose from the recent videos regarding their abortion practices, but only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion services, according to their 2013-2014 annual report. The majority of their health services are related to contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screening and prevention, and these would be the services affected if federal funding was cut.

Democrats in the Senate blocked the legislation as the Republicans couldn’t muster the 60 votes necessary to override the opposition to the bill, but the issue will most likely return once the Senate comes back from its summer recess on Sept. 8.

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