UPDATED: Planned Parenthood abortion privileges extended until Dec. 30

“As a state and federally funded university with a health system, we are required to follow applicable state and federal laws,” interim Chancellor Hank Foley said in a statement.
Planned Parenthood supporters gather Nov. 30, 2015, in Speakers Circle to protest interim Chancellor Hank Foley’s decision not to reinstate refer and follow privileges for doctors performing abortions in Columbia. The group then marched to Jesse Hall shouting “Give him a bow tie!”

The bright pink shirts showing their support of Planned Parenthood illuminated the misty Monday evening as a couple hundred demonstrators gathered in Speakers Circle. The group eventually marched to Jesse Hall to urge interim Chancellor Hank Foley to do what he can to reinstate abortion services in Columbia.

Planned Parenthood’s motto, “Care. No matter what,” took on a deeper meaning as it was chanted by demonstrators who were reflecting on the recent shooting at the Colorado Springs, Colorado, Planned Parenthood clinic as well as fighting for women’s health here in Missouri.

“#FixItFoley” circulated on social media in anticipation of the vigil that fell two months after the most recent Planned Parenthood rally on campus and just one day before Columbia abortion services were scheduled to end. Abortion services were to come to a close Dec. 1 because of the unanimous decision by MU Health Care’s executive board to discontinue the “refer and follow” privileges that allowed Dr. Colleen McNicholas to perform abortions at the Columbia clinic.

About an hour before the event was scheduled to start, Foley sent a university-wide email that announced his decision to support the Medical Staff Executive Committee at MU Health Care in their decision to revoke all refer and follow privileges, after former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin urged the committee to review their policies.

“The issue of abortion invokes much depth of emotion and passion; I understand this,” Foley wrote. “However, as a state and federally funded university with a health system, we are required to follow applicable state and federal laws.”

Foley also wrote that he respects the differing opinions others may hold, as well as their right to protest.

Demonstrators in the crowd pronounced their frustration with Foley’s actions, shouting, “Come out here Foley, you coward!” and “Give him a bow tie!”

However, the Dec. 1 deadline was pushed back after a federal judge ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri in a lawsuit. The lawsuit claims that the state Department of Health and Senior Services did not give either McNicholas or the Columbia clinic adequate time to retain privileges or go about seeking a new physician.

After an extra two days was given for materials to be reviewed in order to decide whether Planned Parenthood’s request is sustainable, a federal judge extended the deadline, allowing the Columbia clinic to retain its license to carry out abortions until Dec. 30.

Currently, McNicholas and PPKM are reapplying for a different status of privileging at the university hospital. Their application, which was delivered last week, has yet to be approved or denied, Dr. Kristin Metcalf-Wilson, lead clinician for PPKM, said.

With the possibility of retaining abortion services in Columbia, demonstrators passionately aired their grievances with the current state of women’s health care services in Missouri.

Mary Mosley, legislative vice chairwoman of the Missouri State Women's Political Caucus, spoke at the event and said that while she felt the administration is headed in the right direction after making concessions to Concerned Student 1950, she is very disappointed about Foley’s decision to not reinstate McNicholas’ privileges. Mosley called Foley’s email “a slap in the face,” and said this isn’t the first time this has happened at MU.

“I think this university is anti-women,” Mosley said. “It was anti-women in the ’70s when I got my degree here, and I don’t think it’s changed all that much.”

Mosley said she hopes the next chancellor will be a woman who will uphold women’s rights at the forefront of changes to be made. She said she believes Foley has handled the situation worse than Loftin from what she has seen so far.

Foley’s decision not to reinstate privileges was personal to some in attendance, such as Jessi Miller, a former MU law student who had to drop out because of health issues. Miller has polycystic ovarian syndrome, which causes her to suffer from long menstrual cycles. This poses additional problems for Miller, including the possibility of ectopic pregnancies, in which the fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterus.

Miller receives birth control shots from Planned Parenthood that help her combat her menstrual cycles, and she said she would go there if she was ever pregnant and wanted to prevent a death like her own brother experienced at the age of 24.

Miller’s younger brother suffered from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a hereditary terminal illness that has no cure. He passed away in 2013 after struggling with the disease his whole life.

“It ravaged him,” Miller said. “I watched him go from being able to walk, to only being able to crawl, to only being in a wheelchair, to being in a breathing machine and not even being able to feed himself.”

Miller has the same genetic disease that her brother suffered from. Because of this and the intense pain Miller saw her brother endure, she made the choice to never have children. This wasn’t a decision Miller made lightly.

“It’s a very personal choice (based) on what you would be willing to do in a situation like that,” Miller said. “It’s a really big personal, ethical decision. You have to wrestle with it a lot. But for me ... I can’t put my child through that. To me, that would be committing homicide, knowing what I know, and having a child that goes through that.”

Miller feels that her legal right to have an abortion would be taken away if services in Columbia go away.

“I’m like five months behind on my rent, and I’m waiting for my disability hearing,” Miller said. “If something were to accidentally happen right now, I honestly don’t know how I would be able to get to St. Louis or to Kansas City, Kansas in order to have the procedure done.”

The demonstrators opposing the reinstatement of abortion privileges were equally steadfast.

Sophomore Richard Rycraw sat with a handful of MU students off to the side in Speakers Circle in the rain as they quietly held signs that read, “We cannot stand with Planned Parenthood so we kneel.”

Senior Lucy Wynn, who sat next to Rycraw, said they were there to uplift and encourage those affected.

“We’re here just to be peaceful, because this is such a big thing that affects so many lives that we believe our God can do anything,” Wynn said. “This is out of our hands, and as big of a deal as it is, we’re putting it into his.”

Rycraw said though some may think it’s unreasonable for him to “tell women what to do with their bodies,” after seeing the impact three abortions had on his mother, he felt no one should have to go through anything similar.

“On the third (abortion), she just wanted to end her life because she just felt so horrible, because she knew what she did,” Rycraw said. “She had told us this, and that’s why she’s pro-life.”

Supporters such as Mosley and Metcalf-Wilson said they would like to see the politicization of women’s health by politicians such as Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, come to an end. Schaefer chaired the senate interim committee tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood in Missouri.

When asked how many times she has received a hostile message in the last three months, Metcalf-Wilson said, “More than Kurt Schaefer, and I showed up to work the next day.”

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