House holds another investigative hearing on Planned Parenthood fetal tissue controversy
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Members of the House of Representatives heard further testimony regarding the ongoing Planned Parenthood controversy Wednesday afternoon in a joint committee hearing at the Capitol.
The hearing included one of the first primary sources of information from outside of the Department of Health and Senior Services with the appearance of the head of Pathology Services Inc. Pathology Services is the pathologist that receives fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, which is the only facility in the state which performs abortions.
Children and Families Committee Chair Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, made it known that with the resolution of the clinical privileges of the Columbia Planned Parenthood affiliate, that the investigation would turn its lens to the allegations of profiting from fetal tissue donation.
“Our focus is going to be on the process of after the abortion takes place in the clinical setting and then onto the pathologist and then onto the incineration,” she said. We’re going to hear from several witnesses on this process.”
Dr. James Miller from Pathology Services testified first and shed light on that process, which served basically as a reiteration of what was covered in Attorney General Chris Koster’s report.
He explained the process undergone to dispose of the fetal remains, which involves sending them in sealed containers with formaldehyde, a preservative often used on cadavers. Once any tissue, organ or other body part is placed within formaldehyde, it cannot be used in any medical application like transplants or medical research.
After the pathologist completes their examination and report, the specimens are repackaged in the same container they arrived, and sent to an incinerator for disposal. Miller also described the tracking and documentation process utilized by the clinic.
Ways and Means Chair Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, stated that although there were a few lingering questions regarding the pathology facility, they looked to be doing things by the book.
“There [are] questions about his business that he hasn’t filed his paperwork with the secretary of state, but as far as the process, I think they’re following the law,” Koenig said. “There’s certainly holes in the law that need to be tightened though for sure.”
Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood Houston clinic director turned anti-abortion advocate, testified next to detail the abortion processes used by Planned Parenthood, including information about the organ donation programs practiced by her former facility.
“Planned Parenthood’s goal is to have a woman on the table and off the table in five minutes,” she said. “After the abortion is complete, then someone, usually the tech assisting the physician, will take the glass jar where all of the tissue and blood has been suctioned, typically goes through the wall, and it goes into the products of conception room.”
In the products of conception room, a trained lab assistant would take the contents of the glass jar and arrange the pieces in a dish to ensure complete removal of all fetal tissue. Johnson then said after patients signed a consent form so the tissue could be used in medical experiments, the lab to whom they gave the organs would reimburse Planned Parenthood to the tune of thousands of dollars which the affiliate would itemize into a budget.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Johnson noted that from what she could tell, her Planned Parenthood affiliate and others involved in fetal tissue programs did not do anything illegal, but they may have exploited a loophole.
“The law currently states that there can be moneys exchanged as long as they fit under certain categories like preservation, collection, storage, transport, etc., and the law says there is not a maximum amount that can be charged or a minimum amount but that costs cannot be prohibitive… that’s very subjective,” Johnson said to the The Washington Times.
Johnson had no direct expertise in Missouri’s law, but Franklin explained it was not from a lack of trying on her part as a chair. Although Planned Parenthood St. Louis President and CEO Mary Kogut and Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Planned Parenthood of St. Louis’ abortion provider, were invited to the hearing, neither attended.
“Some of the things Ms. Johnson says is giving us information we’re not able to obtain in the state of Missouri because these witnesses weren’t able to come,” Franklin said. “When we talk about what happens in other states, we would like to know what happens in Missouri, but these witnesses would not be here.”
Kogut said in a statement sent before the hearing that “the only reason for legislators to continue wasting tax dollars on what has been called a ‘witch hunt’ is to further their political careers with efforts to end access to safe, legal abortion in the state.
“It’s time for our legislators to stop attacking women’s reproductive health and invest their energy and our money into issues that will make a positive difference in the lives of Missouri families, like comprehensive sex education and expanding Medicaid to give access to health care to hardworking Missourians,” she continued.
Steven Alan Ramsey, the director of governmental policy and legislation at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, also testified, but he could not give answers to many of the questions posed by the committee, a fact which has continued to frustrate Koenig.
“I think the department is dragging their feet on some of these questions,” Koenig said.
After testimony and public comment, the committee spoke briefly on possible legislative action. Koenig and others compiled a list of suggestions which would have the whole process tracked from abortion to incinerator, independent inspections of these abortion facilities (possibly by a legislative oversight committee) and whether or not abortions should be done in a sterile facility (a requirement not necessary for ambulatory surgery centers).
Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, called for more serious punishments for those who violated state abortion statutes and suggested a requirement for an aborted fetuses to have a memorial, since fetuses are considered human life by state law.
“Like a Vietnam Wall type [memorial],” he said.
Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, went a step further, saying the state of Missouri should challenge the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling to make the practice of abortion illegal. He claimed the 14th Amendment, which was used in the ruling, undercut the 9th and 10th Amendments.
“It’s high time we exercise our constitutionally-given sovereignty,” Moon said. “In the end, if my faith bears itself out, when we stand before our maker, and he asks ‘What have you done to stop the killing of my Creation?’ What will be my answer if we haven’t even tried?”
Koenig said he would not rule that out.
“I would absolutely like to see Roe v. Wade overturned,” Koenig said. “I think if you look at our Constitution, it’s not in there. I would love to have that fight if I think we can win it.”