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Missouri Planned Parenthood-contracted lab briefly loses accreditation as state, federal officials investigate ‘failed’ abortions

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A laboratory used by a St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility — which is currently embroiled in a legal battle with the state — briefly lost its accreditation following an investigation by state and federal regulators into “failed” abortion procedures, Missouri health officials announced Friday.

The Boyce and Bynum Pathology Professional Services lab was found to have “serious health concerns regarding the analysis and handling of fetal tissue” from the St. Louis facility as officials probed why some women who sought abortions remained impregnated, Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) said in a news release.

State officials said the lab had “deficiencies in [its] process related to the examination of fetal tissue,” and investigators determined the lab was not in compliance with certain Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) regulations on May 7. It then temporarily lost its accreditation, state health officials said, but as it “fully cooperated,” its accreditation was restored on June 6.

However, DHSS said the lab lost its accreditation with the College of American Pathologists (CAP) in May. A CAP spokeswoman confirmed the lab dropped its accreditation in January 2019 and is in the process of applying for accreditation again. The spokeswoman said the lab has been forthcoming about issues with compliance with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — the organization DHSS said it referred its findings to.

“The findings at Planned Parenthood’s contracted laboratory contributed to adverse patient outcomes,” DHSS Director Randall Williams said in a statement. “It’s important to note that the Planned Parenthood contracted laboratory is able to regain accreditation based on their willingness to fully comply with the investigation. It’s the contracted laboratory’s responsibility to ensure they are at all times following the CLIA requirements and to implement the corrective action to improve patient safety.”

Planned Parenthood officials pushed back against the Friday DHSS news release, maintaining complications can arise, like in other medical procedures, but continued pregnancies are “extremely rare.” Doctors will also provide follow-up care if needed in this instances, officials said.

“Planned Parenthood’s top priority has always been the health of our patients and ensuring they get the best care available. This diversionary tactic by Gov. Parson’s Department of Health and Senior Services proves what we’ve long said — the department is treating Planned Parenthood differently in the inspection process,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OBGYN at the St. Louis facility, said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood has bent over backwards to cooperate with DHSS, but the agency refuses to engage in good faith.”

As it’s been accredited again, the lab is still contracted with Planned Parenthood.

Missouri’s lone abortion clinic has been embroiled in a legal dispute with the state over its licensing renewal. It’s license expired last Friday at midnight after state health regulators declined to reissue it, but Judge Michael Stelzer of the 22nd Circuit Court issued a temporary restraining order — allowing operations to continue.

DHSS has held up renewing the abortion clinic’s license as state health officials demanded to interview seven doctors who work or have worked at the facility as part of a probe into what Republican Gov. Mike Parson called potential “deficiencies” at the practice. However, Planned Parenthood said only two were actual employees and would only make those doctors available; the others either worked on contract or were completing training fellowships, officials said.

Earlier this week, Stelzer quashed the state’s subpoenas, saying the state could not compel the doctors to testify as he weighs whether the clinic can continue to operate. He heard testimony from both sides Wednesday but has yet to issue a ruling.

If the license is not renewed, Missouri would become the only state in the U.S. without an abortion provider.

The legal back-and-forth between the state and the abortion facility comes shortly after Parson signed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans into law, set to go into effect in August. The law bans abortions after eight weeks and does not include exemptions for victims of rape and incest.

“The state continues to hold our license hostage, creating worry and uncertainty for our patients,” McNicholas said. “Planned Parenthood continues to focus on caring for every person who walks in our doors, and that will remain our priority no matter what distraction tactics the state chooses to deploy next.”

The ACLU of Missouri and David Humphreys, a Republican megadonor who took issue with the lack of exceptions, have filed multiple referendums seeking to put HB 126 to a vote. So far, the state has struck down two of the three referendums; both parties have either filed a lawsuit or intend to do so.

Regarding the investigation into the contracted lab, Williams said: “I appreciate the collaboration with our state and federal regulators diligently working to ensure we uphold our duty to protect and inform the public about any health and safety concerns regarding any one of more than 4,000 health facilities in Missouri.”

This story has been updated.