COLUMBIA, Mo. – The Kansas City Star’s Barb Shelley reported on Twitter that the University of Missouri has eliminated refer and follow privileges for physicians.
Email inbox: U. of Missouri is revoking physician referal privileges needed for Planned Parenthood to operate Columbia clinic.
— barb shelly (@bshelly) September 24, 2015
“We are outraged that MU Health Care caved to the political pressure from Senator Kurt Schaefer’s ‘Sanctity of Life’ Committee and has eliminated refer and follow privileges for physicians,” Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President and CEO Laura McQuade released in a statement to Shelley. “This is a continuation of the orchestrated attempt to restrict access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri and to the critical services Planned Parenthood has provided for nearly 100 years.”
— barb shelly (@bshelly) September 24, 2015
Sanctity of Life Committee members were quick to respond. Committee Chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he “made good on pledge to ‘get MU out of the abortion business'” and called it a “major victory.”
Schaefer confirmed that the University of Missouri notified him that the physician privileges were withdrawn. Those privileges, granted to Dr. Colleen McNicholas, DO, made it possible for the Columbia Planned Parenthood to be licensed. Without those privileges, the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Columbia will have to cease abortion services by Dec. 1, 2015 when these privileges are officially revoked from McNicholas by MU Health Care.
“Of the 800 members of MU Health Care’s medical staff, two medical providers had refer and follow privileges,” Steve Whitt, chief medical officer of MU Health Care, said in a statement. “Refer and follow privileges only allow physicians to access their own patients’ information. This level of access to patient information is already permitted by any referring provider, including those not on MU Health Care’s medical staff; therefore, the designation of refer and follow privileges was outdated and unnecessary.”
The statement offered no mention of the impact this would have on the current investigation being performed by the Senate committee, but a spokesperson for MU Health Care said that McNicholas could still reapply for different privileges by the Dec. 1 deadline or appeal the decision made by the board to take her privileges away.
Committee member Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, would like to see quicker action on the part of the Department of Health and Senior Services, which oversees licensing for these facilities.
“What this now means for the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic going forward is that without privileges at a local hospital, that clinic is going to have to stop doing abortions or if McNicholas does so she would be breaking the law,” Onder said. “I believe that Planned Parenthood license needs to be revoked by the [DHSS] and the abortion operations at that location need to cease.
“I believe I referred to them as bogus privileges. I think the fact that only two folks had them, one of them being Dr. McNicholas does confirm that.”
“From day one when we learned of this scandal, I vowed that we would ‘get MU out of the abortion business,’” Schaefer said. “Thanks to the persistence of our investigation and the public pressure applied by many defenders of life, we achieved that outcome and many unborn lives will hopefully be saved as a result.
“Through the course of our investigation, startling facts came to light, our committee dug deeper, and the public made their voices heard. This joyous outcome is proof positive that these committee investigations matter and the result will have eternal significance.”
Schaefer’s leadership was applauded by grassroots group Missouri Right to Life, echoing Schaefer’s call for continued investigation.
“We commend the University for this step. However, there are still major concerns,” an email from Missouri Right to Life read. “First, why the delay? How many babies will lose their lives between now and December 1? If you are going to withdraw privileges, why not now? Second, will the University offer more privileges in December? Will they offer privileges to another abortionist? There are many unanswered questions at this time. We thank Senator Kurt Schaefer and the Senate Sanctity of Life Committee members as well as the House Ways and Means and Children and Families Committees for the progress we are making and we encourage them to continue their investigations. We recommend pro-lifers keep up the pressure. And continue to ask MU to stop enabling the abortion business immediately!”
Sen Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, was not at all enthused by the decision, saying that the University’s decision to succumb to political pressure would serve as a detriment to women in the community seeking a safe abortion.
“It is reprehensible that bullying from Jefferson City has resulted in our flagship University caving in to pressure, leaving Missouri women without access to safe and legal medical abortions in mid-Missouri,” Schupp said. “Taking away a woman’s safe access to abortion throws women’s rights back decades. For an educational institution to feel held hostage and become complicit in this political stunt must be disturbing to all of us who support Missouri’s Universities and a woman’s freedom to choose.”
Schupp is the only Democrat on the committee that has physically attended any of its three hearings.
Colleague Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, echoed praise.“I am pleased that the University of Missouri has made the decision to drop the category of ‘refer and follow’ privileges for the health system, which will effectively revoke the Columbia Planned Parenthood’s license to perform abortions,” Kraus said in a statement. “The university receives significant funding from the state and should not be involved in facilitating abortions in any way, due to the state law prohibiting the use of state funds to assist abortions. I am glad the work of the committee has led to this decision. Missourians should feel confident that the committee will continue to ensure compliance with state law in this matter.”Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summitt, joined the chorus of Republican legislators that considered this a win for the state.
“The University of Missouri made the right decision in terminating Dr. McNicholas’s privileges,” said Sater. “Throughout the committee’s investigation into Planned Parenthood’s license to perform abortions, it was clear the vague, so-called ‘refer and follow’ privileges were nothing more than a deliberate and cynical sidestep of the law so they could resume aborting children in Columbia. Public universities should never be in the business of facilitating abortions. This decision further highlights the need to hold our public institutions and state departments accountable and to ensure they follow the law.
“I am proud of the committee’s work in investigating not only the University’s part in this process but also the role the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) played,” Sater continued. “Last week’s decision confirmed that the committee’s work has made a difference, and the voice of so many outraged Missourians was heard. Our next step will be to ensure DHSS terminates Planned Parenthood of Mid-Missouri’s license to perform abortions as they will not have a doctor with privileges at a local hospital. Further, DHSS needs to examine whether anyone Missouri was participating in the harvest and sale of baby body parts as revealed by recent videos.”
Schaefer stressed that though the University-related issues have now been addressed, the Committee on the Sanctity of Life’s investigation will continue and that many unanswered questions relating to Planned Parenthood facilities in St. Louis and Columbia remain.
Travis Zimpfer contributed to this report.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.