JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Senate Sanctity of Life Committee reconvened Tuesday after a 12 day recess to continue their interrogation of Gail Vasterling, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services while also calling on other witnesses to testify, including University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.
Loftin testified to the conditions surrounding the University of Missouri’s decision to grant “refer and follow” privileges to Dr. Colleen McNicholas, the abortion provider at the Columbia Planned Parenthood affiliate.
Committee Chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, read off emails by University of Missouri Hospital doctors who attempted to facilitate McNicholas’ ability to attain privileges within the hospital to the Planned Parenthood facility using MU email addresses, possibly at the hospital. The emails also explicitly show an intent to do so in an effort to bring abortion services back to the Columbia Planned Parenthood affiliate. The use of state funds or facilities to be used to enable, induce or perform abortions is in direct violation of statute.
Loftin cited the amended Church Amendments, which according to the Maryland School of Law, include provisions which state “a Medicaid or Medicare managed care plan cannot prevent providers from providing abortion counseling or referral services, but it can refuse to pay providers for providing such information.”
The University of Missouri is a Medicare provider, and according to Loftin, could stand to lose millions in federal dollars for violating those federal statutes.
“The approach taken here was based on regulations based on nonsurgical abortions,” Loftin said. “I don’t believe that the group of physicians and committee members who approved these privileges felt they were enabling abortion. I think they were following a couple of things; they were following a request from a physician for this kind of privilege, and they were following a federal statute.”
Schaefer however did not buy their argument that legal reasons were keeping what he considered important information from the committee. He raised his voice against both the University and DHSS stating as much.
“I know we heard the chancellor admit to some other things that were ‘legal gray areas’ which I don’t agree with,” Schaefer said, after the hearing. “I think their rationale for it before this committee is weak at best and for the most part just non-existent. They just did what they wanted to do and now they’re trying to justify it for all kinds of reasons.”
The senator added the legislature would likely try to figure out how to punish the university if they are found to be breaking state law, including the revoking of state funds.
Earlier in the hearing, Vasterling testified to the committee that the license issued to the Columbia Planned Parenthood was only granted for medical abortions, abortions induced with medicine, and not surgical procedures. Her subordinate John Langston from the division of regulation and licensure ensured the facility would have to undergo another inspection to qualify to perform surgical abortions.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, took issue with Vasterling’s adamancy in saying that McNicholas was the appropriate physician for the Columbia facility, considering she does not live in the Columbia area, nor has the privileges at the university hospital to provide follow-up care in case of complications.
“I just think it’s a shame that you can’t say what I hope you would want to say here, which is that the person who’s on this document should be able to get this woman into a hospital,” Schmitt said. “And the fact that we’ve gotten to this point in this hearing where you’re not willing to say that is troubling to me.”
Other members railed against the perceived lack of transparency afforded to the committee on matters regarding the name of the pathology center that intakes Planned Parenthood’s fetal remains after abortions.
Schaefer also brought up new questions about the phrasing of the statute in regards to the term “representative sample.” The Planned Parenthood affiliate in St. Louis sends all of the remains to the pathologist, something to which Schaefer takes exception.
The next hearing has not yet been scheduled, but it may fall after veto session.