September 29, 2015 — Planned Parenthood will take legal action against the University of Missouri for its decision to discontinue privileges that allow physicians to legally provide abortion care in Columbia, the Missourian reports (Schmelzer, Missourian, 9/25).
Under state law, abortion clinics are required to meet ambulatory surgical center requirements. To meet those requirements, physicians who provide surgical abortions, or the clinic where they perform such procedures, must have admitting privileges with a nearby hospital (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27).
In 2014, MU Health Care granted "refer and follow" privileges to Colleen McNicholas, a physician who began providing medication abortions at the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic on Aug. 3 (Missourian, 9/25). According to R. Bowen Loftin, MU's chancellor, the privileges allow the physician to refer patients to the hospital and access their medical records after they have been admitted (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27). However, the privileges do not allow physicians to treat patients or prescribe medicine at the hospital after they have been admitted (Missourian, 9/25).
Last month, conservative state senators and the health department director in Missouri debated at a hearing whether the Columbia clinic met state licensing requirements when it received its license in July. During the hearing, state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R) -- chair of the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee and an interim committee investigating Planned Parenthood -- said the clinic failed to meet the ambulatory surgical center standards because the clinic's abortion provider does not have admitting privileges. However, Gail Vasterling, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the standard does not apply because the clinic only provides medication abortions, not surgical abortions.
Physicians at the clinic or the clinic itself would need to obtain admitting privilege requirements only if the clinic starts to offer surgical abortion. Vasterling said Planned Parenthood intends to meet again with MU officials to obtain admitting privileges before offering surgical abortions, which it plans to provide beginning in early 2016 (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27). Meanwhile, earlier this month, MU officials canceled 10 contracts with Planned Parenthood amid the interim committee's investigation into the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/18).
MU To End Refer and Follow Privileges
Following a unanimous vote by a committee of executive staff, MU Health Care announced that it will cease refer and follow privileges beginning Dec. 1. According to the Missourian, Schaefer's interim committee had asked MU Health Care to reassess its privileges policies.
In a letter to Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, MDHSS said it will cancel the clinic's license if McNicholas cannot obtain the appropriate credentials. According to the Missourian, the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis will be the sole abortion provider in Missouri if the Columbia clinic stops providing abortions.
Planned Parenthood To Take Legal Action
McQuade said the organization will file a claim with MDHSS over the decision.
Planned Parenthood is alleging that the decision is in violation of the Church Amendments. Under the amendments, federally funded health care providers cannot base decisions about employment on whether a physician is willing to offer abortion care.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood and McNicholas are considering alternative options for obtaining privileges, such as applying for a different type of privileges at MU Health Care or seeking privileges through Boone Hospital Center. MU Health Care spokesperson Teresa Snow said McNicholas can apply for other privileges at MU.
McQuade said the clinic will provide abortion services until Dec. 1, stating, "We will do everything in our power to make sure that none of our services will be interrupted for women in mid-Missouri." She added, "We were outraged that an institution of higher learning would cow to such obvious political tactics," adding, "We did not expect the university to behave in this fashion" (Missourian, 9/25).