November 17, 2015 — Abortion-rights supporters are petitioning the University of Missouri to reinstate privileges that allow physicians to legally provide abortion care in Columbia amid changes among the university administration, the Columbia Daily Tribune reports (Keller, Columbia Daily Tribune, 11/15).
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.
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. 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. However, the privileges do not allow physicians to treat patients or prescribe medicine at the hospital after they have been admitted.
Physicians at the clinic or the clinic itself would need to obtain admitting privileges only if the clinic starts to offer surgical abortion. Gail Vasterling, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 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.
In September, MU Health Care announced it would cease to offer refer and follow privileges beginning Dec. 1. Planned Parenthood said it would take legal action against MU for its decision to discontinue admitting privileges.
MU officials also in September canceled 10 contracts with Planned Parenthood amid an interim state committee's investigation into the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/29). In October, MU entered into new contracts with Planned Parenthood to allow MU nursing students to perform clinical rotations at the organization's facilities (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/26).
According to the Daily Tribune, abortion-rights supporters and opponents are renewing their respective appeals to MU amid changes to the university's administration. Loftin and MU President Tim Wolfe have submitted their resignations, scheduled to take effect on Nov. 23, and their positions are now being filled temporarily by interim Chancellor Hank Foley and interim President Mike Middleton.
Meanwhile, McNicholas must have the refer and follow privileges extended or get new privileges at MU Health Care or Boone Hospital Center for the Columbia clinic to be able to keep offering abortion care past Dec. 1.
Teresa Snow, director of media relations at MU Health Care, said McNicholas asked for information to apply for privileges last week and was told that an application package will be sent to her this week. However, Snow said the medical staff executive committee is not currently looking into reinstating refer and follow privileges, and the committee is not likely to weigh granting other privileges before the deadline. She noted, "The process is lengthy and can take several months to complete."
Separately, Laura McQuade, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said, "We only have three weeks to either find another privileged physician or get privileges for our doctor elsewhere," adding, "There has been a dialogue, but an application has not been made."
She said, "We are putting pressure on multiple points within the university." She also noted that new leadership at the university also could provide an opportunity to reestablish more formal training programs between MU and Planned Parenthood (Columbia Daily Tribune, 11/15).