JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers in a rare move Thursday voted to summon the CEO of a regional Planned Parenthood to explain why she should not be held in contempt of the state Senate for defying a subpoena that demanded documents on how the organization handles fetal remains.
The 24-8 party-line Senate vote follows Republican outcry over undercover videos released last summer that alleged Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue for profit. The organization has denied the allegations in the videos, which reference its St. Louis clinic, the state’s only abortion provider, and Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster found no evidence of wrongdoing in Missouri.
The Missouri Senate is ordering Mary Kogut, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, to appear in the chamber at 2 p.m. April 25 to justify why she has not complied with the November subpoena — and why she should not face punishment. Senators also approved a measure that summons Dr. James Miller for the same time. Miller owns the suburban St. Louis Pathology Services Inc. that reviews fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.
Kogut told the Associated Press on Thursday that she hasn’t decided whether she will appear and she’s still discussing the matter with regional Planned Parenthood officials and their attorneys.
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The Senate action came the same day the Missouri House voted 120-34 to pass a bill banning donation of fetal tissue from abortions.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, chairman of the Missouri Senate committee investigating Planned Parenthood and a Republican candidate for attorney general, has said lawmakers cannot be sure the organization has not broken the law without the records the Senate subpoenaed. Those documents include all of Planned Parenthood’s policies and written communication on disposing fetal tissue, as well as information on ambulance visits and all documents mentioning two doctors featured in the undercover videos.
The Missouri Constitution allows lawmakers to punish those held in contempt with a fine and 10 days in jail, though records show that hasn’t happened in more than a century. If Kogut or Miller do not appear, the Senate resolution authorizes the sergeant-at-arms to “issue the necessary process” to bring them to the chamber — though Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican, said it’s still too early to deal with that issue.
Kogut said Planned Parenthood made its objections to the “very broad and vague” subpoena days after receiving it, noting that the Senate’s attorney only clarified on March 21 that patients’ personal information could be redacted. But redacting legally confidential patient information from six years of documents is a “very, very large process,” she said.
“Today it’s Planned Parenthood, but could it be another provider tomorrow?” she said.
Calls to Miller’s business rang unanswered.
Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman, of Kansas City, said he recognizes the chamber’s power to subpoena, but that does not mean every subpoena is justified. The Senate’s investigation is “political theater” based on a “false premise,” he said, because the undercover videos were misleadingly edited and other investigations have already exonerated Planned Parenthood.
A Texas grand jury has indicted two activists involved with making the videos.
Chuck Hatfield, an attorney representing Planned Parenthood, has said the organization is open to releasing some of the records lawmakers subpoenaed. But he said many of the documents have nothing to do with the Senate’s investigation, and he wants lawmakers to address those objections before turning over any records.
The House bill banning fetal-tissue donation stemmed from a House investigation of abortion practices in the state.
“We’ve heard from the opposition that there is no evidence of this sort of thing happening in Missouri,” said Republican Rep. Rick Brattin, of Harrisonville. But he said the investigation found that “loose terminology within our statutes currently provides that we’re not able to really know whether or not this is occurring in Missouri.”
The measure drew opposition from Democrats who said it’s medically unnecessary and that women should be able to donate fetal tissue for medical research. The legislation also would establish a tracking system for fetal tissue from abortions.
A Senate-sponsored ban on fetal-tissue donation is awaiting debate in that chamber.