COLUMBIA — Planned Parenthood plans to take legal action against MU after the university made a decision this week that could end abortion services in Columbia.

MU Health Care announced Thursday that on Dec. 1 it will discontinue "refer and follow" privileges — the same type of privileges it granted in December 2014 to a doctor who works with Planned Parenthood to provide abortion services. Without the privileges, the doctor cannot legally provide abortions in Columbia.

The health care provider plans to file a claim with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services early next week alleging the decision violates a section of the federal law known as the Church Amendments, Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said in an interview Friday. 

The Church Amendments prohibit federally-funded health care providers from making employment decisions based on a doctor's willingness or unwillingness to provide legal abortion services. The amendments, made into law in 1973, also prohibit hospitals from forcing a doctor to provide abortions or sterilizations if it is against the doctor's religious or moral convictions.

McQuade said the university decided to discontinue privileges to alleviate political pressure from a state Senate committee that has been investigating Planned Parenthood activity in Missouri since July.

“We were outraged that an institution of higher learning would cow to such obvious political tactics,” McQuade said. "We did not expect the university to behave in this fashion."

The university decided to discontinue refer and follow privileges because they were "outdated and unnecessary," chief medical officer of MU Health Care Steve Whitt said in a news release.

Refer and follow privileges allow physicians to refer patients to a hospital and follow their progress but do not allow them to treat or prescribe medicine at that hospital.

MU Health Care granted refer and follow privileges to Colleen McNicholas in December 2014. The St. Louis-based obstetrician-gynecologist started providing medical abortions in Columbia on Aug. 3, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Doctors providing abortions in Missouri must have clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the location where the services are performed, according to state law.

The Department of Health and Senior Services will revoke the Columbia clinic's abortion facility license on Dec. 1 if McNicholas isn't able to acquire other credentials in Columbia, according to a letter sent Friday from the department to McQuade.

Planned Parenthood and McNicholas are still exploring options for gaining new privileges before Dec. 1, McQuade said. McQuade said options include applying for a different category of privileges at MU Health Care or applying for privileges at Boone Hospital Center.

McNicholas will be able to apply for other privileges at the university, MU Health Care spokesperson Teresa Snow said in an email Thursday night.

It took about six months for MU Health Care to grant the doctor the refer and follow privileges in 2014, McQuade said. Now McNicholas has a little more than two months to earn new privileges.

The Planned Parenthood clinic will continue to provide abortion services until Dec. 1, McQuade said, though she hopes McNicholas will be granted new privileges .

“We will do everything in our power to make sure that none of our services will be interrupted for women in mid-Missouri,” she said.

MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin asked MU Health Care to review its privileging polices at the request of the state Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life and members of the public, according to a news release from the university. On Monday, a committee of executive staff at the health care system voted unanimously to discontinue refer and follow privileges beginning Dec. 1, Snow said.

The committee, led by state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia and candidate for attorney general, was formed in July in response to widely-viewed videos claiming to show Planned Parenthood staff selling aborted tissue. The committee has since pressured the university to cut ties with Planned Parenthood. Since the investigation began, the university has canceled multiple agreements with the health care provider that allowed students to work in the clinics for academic credit, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Schaefer called the university's decision a "victory for unborn" in a news release Friday morning.

"This joyous outcome is positive proof that these committee investigations matter and the result will have eternal significance," he said in the release.

If the Columbia location were to stop providing abortions, the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis would become the only abortion provider in Missouri.

Missourian editor Daniela Sirtori-Cortina contributed to this report. 

Supervising editor is Jack Suntrup

  • Assistant city editor — Columbia Missourian eliseschmelzer@mail.missouri.edu

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