© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

GOP-led committee questions legality of granting privileges to Planned Parenthood doctor

The last time the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life met, members threatened to hold a Nixon administration official in contempt unless she produced documents identifying which hospital had a working relationship with Columbia's Planned Parenthood clinic.

That became a moot point when Department of Health and Senior Services Director Gail Vasterling sent the committee a letter stating that Colleen McNicholas, M.D., had received admitting privileges from University of Missouri Health Care.

McNicholas is a St. Louis physician who works with the Columbia clinic, which is operated by Planned Parenthood's Kansas and Mid-Missouri chapter.

Senate Republicans then spent Tuesday's hearing questioning whether state law was violated when McNicholas was granted admitting privileges.

The interim committee has been conducting hearings into Planned Parenthood's operations in Missouri following publicity generated by videos produced by an anti-abortion group. The group alleges that Planned Parenthood clinics in other states have been selling the remains of aborted fetuses to research companies.

The Missouri Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life prior to the start of its meeting on Aug. 25.
Credit Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life prior to the start of its meeting on Aug. 25.

Early in the hearing, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, accused the Department of Health of illegally granting admitting privileges to McNicholas.

"I think a lot of games have been played here, for sure by this department and I fear maybe by (UM Health Care), too," Onder said. "I think at (the) very least the document that specifies these 'refer and follow' privileges and define what they are -- that's been withheld from this committee."

Vasterling disagreed. She testified that both McNicholas and the clinic are properly licensed to perform medically induced abortions, but not surgical ones, which would require additional privileges.

Vasterling and Republicans on the committee are at odds over a state law requiring doctors who perform surgical abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, or for the clinic to have a similar agreement, to be licensed as an ambulatory surgical center. Vasterling said that since the Columbia clinic does not perform surgical abortions, McNicholas was granted 'refer and follow' privileges, enabling her to refer patients to UM Health care if needed.

The clinic in Columbia plans to begin surgical abortions next year.

Meanwhile, the University of Missouri could see its budget slashed next year because of UM Health Care's working relationship with the Planned Parenthood clinic. That is the implication from comments made by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who chairs both the Senate's appropriations committee and the Sanctity of Life interim committee.

"Public entities should be able to come into the General Assembly and stand before the public and justify how they're spending the public's money," Schaefer told reporters after the hearing. "When they come in here and basically tell us, 'Yeah, we're spending it in violation of state law, but that's just kind of what we did,' there probably has to be a pretty serious repercussion for that."

Schaefer is also seeking the Republican nomination for Missouri attorney general. Two other Republicans on the committee, Will Kraus of Lee's Summit and Eric Schmitt of Glendale, are also seeking statewide office next year. Kraus is running for secretary of state and Schmitt is running for state treasurer.

The interim committee has more hearings planned, but none will likely be scheduled before the legislature convenes for veto session on Sept. 16. Committee members are required to release a report with recommendations no later than Dec. 31, 2015.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:   @MarshallGReport

Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit .

Marshall Griffin is the Statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.
Marshall Griffin
St. Louis Public Radio State House Reporter Marshall Griffin is a native of Mississippi and proud alumnus of Ole Miss (welcome to the SEC, Mizzou!). He has been in radio for over 20 years, starting out as a deejay. His big break in news came when the first President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989. Marshall was working the graveyard shift at a rock station, and began ripping news bulletins off an old AP teletype and reading updates between songs. From there on, his radio career turned toward news reporting and anchoring. In 1999, he became the capital bureau chief for Florida's Radio Networks, and in 2003 he became News Director at WFSU-FM/Florida Public Radio. During his time in Tallahassee he covered seven legislative sessions, Governor Jeb Bush's administration, four hurricanes, the Terri Schiavo saga, and the 2000 presidential recount. Before coming to Missouri, he enjoyed a brief stint in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reporting and anchoring for WWNC-AM in Asheville, North Carolina. Marshall lives in Jefferson City with his wife, Julie, their dogs, Max and Liberty Belle, and their cat, Honey.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.