Senators in Missouri are moving to hold the president of a St Louis-area Planned Parenthood affiliate in contempt of court – under threat of jail time – for refusing to submit private medical documents.
The move comes after the state general assembly’s committee on the sanctity of life subpoenaed documents from Mary Kogut, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, in an investigation into her organization.
The subpoena, issued in November, called for Kogut to turn over any and all consent forms signed by the patient in the process of receiving abortion care at the St Louis affiliate. It also seeks documents that make reference to Dr Mary Gatter and Dr Deborah Nucatola, two Planned Parenthood staff members who are prominently featured in widely debunked “sting” videos by the activist group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The videos alleged that Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers throughout the US were engaging in the illegal sale of fetal tissue donation.
A lawyer responded on behalf of Planned Parenthood that the committee did not have the authority to subpoena these documents, and that handing them over would violate federal privacy law.
Despite these legal objections, the Missouri senate will begin a hearing Tuesday to introduce a bill determining whether Kogut should be found in contempt.
Kogut now faces a potential indictment on contempt charges. If charged, she faces up to 10 days of jail time as well as a fine of $300 for, as the subpoena itself states, is the right of the general assembly to “punish”.
“It is deeply, deeply concerning that in 2016 we are talking about jailing women’s health care providers for protecting their patients’ privacy,” Kogut said in a statement. “These baseless threats to our health care professionals and providers are disturbing.”
The committee’s subpoena comes after Missouri attorney general Chris Koster announced in September 2015 that his office had found the Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri free of any wrongdoing. Koster’s investigation focused heavily on the Planned Parenthood affiliate in St Louis, one of the health centers under Kogut’s jurisdiction, as it is the only abortion provider in the state. The investigation, which involved the review of thousands of pages of internal documents provided to the attorney general’s office by Kogut’s Planned Parenthood affiliate and interviews with its employees, found no evidence of any illegal activity.
“The evidence reviewed by my investigators supports Planned Parenthood’s representation that fetal tissue is handled in accordance with Missouri law. We have discovered no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Planned Parenthood’s St Louis facility is selling fetal tissue,” Koster said in a statement at the time of his investigation’s conclusions.
State senator Kurt Schaefer, a Republican representing the Columbia area, nonetheless opened his own investigation into the Planned Parenthood affiliate, seeking to answer the same question. Schaefer is in the middle of a campaign against incumbent Koster, a Democrat, for the position of Missouri’s attorney general in November.
The Missouri general assembly is also expected to vote soon on defunding Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid and Title X provider in the state. Abortion providers in Missouri already face harsh Trap (targeted restriction of abortion providers) regulations , and women seeking abortion care in the state must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage them from having an abortion before then beginning a 72-hour waiting period. The University of Missouri healthcare system discontinued the admitting privileges needed for providers at the Columbia Planned Parenthood affiliate in September 2015 as a result of the committee on the sanctity of life, which Schaefer chairs , began its investigation into Planned Parenthood in the state on the heels of the CMP tapes.
Prior to the incident with Kogut, the most recent contempt proceedings in Missouri occurred in 1903.