Missouri Senate committee pushes for contempt charges against Planned Parenthood official
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, is initiating contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, for failing to release subpoenaed documents.
Last November, the Missouri Senate demanded six years of documentation about Planned Parenthood’s disposal procedures for fetal tissue. On Tuesday, a state Senate panel discussed two resolutions sponsored by Schaefer (SR 1794 & SR 1793) that summon Kogut and Dr. James Miller, owner of a pathology lab that analyzes fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood, to testify before the Senate chamber at 10 a.m. on April 18. If charged with contempt before the Senate, they could face up to 10 days in jail.
“It remains disturbing to think that in 2016, a health-care provider or administrator could be criminalized while trying to protect patient privacy interest,” said Kogut.
Chuck Hatfield, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, says some of the documents requested in the November subpoena extend outside the scope of the Senate panel’s investigation.
“We thought the subpoena was extremely over-broad,” said Hatfield.
He says Planned Parenthood is willing to negotiate the terms of the subpoena with senators, but their requests have largely been ignored.
“To date, the Senate seems to be uninterested in a reasonable discussion about how to get to the documents they need to conduct their work,” said Hatfield.
According to Planned Parenthood representatives, senators did not reply to multiple negotiation requests until March of this year, when Todd Scott, an attorney for the Republican Senate caucus, affirmed the organization’s right to redact the names and addresses of patients noted in the subpoenaed documents.
In his opening statement for the resolutions, Schaefer indicated that all requested documents are necessary to ensure state dollars aren't funding the illegal handling of aborted fetal tissue.
“The documents we have asked for are the documents that establish either contractually or as a matter of policy, what is it that they do with aborted babies,” said Schaefer. “What is it that they do? They won’t answer that question.”
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster investigated this issue last year after a video surfaced that accused Planned Parenthood of illegally selling aborted fetal tissue elsewhere in the country. His office found no evidence of illegal activity.
“Planned Parenthood has not and does not refuse to produce documents,” said Hatfield. “Planned Parenthood has said over and over again … that they will discuss the production of documents, but they object to the subpoena as issued … That’s the proper procedure in a court under Rule 57. When you receive a subpoena, you object, and your objections are ruled on.”
Schaefer says it isn't legally permissible to voice a blanket objection to the subpoena as a whole.
But Hatfield says objection proceedings are unclear for a document-producing subpoena issued by a legislative body. He indicated it may be appropriate to involve a court of law to take up the issue of contempt, though Planned Parenthood would prefer to work with the Senate to address its objections.
Schaefer has said that additional branches of government need not interfere in this matter.
“If we don’t have the ability to issue subpoenas and actually enforce them, that is a severe disability for the legislature to actually do its job,” said Schaefer.
Mallory Daily is an intern at the State Capitol Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. Follow on Twitter: @malreports