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Koster joins Republicans in calling for investigation of Planned Parenthood

Attorney General Chris Koster, left, and Missouri Sen. Tom Dempsey have announced separate investigations of Planned Parenthood operations in the state.
official photos

Underscoring the political power of the abortion issue in Missouri, Attorney General Chris Koster’s announcement that he has “opened an investigation into whether Planned Parenthood clinics in Missouri have violated state law” touched off a series of actions on both sides.

In a joint statement, the state’s two Planned Parenthood organizations blasted Koster – a Democrat running for governor in 2016 – for joining in the “political attacks’’ already lobbed by many top Missouri Republicans.

Meanwhile, state Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, announced that he’s forming a “Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life” that plans to conduct a similar look into Planned Parenthood operations. The chairman is to be state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who's running for attorney general in 2016.

All the attention is focused on something that Missouri’s Planned Parenthood says it does not do. Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, which operates the only surgical abortion clinic in the state, says it does not participate in any fetal-tissue donation program.

Such donations for research purposes is legal, with the patient’s permission.

It is illegal to sell such tissue for profit; Planned Parenthood – locally and nationally – says it does not do so.

Abortion opponents around the country have been calling for investigations as a result of an edited video of a top Planned Parenthood medical director talking about fetal-tissue donations with abortion opponents portraying themselves as executives with a medical-research facility in need of such material. Abortion opponents claim the video implies that the tissue is illegally sold, which Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards says is not the case.

Koster, Planned Parenthood square off

Koster said in a statement, “Regardless of whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, the questions raised by these videos require careful review. My office will investigate whether the practices described have occurred within our state and whether Missouri law has been violated.”

Missouri’s top Planned Parenthood executives appear disturbed that Koster is joining in the controversy, which they blame on long-standing abortion opponents.

“These political attacks claiming that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation or illegal activity are simply not true,” said the joint statement by Mary M. Kogut, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, and Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. The latter operates a clinic in Columbia, Mo. that soon will resume providing abortion services, after several years of not performing the procedure.

“Some Planned Parenthood affiliates in the country have programs for women and families who want to donate tissue to leading research institutions that will use it to help find treatment and cures for diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's,” the statement added.

“The fact that Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri do not participate in tissue donation programs underscores that calls for an investigation are about political grandstanding, not facts. This is yet another orchestrated attempt to restrict access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri and to the needed services Planned Parenthood has provided for nearly 100 years. We will, of course, cooperate fully with any investigation; however, important medical issues shouldn't be politicized like this.”

Abortion long a political football in Missouri

It’s not surprising that the debate has moved to Missouri, which for decades has been at the center of the abortion controversy. The state’s Planned Parenthood operations have long been a target; Republicans, joined by conservative Democrats, got rid of the state’s family-planning program in the late 1990s after the courts said Planned Parenthood couldn’t be excluded.

In 2014, Missouri became one of the few states to impose a 72-hour waiting period on abortions after the General Assembly overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the measure.

In fact, this year’s legislative session was among the few in recent years where an anti-abortion measure wasn’t a top priority of Republican leaders.

Since the video controversy broke, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin and an outspoken abortion opponent, swiftly emerged among the leaders participating in a congressional investigation.

In a speech on the House floor Tuesday night, Wagner said, "If Planned Parenthood is discovered to have been altering abortion procedures so as to sell unborn baby hearts, livers, lungs or other organs, then they have violated their own guidelines as well as federal laws from partial-birth abortion to the sale of human organs. It will be up to Congress to intervene on behalf of the thousands of unborn children."

In Missouri, Dempsey's announcement of a special committee came after several legislators called for an investigation.  Two House committees also plan to conduct hearings on the matter.

“The recent allegations that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue to medical laboratories is not only appalling, but illegal as well,” said Dempsey in a statement. “This type of action demands a legislative investigation. I am tasking this interim committee to find out exactly what is going on behind closed doors and hold them accountable for any illegal actions.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a supporter of abortion rights, has said she’s disturbed by the video and will be paying close attention to any investigations. But she also has emphasized Planned Parenthood’s denials of any wrongdoing.

The abortion issue is particularly touchy for Democrats, because women – especially those supporting reproductive rights – make up a large share of the party’s base. In 2012, abortion and rape became a prominent issue in the state’s U.S. Senate contest between McCaskill and Republican Todd Akin, who had been lambasted for implying that women who were victims of “legitimate rape’’ rarely got pregnant.

That controversy is credited with fueling McCaskill’s huge margin of victory over Akin and helping down-ballot Democrats in 2012. Abut 400,000 voters favored McCaskill while also voting for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a shift that some analysts tie to that year’s abortion debate. Many analysts believe most of those 400,000 were women.

That helps explain why local Planned Parenthood officials and their private donors, many of whom are Democrats, appear to be particularly upset with Koster.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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