By Alex Stuckey
The Missouri Senate will continue investigating Planned Parenthood even though the state attorney general found no evidence suggesting the organization sold fetal body parts in the state.
Attorney General Chris Koster, the sole Democratic candidate for governor in 2016, launched an investigation into the organization after controversial videos were released in July alleging the organization sold fetal body parts. The state Senate launched its own investigation at the same time.
One video specifically mentions St. Louis as a potential location to obtain fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has vehemently denied that any fetal tissue was sold in Missouri.
The St. Louis Planned Parenthood is the only facility performing surgical abortions in the state. Koster's office reviewed documents tracing its process for disposing of fetal tissue for 317 abortions performed in June 2015.
"The evidence reviewed by my investigators supports Planned Parenthood's representation that fetal tissue is handled in accordance with Missouri law," Koster said. "We have discovered no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Planned Parenthood's St. Louis facility is selling fetal tissue."
But Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer, chairman of the Senate committee tasked with looking into the Planned Parenthood allegations, said Koster's "incomplete" report would not put an end to the Senate's probe.
Koster didn't interview witnesses and he looked at a narrow window of time, Schaefer said. Schaefer is running for attorney general next year.
Koster's office found that once the procedure is performed, the tissue is placed in a leakproof container and taken to Pathology Services Inc., a Brentwood-based lab contracted by the facility to conduct the examinations.
Under state law, abortion providers must send a "representative sample of tissue" taken at the time of the abortion to a pathologist for examination. That lab is required to send a pathology report to both Planned Parenthood and the Department of Health and Senior Services. A March inspection report of the St. Louis facility showed the lab was not sending these reports to the department for an unknown period of time -- and that department officials were not aware the reports were missing. That situation has since been corrected, state officials say.
Additionally, department director Gail Vasterling previously told the Senate panel, called the Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life, she did not know what happened to the tissue following the examinations.
Koster's office looked into that as well, determining that once the lab is done with the examination, a waste disposal company collects the tissue and destroys it in an incinerator. This was determined by looking at invoices from the lab charging Planned Parenthood for the work and certification from the waste disposal company that the tissue was destroyed.
In a statement, Mary Kogut, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said the organization was pleased but not surprised by Koster's findings.
"We have always followed the highest medical and ethical standards and comply with all laws," Kogut said.
Leading candidates for the Republican nomination for governor, meanwhile, sided with Schaefer's decision to continue investigating Planned Parenthood.
"General Koster's cursory investigation of only one month's records at a Planned Parenthood clinic performing thousands of abortions each year falls short of what he promised Missourians," said a statement from the gubernatorial campaign of Catherine Hanaway, a former Missouri House speaker. "A thorough investigation would have included comprehensive interviews... a phone hotline for anonymous reporting of past activities and covered more than a single month."
The gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder issued a statement saying that Koster's report confirms "gruesome" practices by Planned Parenthood. "This is why I have fought to condemn the practices of Planned Parenthood in our state," said Kinder's statement. "We must continue our efforts to ensure that Missouri protects and respects human life at every stage."
Schaefer expects to hold another committee hearing next month. The committee also has been examining the resumption of abortion privileges at Columbia Planned Parenthood last month.
Following committee questioning, the University of Missouri announced Thursday that it is eliminating a category of clinical privilege at its Columbia hospital that Planned Parenthood's physician uses, and legally needs, to be able to provide medication abortions.
The organization is looking for ways it can continue to provide abortion procedures after the privileges go away Dec. 1.
Kevin McDermott of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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