State senators in Missouri are trying to hold St. Louis-area Planned Parenthood president Mary Kogut in contempt of court, with the threat of jail time, for refusing to turn over private medical documents, many of which include information protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The state assembly’s decision comes after its committee on the sanctity of life issued a subpoena in November. That committee, charged with investigating Planned Parenthood in the wake of the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) sting videos, issued what the Kansas City Star describes as “a broad subpoena without specifying how the requested documents relate to a legitimate legislative inquiry.” Planned Parenthood refused to turn over the documentation, arguing that doing so would violate doctor-patient confidentiality laws.
The state assembly also subpoenaed documents relating to Mary Gatter and Deborah Nucatola, two PP staff members who are prominently featured in CMP’s widely discredited videos. A lawyer for PP argued that Missouri’s state assembly did not have the power to issue those subpoenas.
Despite the fact that Missouri’s attorney general already investigated PP and found that the organization wasn’t breaking any laws, the Missouri assembly will meet today to determine whether or not Kogut will be held in contempt, a penalty that could come with a fine and jail time. Kogut and the director of a pathology lab that reviews tissue for PP have both been issued an order to appear before the senate and explain why they refuse to comply with the subpoena.
Kurt Schafer, a Columbia Republican leading the investigation, told the Star, “There are consequences for ignoring a subpoena from the Missouri Senate.” Schafer, currently running for attorney general, reminded the Star that the state constitution gives the senate the power to issue subpoenas and punish when in contempt. The last time the Missouri Senate held contempt proceedings was in 1903.
“It is deeply, deeply concerning that in 2016 we are talking about jailing women’s health care providers for protecting their patients’ privacy. These baseless threats to our health care professionals and providers are disturbing,” Kogut said in a statement.
Missouri’s state assembly has taken particular aim at abortion rights and Planned Parenthood in this legislative session; Kogut’s possible contempt charge is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to a bill that would prevent any clinic that offers abortion or abortion counseling from receiving Medicare money, the assembly is also entertaining new TRAP laws.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, Missouri already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. Women are already required to undergo mandatory counseling and there is a strict 72-hour waiting period. The St. Louis clinic targeted by the subpoenas is the only Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in the state.
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