Planned Parenthood’s fundraiser this weekend pushes back against Missouri’s latest threats
If you’re tired of hearing about Kurt Schaefer, you’re not alone.
The senator from Missouri’s 19th district and chairman of the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life knows how to keep his name in the news the way a bad case of athlete’s foot knows how to stay in your sock. His latest bid: a very public attempt to hold Mary Kogut, president of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis and Southwest Missouri, in contempt for failing to produce documents related to the organization’s procedures for fetal-tissue disposal.
Kogut had said the committee’s subpoena was overly broad: It solicited, among other items, six years of documents recording all incidents in which emergency medical technicians or ambulances were dispatched to Planned Parenthood facilities. The relationship between these documents and Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue disposal procedures was never clear. A call to Schaefer’s office for clarification was not returned.
Schaefer’s agenda could be gleaned more easily from something else in the subpoena: its demand for all documents to, from, or containing “any reference to” Planned Parenthood officials Mary Gatter and Deborah Nucatola — two doctors featured in undercover videos released last year by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group. The videos, which were heavily edited to imply that Gatter and Nucatola sold fetal tissue, have since been widely discredited. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.
But that didn’t stop Schaefer — who is campaigning to unseat Koster — from clinging to the case like cat hair on a duvet.
On April 21, Schaefer announced that Kogut and the Missouri Senate had reached an agreement and contempt proceedings had been suspended. The details of the agreement were not made public, but a statement from Kogut suggested that the Senate had pared back the requests significantly. “We appreciate Senate leaders who agreed to request a narrower set of policy-related documents that in no way risk patient privacy,” she commented in a press release.
It felt like a victory. For about 24 hours.
On April 22, the Missouri Legislature approved a budget rejecting more than $8 million in federal funds earmarked for family planning, in order to deprive Planned Parenthood of $380,000. Missouri law already prohibits any public money from covering abortions, so the budget would largely cut support for services such as contraception counseling and pelvic exams.
Such government-by-spite actions are hardly unique to Missouri. Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced H.R. 3134, the “Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015,” with the goal of prohibiting Planned Parenthood and its affiliates from receiving any federal funding. At the House’s request, the Congressional Budget Office looked into the legislation’s potential long-term savings — and found that federal spending would instead increase by an estimated $130 million over a 10-year period.
The House approved the measure anyway.
Such legislation is rarely composed with fiscal conservatism in mind. Shortly after the Missouri budget was sent to Gov. Jay Nixon, Schaefer posted an image on his official Facebook page proclaiming him “A Champion for Life.”
It was sharp political theater, if a bit premature. Because while Schaefer and his colleagues toasted their latest efforts to deny basic health services to their constituents, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri was quietly expanding its coverage. By June, three new services will be available at multiple locations: menopausal care; transgender care; and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEp), a preventive-drug regimen for communities at higher risk of contracting HIV.
To hear Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri president Laura McQuade tell it, the expansions were long overdue. “I think this affiliate for a long time took a very traditional view of our service footprint,” she says. “And I view the word traditional to mean outdated, to be honest.”
Planned Parenthood isn’t the first area clinic to offer the PrEp regimen. But it may be the first to conduct aggressive outreach to women and people of color. (It’s worth noting that the Centers for Disease Control’s PrEp resources exclusively feature photos and videos of men.)
“Right now, the majority of PrEp patients are white men who have had sex with white men,” McQuade explains. “Our idea is to expand understanding and availability — that was really what drove us into the PrEp arena.”
And while transgender men and women have a few options in the region for care, Planned Parenthood aims to provide a more comfortable, welcoming place for their annual exams and ongoing care — as well as services such as hormone replacement therapy for those in transition.
I ask McQuade if she’s concerned this might place Planned Parenthood under greater scrutiny. In conservative-controlled legislatures, bills targeting transgender people (like North Carolina’s “bathroom bill”) seem as fashionable as “defund Planned Parenthood” initiatives.
“It’s hard to see Planned Parenthood coming under greater scrutiny,” she says. “It does not concern me, to be perfectly honest. We have an obligation and a mission to provide care as comprehensively in the community as possible. And we are going to do that to the extent the law allows us, every single solitary day.”
Although my conversation with McQuade happens before the Missouri budget passes the House, she’s clear-eyed about its potential effects. Clinics in her affiliate have operated in Kansas for almost two years without the federal dollars Missouri legislators just voted to reject. But she admits that maintaining the same level of care in Missouri without them — expansions and all — will require “a tremendous increase” in private donations.
To make up the difference, McQuade and her colleagues have planned a fundraising party for May 6. The event, titled “PinkOut: Don’t Screw With Us. Don’t Screw Without Us,” features an open bar and a slate of local bands, including blues-rock trio Katy Guillen and the Girls. It’s meant to appeal to a younger group of donors, some of whom have fallen out of touch with the reproductive-rights movement.
McQuade, a New York transplant, chalks up part of that disconnect to location. “Here in the Midwest, the restrictive environment we have lived with for going on 20 years is the new normal,” she says. Without context or exposure, she adds, young people may not understand that states like Missouri — one of six in the nation with only one abortion provider — aren’t the norm.
Whether the younger generation will bear the brunt of the Missouri General Assembly’s mistakes or help to correct them remains to be seen. But McQuade seems optimistic about Planned Parenthood’s future.
“Margaret Sanger’s first clinic was shut down nine days after it opened,” she says, and her voice hardens with an orator’s edge. “At that time contraception was illegal. We will weather this. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. We will have to fight for it. But we can’t allow the narrow-mindedness, the anger and the hostility of others to block us from doing what we think is right.” •
Pinkout: Don’t Screw With Us. Don’t Screw Without Us
6 p.m. Friday, May 6
at the Historic Firestone Building