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Future uncertain for proposal to defund Planned Parenthood in Missouri

Missouri lawmakers' effort to strip Planned Parenthood of any state money faces an uncertain path forward.

While the House passed a budget this week that bars any entity that provides or counsels a woman to get a non-emergency abortion from receiving Medicaid reimbursements, courts have blocked similar attempts in other states and the Senate's budget writers have so far declined to endorse the effort.

It's the latest in a series of Republican proposals that would regulate Planned Parenthood, whose St. Louis clinic is the only center offering elective abortions in Missouri. Lawmakers also have proposed requiring more inspections of abortion facilities, a more comprehensive system for tracking fetal remains and a ban on a common second-trimester abortion method.

Under the new proposal, low-income patients would be blocked from using Medicaid for any health care service provided by Planned Parenthood — services such as HPV vaccinations and vaginal exams. Lawmakers removed about $379,000 from the budget, too, which is roughly what the state annually pays Planned Parenthood for such services.

By law, state money can't fund nonemergency abortions. But Rep. Robert Ross, the Yukon Republican who inserted the exclusionary wording, said he thinks Planned Parenthood still does so, though he is not sure how.

"There is nothing that would make me believe that Planned Parenthood is not, at the present time, spending our taxpayer dollars for abortions," he told The Associated Press. The only way to guarantee the organization does not illicitly use state money, he said, is to remove all its public funding.

The state House and Senate began investigations last year after undercover videos emerged alleging Planned Parenthood officials were selling fetal tissue for profit, which the group denied. Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster has said his office found no evidence of wrongdoing in Missouri. A Texas grand jury recently cleared Planned Parenthood and instead indicted two anti-abortion advocates involved in making the videos.

Missouri lawmakers also have questioned agreements between the University of Missouri's Columbia campus and a Planned Parenthood clinic last summer; the university ended a Planned Parenthood doctor's "refer and follow" privileges in December, and the clinic stopped offering non-surgical abortions in November. Lawmakers also threatened to hold Planned Parenthood officials in contempt for refusing to turn over documents that the organization says contain private information about patients.

Planned Parenthood officials say Ross' allegations are false. And GOP Sen. David Sater, vice chairman of the Senate committee that investigated Planned Parenthood, said he is sure that "not one dollar" improperly goes toward abortions.

Lawmakers in neighboring states have gone after Planned Parenthood, too. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said in January that his state is moving to cut off Medicaid funding for the organization, though Planned Parenthood says it is still receiving payments. Federal courts have blocked similar attempts to cut Medicaid funding in Arkansas, Louisiana, Utah, Arizona and Indiana.

"Planned Parenthood's doors remain open just like they have in every other state where legislators' have unsuccessfully attempted to block Medicaid funding," said Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. "We refuse to back down to threats motivated by political ladder climbing and gamesmanship."

Sater and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, the Columbia Republican who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the committee that investigated Planned Parenthood, said they haven't yet decided whether to support the budget measure.


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