Gifts allow Planned Parenthood to resume abortions in Columbia

Sunday, January 20, 2002

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Three years ago, Planned Parenthood halted abortions at its Columbia clinic to avoid questions about whether it could legally receive state money for family planning services. That's because the state budget prohibited abortions and state-funded family planning under the same roof.

The shutdown sent women seeking abortions to clinics in the Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield areas or out of state, which Planned Parenthood said penalized low-income women in outstate Missouri.

Meanwhile, the state and Planned Parenthood fought -- and continue to fight -- in court about compliance with the funding law.

This month, Planned Parenthood resumed providing surgical abortions in the same Columbia building where it teaches reproductive health, performs exams and distributes contraceptives.

But the organization decided against seeking state funding for family planning, contracts that in past years were worth more than $600,000 annually.

The organization has, however, collected about $250,000 in private contributions -- including $210,000 from a person who has not been publicly identified.

"It certainly made it easier for us, having a substantial gift of that kind," said Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. "Our board has been committed to resuming abortion care in Columbia and this gift made it possible to move forward and do that."

He would not identify the donor further, citing "very real concerns about security and harassment."

Helped buy building

The gift helped Planned Parenthood buy its building northwest of downtown Columbia, renovate the clinic and strengthen security systems, Brownlie said. The organization has also cut administrative costs and closed its Fulton clinic, which didn't offer abortions, to save money.

With the cash gifts to re-start abortion services, the roughly $375 charged for each surgical abortion should cover costs of operations, he said.

The clinic expects to perform more than eight abortions, first-trimester only, each Friday, Brownlie said.

Within a couple of months, the clinic will make the RU-486 pill available for women up to seven weeks pregnant who want a nonsurgical abortion. The medication, also known as mifepristone or Mifeprex, was approved by the federal government more than a year ago but apparently has not been widely prescribed in central Missouri, Brownlie said.

Brownlie emphasized that no state money has been spent by Planned Parenthood for abortions. He said independent audits showed that state funds for family planning weren't used for abortions.

But Rep. Gary Burton, R-Carl Junction, and a long-time legislative critic of Planned Parenthood, said he didn't believe that assertion. Burton said the state family planning money spared Planned Parenthood from dipping into other funding sources -- which they insisted freed up those other sources to subsidize abortions.

"The outcome that we basically wanted is for no state money to be spent for abortions in a direct or indirect way, and we think we have worked to do that through this budget language," Burton said. "I don't buy that no money was co-mingled to subsidize abortions."

Nor does Burton believe Planned Parenthood's withdrawal from receiving state funds signals a cease-fire in Missouri's long-running legislative abortion battles.

"We will continue to try to prevent abortions from happening. We can't come right out and make them illegal because the federal Roe vs. Wade ruling will not allow us to do it," Burton said. "But if there are additional things we can do, we will look at the law and see what we can do to help these women think about it twice before they go in and get an abortion."

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