Missouri Lawmaker Seeks To Block Students From Studying Restrictive Abortion Law

One student is doing research for her dissertation. A state senator says that's illegal.

A state lawmaker wants to stop a graduate student at the University of Missouri from continuing research for her dissertation on the impact of a 72-hour waiting period on women considering abortions.

Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) claimed in a letter to the university chancellor dated Oct. 30 that the university is breaking the law by allowing the student to carry out her research. The grad student is studying a recently imposed law requiring women in Missouri to wait 72 hours between the time they seek information about an abortion and the point at which they have the procedure.

It's the latest in an ongoing battle between state lawmakers and the university over its relationship to Planned Parenthood. A decision by the university in September to cancel 10 contracts with Planned Parenthood helped fuel recent protests on campus that led to the ouster of the university system's president and the flagship campus' chancellor.

Schaefer is chairman of the Missouri senate's interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life and a GOP candidate for state attorney general. The state senate began investigating Mizzou's ties to Planned Parenthood this year after an anti-abortion group released heavily edited videos purporting to show that the women's health clinics were selling aborted fetal tissue. No evidence has emerged to prove this assertion; rather, some Planned Parenthood clinics request the reimbursement for the cost of delivering tissue to be used for medical research.

The university canceled 10 contracts with Planned Parenthood in September amid the investigation. That eliminated the opportunity for medical students to do clinical rotations that would help them learn how to provide surgical abortions and place long-acting contraception methods. The university's nursing school later signed agreements with two Planned Parenthood clinics in October that included clauses prohibiting students from helping provide abortions.

The graduate student's research, Schaefer insists, is a "marketing aid" for Planned Parenthood using taxpayer dollars. Missouri law prohibits state employees from using tax dollars to encourage a woman to have an abortion that is "not necessary to save her life." But defenders of the study say Schaefer's suggestion the school shouldn't be able to conduct this research is a threat to academic freedom.

The university is "well aware" of the law forbidding tax dollars to be used for encouraging abortions, MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said, but that's not what the student is doing -- and she does not receive any scholarships or grant money from the university anyway.

"As the state's research, land-grant institution, we must stay committed to the discovery, dissemination, application and preservation of knowledge to support our mission while abiding by state and federal laws," Banken said in a statement. "We will continue performing life-saving research in our laboratories while providing the highest quality of educational opportunities to our students."

The study was approved by the university's institutional review board, a standard procedure for any research involving human subjects. According to university sources, there was no pushback from the IRB, and no funding from the university is going into the study.

Part of Schaefer's complaint about the 72-hour waiting period study is that the student's supervisor, Marjorie Sable, is a member of the Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri Board of Directors. The grad student is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Social Work, of which Sable is a director.

"It is difficult to understand how a research study approved by the University, conducted by a University student, and over seen by the Director of the School of Social Work at the University can be perceived as anything but an expenditure of public funds to aid in Planned Parenthood in improving 'its services to better meet the needs of women seeking abortions' in clear violation of Missouri law," Schaefer wrote.

However, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri is calling on the university to "remain stalwart in the face of political interference with academic freedom."

Laura McQuade, president and CEO of the regional office, said in a statement that Mizzou's chancellor should "act in the interest of students and his community, not politicians advancing their careers at MU's expense."

A liberal group, Progress Missouri, has also circulated a video showing the lawmaker stating multiple times while in office that "academic decisions should be made by academics ... not by politicians."

Schaefer did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He demanded documents and emails relating to the study to be turned over to his office by Nov. 6.


Tyler Kingkade covers higher education and is based in New York. You can contact him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com, or on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.


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