Missouri’s health director admitted to a state review panel Tuesday that he tracked the menstrual periods of women who visited Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, prompting one state lawmaker to call for an investigation into his conduct.
Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said he kept the records on a spreadsheet at the request of the state’s main investigator, according to the Kansas City Star.
The spreadsheet included medical identification numbers, the gestational ages of fetuses and the date of the patient’s last period ― but it didn’t include the patient’s name, according to the newspaper.
Williams, an OB-GYN and expert witness for the state, told the panel that he was tracking patients’ menstrual cycles in an attempt to identify patients who underwent failed abortions. The information collected on the spreadsheet was based on medical records that state investigators had access to during inspections, according to the Star.
Williams was testifying before the state Administrative Hearing Commission, a nonpartisan panel that oversees cases involving state agencies and private citizens. The hearing is focused on whether the state was justified in refusing to renew the Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions after an inspection raised concern over alleged unsafe procedures.
The St. Louis clinic is the only abortion clinic in the state.
Planned Parenthood advocates described the health department’s attempts to track patients’ menstrual cycles as “deeply disturbing.”
Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D) called for the state to investigate whether Williams violated patient privacy laws.
“State law requires the health department director to be ‘of recognized character and integrity,’” Quade said in a statement to The Associated Press. “This unsettling behavior calls into question whether Dr. Williams meets that high standard.”
State health officials refused to renew the Planned Parenthood clinic’s abortion license in June, citing safety concerns and claiming that the clinic failed to meet certain standards, according to The Associated Press and St. Louis Public Radio.
During a March inspection of the clinic, an investigator found that it took the clinic five attempts to successfully complete one woman’s abortion, AP reported. The clinic couldn’t provide health officials with a “complication report” for that incident, which prompted the health department to further investigate the clinic and review medical records from women who underwent abortion procedures.
During that inquiry, investigators found four other instances involving patients who underwent failed abortions and had to return to the clinic to have another procedure, according to the Star.
Dr. David Eisenberg, a physician who works with Planned Parenthood, said the cases the state’s health department were focusing on were rare cases.
“They have twisted the process in a way that four patients might jeopardize the health of over one million women in the state of Missouri, because those four patients experienced a rare but known complication,” Eisenberg said, according to St. Louis Public Radio.
Planned Parenthood advocates claim that the state is withholding the clinic’s licensure in a politically motivated attempt to cut off women’s access to abortions.
“Health officials clearly took advantage of the licensure process to access patient records & use that information to conduct a witch hunt with one goal: to end abortion access,” Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri tweeted Tuesday.
Yamelsie Rodriguez, president of the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, criticized the state for tracking women’s menstrual cycles.
“Missouri’s top health official, Randall Williams, scrutinized menstrual cycles of women in this state in order to end abortion access,” Rodriguez said in a statement to AP.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Williams revealed that he was “pro-life” and had never performed an abortion, the Kansas City Star reported. He also said that the state’s concerns about the clinic were “grave” but “imminently fixable,” suggesting that Planned Parenthood could still obtain its license if its concerns were addressed.
“Because we now talked to clinicians that took care of those patients, we are very, very far along on feeling (we can improve) that care with some new policies that we can collaborate with them to implement,” Williams said during his testimony.
In May, Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons (R) signed into law a ban on most abortions that take place eight weeks after a woman conceives. The law was supposed to go into effect in August. However, a judge temporarily blocked it as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union challenge the law in court.