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Jan. 17, 2024 |  By: Rudi Keller - Missouri Independent

Missouri Senate GOP factions on display during debate over defunding Planned Parenthood

planned parenthood

By Rudi Keller - Missouri Independent

A state Senate hearing on a medical provider tax devolved Wednesday into a fight over the political tactics of Missouri Right to Life, with a Democrat dropping an obscenity and Republicans slamming the group for injecting its anti-abortion politics into unrelated issues.

Only one member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins of Warrensburg, defended the organization. A candidate in the Republican primary for secretary of state, Hoskins has been endorsed by Missouri Right to Life.

The hearing exemplified the factional tensions in the Missouri Senate, where a minority of Republicans calling themselves the Freedom Caucus have declared they are ready for combat, not cooperation.

Two issues are in competition in the debate. One is the health of the state budget, where the provider taxes, known as the federal reimbursement allowance, or FRA, provide more than $4 billion in direct and matching funds. The other is the anti-abortion movement’s decades-long goal of cutting off public funds to Planned Parenthood.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Lincoln Hough of Springfield, is considered must-pass legislation because of its impact on the budget. 

“If we have a four-and-a-half billion dollar hole in the budget, it is going to cause problems,” Hough said.

The tax has been renewed 16 times in regular sessions, but the 17th renewal, in 2021, required a special session when Republicans split on whether to include limits on payments for contraceptives and bar Planned Parenthood from the program. 

That renewal was for three years, but some past votes have been for extensions of as little as a year.

Hough said he wants to get off the carousel of renewals.

“It seems to me it should be something that is done and over with and taken care of,” Hough said.

Because it is a bill that must be passed, abortion opponents are demanding it include anti-Planned Parenthood language. Abortion foes have long held a majority in the General Assembly and Missouri has banned almost all abortions since 2022

Susan Klein, executive director of Missouri Right to Life, said cutting Planned Parenthood off as a Medicaid provider will deprive it of support that helps it perform abortions in other states. Nearly every abortion is illegal in Missouri. 

“If you look at Planned Parenthood, they are affiliated and associated with the largest abortion provider in the United States, they have taken the most lives through abortion and in all nine months of pregnancy,” Klein said. “So we’re asking for you to stop funding Planned Parenthood in our state.”

Lawmakers have added restrictive language to the state budget in each of the past five years intended to cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. The organization provides services such as cancer screening and contraceptive treatments that are eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.

In 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down language in a 2018 budget bill that excluded abortion providers or their affiliates from receiving Medicaid reimbursements, calling it a “naked attempt” to legislate through a budget bill. The Supreme Court is currently considering its decision on language in a budget bill that sets funding for services from abortion providers or their affiliates at zero dollars.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that only a statutory change, not a restriction in a budget bill, could pass constitutional muster if lawmakers want to cut off Planned Parenthood.

Klein was the lone witness against the bill and she spoke after a parade of others, including representatives of all major health care providers, warned of dire consequences if the tax is not renewed.

Nursing homes are not paid enough to meet their costs under Medicaid and could not survive any cuts, said Nikki Strong, a lobbyist for the Missouri Healthcare Association.

“If this does not renew, we will be out of business,” she said. “There will not be a single nursing home able to stay in business.”

It was that contrast – supporters warning it would gut Medicaid versus Missouri Right to Life’s crusade against payments of approximately $100,000 a year to Planned Parenthood – that angered several committee members and led Sen. Brian Williams, a Democrat from University City, to use an obscenity to describe Klein’s position.

“All you are saying is well, senator, you know, if we put a protective language we’ll make sure there’s no abortion,” Williams said to Klein. “What about every other f***ing issue in this state?”

Williams was admonished and apologized to the room, explaining he was tired from late nights caring for his 10-month-old child. 

He did not, however, apologize personally to Klein.

“I’m sad that people feel that they need to attack somebody, a witness, for coming up and making statements about what it is that we’re trying to present to the body,” Klein said afterwards.

Williams’ critical tone, however, continued in much of the majority Republican questioning.

“I don’t think this is at all about saving babies,” said Sen. Mike Cierpiot, a Lee’s Summit Republican. “It’s about Missouri Right to Life having a letter to write, a letter about a five-alarm fire to your supporters in the state of Missouri that the legislature is letting us down.”

Sen. Sandy Crawford, a Republican from Buffalo, said she opposed the restrictive language on Planned Parenthood. She is more concerned about the thousands of people who could lose nursing care, she said.

“You’re thinking is flawed and you’re picking on 25,000 Missourians and you’re putting them at risk over abortions that are not even happening in the state of Missouri,” Crawford said.

The committee will vote on the bill on Thursday and floor debate could come as early as next week. 

With factions creating uncertainty about whether the anti-Planned Parenthood language will be attached, House Majority Leader Jon Patterson said his chamber will wait to act on its bill.

“I’m of the mindset that we should pass the FRA and just get it done, because of the consequences of what would happen if it were challenged,” Patterson said. “I think some members over here would like us to add other language, but for me, I think we just need to get this done.”