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Planned Parenthood asks Missouri judge to throw out AG suit based on undercover video

Andrew Bailey, newly appointed Missouri Attorney General, speaks to the media on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, after being sworn in as the state’s 44th attorney general at the Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City, Mo.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Andrew Bailey, newly appointed Missouri Attorney General, speaks to the media on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, after being sworn in as the state’s 44th attorney general at the Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City, Mo.

The undercover video from Project Veritas allegedly shows Planned Parenthood staff telling a man pretending to have a 13-year-old pregnant niece how they could help her obtain an abortion out of state.

Planned Parenthood is asking a Missouri judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the state’s attorney general alleging the clinic is transporting minors out of state for abortions.

The lawsuit was filed based on an undercover video filmed by a man affiliated with a right-wing group pretending to be the uncle of a 13-year-old in need of an abortion whose parents couldn’t know.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey wrote on social media Monday that the lawsuit filed in February is the latest step in a years-long attempt to “drive Planned Parenthood out of Missouri.”

“It is time to eradicate Planned Parenthood once and for all to end this pattern of abhorrent, unethical, and illegal behavior,” he wrote.

Planned Parenthood continues to argue it has not broken the law, pointing to the “fictitious” nature of the video.

Judge Brouck Jacobs presided over the hearing Monday afternoon in Boone County. The lawsuit was brought against Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which has Missouri clinics in the Kansas City region and Columbia.

“There is no allegation that any child, any minor has been taken across state lines; there’s no allegation that any parent has complained,” John Andrew Hirth argued on behalf of Planned Parenthood. “There’s no allegation that any abortion has been performed either in Missouri or outside of Missouri, with or without parental consent here. The whole conversation is hypothetical.”

Jacobs asked Kathryn Monroe, representing the attorney general’s office, if she agreed.

Monroe said while there was no 13-year-old girl in the video, and the man’s questions were hypothetical, the employee at Planned Parenthood thought the situation was real.

“There was admitted conduct about what they would do in this actual situation,” she said.

The video, captured in December at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Kansas City area, was later posted on social media by Project Veritas, a self-proclaimed conservative news organization founded in 2010 that often conducts undercover stings that are ultimately disproven. Its now-ousted founder, James O’Keefe, is currently under investigation by New York authorities, and the organization has a long history of spreading claims that are later discredited.

In 2015, Project Veritas released a video purporting to show Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissues from abortions in violation of federal law. That led to an investigation by Missouri lawmakers that was unable to substantiate any such sales by Missouri-based Planned Parenthood affiliates.

In the video from Kansas City, the made-up girl’s parents couldn’t know about the abortion, the man secretly taping the interaction for Project Veritas told the Planned Parenthood employees. Staff then directed him to their affiliate clinics in Kansas where they said he could “bypass” parental consent.

When the man asked how often girls go out of state for abortions, the Planned Parenthood employee said it happens “every day.”

Monroe pointed to this quote, saying it shows Planned Parenthood could realistically be helping real minors access abortion now and in the future.

The attorney general’s office pointed to Missouri law which states: “No one shall intentionally cause aid or assist a minor to obtain an abortion.”

That law was written before the state’s trigger law went into place in June 2022, effectively making all abortions — with the expectation of cases where the mother’s life is at risk — illegal.

Missouri doesn’t have explicit laws requiring parental consent for minors getting abortions in other states, nor does it prohibit minors from going to other states to get abortions.

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Great Plains said in February that they do not provide any form of transportation directly to any patients, regardless of age or where they live. They also described the video, taken without staff’s knowledge, as “heavily doctored and edited.”

Kansas law requires physicians to either obtain parental consent or to go through the judicial bypass process where a judge can authorize a minor to get an abortion without parental consent.

Hirth pointed to a 2007 case, Planned Parenthood v. Nixon, in which he said the court found that information or counseling given by Planned Parenthood — such as laying out a patients’ options in another state — would be considered free speech and would not be classified as aiding or assisting in abortions.

But the attorney general’s office argued that the Missouri clinic still aided in a hypothetical abortion, pointing to a point in the video where the employee says “we can cut off our letterhead so it doesn’t even say where she was,” in reference to a doctor’s note in order to miss school. The employee also says that Planned Parenthood often sets up hotels for those who need to travel out of state.

It’s not clear if “we” implies that specific clinic or Planned Parenthood in Kansas.

Monroe argued these offers represented “an active attempt to conceal where a minor was.”

“If you call and let them know what’s going on, they’ll do whatever they can to help you,” the employee said, referring to the Kansas clinic locations.

The video does not show the employee physically setting up any doctor’s notes or calling to set up a hotel.

“The issue here is about conduct that happened in Kansas or is alleged to have happened in Kansas,” Hirth said. “Or it was alleged to happen in Kansas, hypothetically in the future.”

Hirth added that medical offices are not supposed to reveal what medical procedure a student misses school for regardless of the reason.

The hearing lasted about 40 minutes, at which point Jacobs said he took the issue under advisement.

The Project Veritas video has been widely shared by Missouri Republican lawmakers, and was referenced on the House and Senate floors during debates over a bill seeking to end Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood clinics in Missouri, which do not perform abortions but do provide services like cancer screenings, STI testing and contraceptives.

That bill eventually passed despite Democrats’ attempts to kill it by filibustering. Gov. Mike Parson signed it into law this spring.

Hanna Sumpter, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement Monday that while the lawsuit is based on hypotheticals, she believes the harms of such a court filing are real.

“Ultimately, these attacks from anti-abortion groups and politicians hurt real patients –” she wrote. “Shaming and stigmatizing the safe and effective healthcare providers and services they need.

This story was originally published by The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio

Anna Spoerre