MO Attorney General sues Planned Parenthood, using video from right-wing group as evidence

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey is suing Planned Parenthood Great Plains for “trafficking minors out of state to obtain abortions without parental consent.”

“This is the beginning of the end for Planned Parenthood in the State of Missouri,” Bailey wrote in a press release. “What they conceal and conspire to do in the dark of night has now been uncovered. I am filing suit to ensure it never happens again.”

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey talks with the News-leader at his office in Springfield on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey talks with the News-leader at his office in Springfield on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.

As evidence of this, Bailey cites video recorded by hidden camera from the conservative group Project Veritas, which has previously been found to use deceptive tactics and edited videos to attack organizations sometimes aligned with liberal causes. Its ethics have been under scrutiny, and its founder, James O’Keefe, was ousted from the organization after accusations of misconduct.

In the video, the Project Veritas cameraman poses as the uncle of a 13-year-old girl who is pregnant and seeks an abortion without the knowledge of her parents. This girl does not exist in reality, but the Project Veritas representative continues to question Planned Parenthood employees as to how his “niece” could obtain an abortion.

In an emailed statement, Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said that they “had not yet been served and the document does not yet appear to have been filed,” as of Thursday afternoon.

“At this point, we’re relying on the attorney general’s social media posts to review any purported lawsuit,” Wales said.

Wales also said that the video being used as evidence in this case “was filmed without the staff’s knowledge or consent. It is heavily doctored and edited, as is often the case with these extreme anti-abortion actors.”

“This is a press release dressed up as legal action from an unelected attorney general,” Wales said. “It is based on ‘evidence’ from fraudulent, extreme anti-abortion actors, who claim to be ‘journalists.’”

At the heart of Bailey’s argument is the accusation that underage girls were “trafficked” across state lines to Kansas, where abortion is legal. In an emailed statement, Planned Parenthood Great Plains made it clear that it does not provide any form of transportation to its patients, regardless of age or location.

Planned Parenthood's Springfield location, which does not provide abortion services, is at 626 E. Battlefield St.
Planned Parenthood's Springfield location, which does not provide abortion services, is at 626 E. Battlefield St.

Additionally, Kansas state law requires that minors seeking abortion services “have parental consent or complete a judicial bypass process, in which a Kansas judge issues an order authorizing the minor to receive care.”

The rest of Bailey’s lawsuit relies on health violations that occurred at a clinic in Columbia in 2018, and a violation found by the Administrative Hearing Commission in 2020 as evidence of a continued pattern of wrongdoing by the reproductive healthcare provider.

Some Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly continue efforts to ensure that Planned Parenthood receives no Medicaid funds. In a January hearing of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, a representative of Project Veritas spoke in support of legislation seeking to do so, cosponsored by state Sens. Nick Schroer and Mary Elizabeth Coleman.

Jordan Weldon, a representative of Project Veritas from New York, testified to the validity of the video in question, which purports to show a Planned Parenthood employee discussing taking minors across state lines to administer abortions.

State Sen. Barbara Washington, who has a degree in journalism, questioned whether Weldon or the undercover operative who shot the video attended journalism school, to which Weldon answered no.

“Journalist is not a loose term that is on anybody who has a video or a camera,” Washington said at the hearing.

More: Missouri Senators debate denying Planned Parenthood eligibility as a Medicaid provider

The Missouri House voted to give preliminary approval to a bill sponsored by Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, seeking to defund Planned Parenthood on Wednesday, despite objections from Democratic lawmakers, who pointed to the wide array of services offered by the reproductive healthcare provider.

Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City, shared her personal experience as a patient of Planned Parenthood. Doctors removed precancerous cells that could have developed into cervical cancer, but this procedure required many follow-up appointments to ensure all the cells were removed.

Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City
Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City

During the time Weber needed follow-up care, she lost the job that had provided her with health insurance. She turned to Planned Parenthood, which provided such great care for Weber that she chose to continue seeing them even after she had insurance again.

“This is the life-saving care that Planned Parenthood provides to Missourians each and every day,” Weber said.

Others spoke to the rapidly rising case counts of congenital syphilis in Missouri. In 2021, there were 63 cases reported, the highest on record since 1994. Treating sexually transmitted infections is a service provided by Planned Parenthood.

This is not the first time that lawmakers have tried to defund Planned Parenthood. In 2020, The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of the reproductive healthcare provider after lawmakers refused to allow it to receive Medicaid reimbursement payments in the state budget.

Planned Parenthood won a similar victory in 2022 after a Cole County court judge ruled, again, that lawmakers could not block the health care provider from receiving Medicaid reimbursements. The decision was appealed, but just last month, the Missouri Supreme Court again struck down the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood through the budget.

Following this defeat for Bailey at the Missouri Supreme Court, there is speculation that his lawsuit is politically motivated, as he is hoping to retain his office in the 2024 election, in which abortion is sure to be a key issue. His statement following the filing of the lawsuit indicated his desire to “eradicate” the reproductive healthcare provider.

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

Wales, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which hasn’t received any state funds in the two years since the latest lawsuit was filed, expressed the organization's intention to continue providing reproductive health care in Missouri.

“We will continue following state and federal laws and proudly providing Missourians with the compassionate sexual and reproductive care that remains available to them in a state with a total abortion ban,” Wales said.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri AG sues Planned Parenthood for alleged underage abortions