ST. LOUIS (CN) – The head of Missouri’s health administration, which is trying to revoke the license of the state’s last abortion clinic, on Tuesday attacked what he claims is a false narrative pushed by Planned Parenthood to vilify his agency.
Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service, took the stand in the second of what is expected to be a five-day hearing before the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission.
Early in his testimony, Williams attacked Planned Parenthood’s claims that his agency is using the licensing process as a weapon in an attempt to eliminate abortion from a state with a GOP-dominated Legislature.
“While there’s been a false narrative that this has been a top-down initiative, it all starts with Patient 1,” Williams said early in his two-hour testimony in front of Missouri Solicitor General D. John Sauer.
He testified at length about quality assurance concerns surrounding four failed abortions at the St. Louis clinic on women identified as Patient 1, Patient 2, Patient 3 and Patient 12.
Williams discussed his agency’s findings of violations of the so-called “same physician” statute regarding Patient 1, who had two failed abortions before a successful one on the third attempt.
“We think every patient deserves the right to have a physician and not be on an assembly line,” Williams said. “In this case, Patient 1 had three different physicians trying to do an abortion.”
The health chief criticized the clinic’s record-keeping, claiming documents sometimes did not include even the doctors who were present for abortion procedures. He said he only found out that a certain physician was involved in one of the failed attempts through a deposition a couple of weeks ago and not through records obtained directly from the Planned Parenthood earlier this year.
“Two-thirds of errors or bad medical outcomes come from bad communication,” Williams said. “If you can’t distinguish if you were present or if you were there, it is very hard to communicate.”
On Monday, one of Planned Parenthood’s attorneys, Charles Hatfield of Stinson LLP, attacked the state’s investigation, accusing it of “cherry-picking” a few cases out of the many successful procedures clinic doctors routinely perform.
Williams shot back from the stand by crediting his staff for picking up the red flags on Patient 1’s record.
“When we saw that Patient 1 had a failed abortion, the natural question is were there any others?” he said. “And from there, that’s how he got Patient 2.”
Williams criticized the quality of care the patients got, including the alleged failure to find a twin on an ultrasound at 10 weeks and the failure to properly care for Patient 12’s high-risk factors that caused her to suffer life-threatening blood loss.
Despite his criticisms, Williams testified that he believed compromise is possible. He said that two of the doctors who originally declined to cooperate have now been deposed, and the information they provided was helpful in learning what happened with the four instances where abortions went wrong.
Another doctor, who is out of the state, still has not been deposed.
“While these things are very concerning — they are grave — I think going forward they are imminently fixable,” Williams said.
Under cross-examination, Planned Parenthood staff attorney Richard Muniz asked Williams if the clinic’s abortion success rate was in line with the national average, which he said yes.
Muniz questioned Williams about how often Planned Parenthood was inspected by his administration. The attorney pointed out that some non-abortion care centers haven’t been inspected in years compared to annual inspections for Planned Parenthood, and questioned Williams on his agency’s claims that the abortion clinic refused to cooperate with the investigation by not requiring certain doctors to submit to interviews.
Muniz focused a significant portion of the cross questioning Williams about his quality of care criticisms in an attempt to show Planned Parenthood doctors acted appropriately.
In particular, the questioning centered on Patient 12’s blood loss. Muniz pointed out that the majority of blood loss came at a local hospital, which wasn’t investigated by the state.
Muniz finished by asking Williams, who earlier said that he had been a board certified obstetrician since 1991, to confirm that he had never performed an abortion and if that was because he was anti-abortion. Williams answered yes to both questions.
The hearing is expected to last until late Friday afternoon and a decision on the clinic’s license isn’t expected until February at the earliest.
Planned Parenthood sued the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Williams and Republican Governor Mike Parson in May, seeking injunctive relief with its license set to expire. It claims the state has illegally refused to renew the St. Louis clinic’s abortion license until officials complete an investigation into patient complaints.
After several rounds of legal wrangling, St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer ruled that the Administrative Hearing Commission was the proper venue for Planned Parenthood’s petition since it involved state licensing. AHC Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi, who is overseeing the hearing, kept a preliminary injunction in place in June, keeping abortion services available at the clinic until a decision could be made.
If the license denial is ultimately allowed, Missouri would become the first state without any abortion providers since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion up until 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.