JEFFERSON CITY – Health officials on Friday said they're still seeking answers from Missouri's only abortion clinic about why some patients were unaware that they remained pregnant after what the agency described as "failed surgical abortions."
The state Department of Health and Senior Services said a March health inspection of the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic "identified serious concerns, one of those involving the handling of fetal tissue extracted from abortions." The agency said that led it and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to investigate Boyce and Bynum Professional Services, which handles fetal tissue from abortions at Planned Parenthood.
The state health department said Friday in a news release that the focus of the review was "to determine why women remained pregnant after the abortion provider and the laboratory confirmed the presence of fetal parts and tissue in the post-surgical abortion pathological examination."
The agency declined to provide additional details about allegations that some women remained pregnant after receiving abortions at Planned Parenthood and did not specify how many instances it reviewed, citing the ongoing investigation. Planned Parenthood says pregnancies can continue after abortions in extremely rare circumstances.
The health department says the lab provisionally lost its license on May 7, but the state agency's director, Dr. Randall Williams, said Boyce and Bynum was reaccredited Thursday "based on their willingness to fully comply with the investigation."
Boyce and Bynum did not immediately reply to a Friday request for comment, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not immediately comment about the investigation of the lab.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an abortion provider at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, called the health department's announcement a "diversionary tactic." She said Williams is "revealing his lack of knowledge and experience with abortion care, and is fearmongering in order to justify his efforts to ban abortion in Missouri."
The state is still investigating the St. Louis clinic, but officials have been unable to interview some physicians — a major sticking point in an ongoing fight over whether the health department will renew the clinic's license to perform abortions. Planned Parenthood has said those physicians are not staffers, so it can't force them to be interviewed.
In its Friday release, Missouri's health agency defined a "failed surgical abortion" as a "very rare complication--in which a woman remains pregnant after a surgical procedure" that "can usually be detected by the examination of fetal tissue confirming the abortion was performed."
Dr. Cara Heuser, of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Health, said a surgical abortion that still leaves a woman "completely pregnant" is "not something that happens." She said the state could be referring to abortions in which part of the placenta remains behind, but that can happen with any pregnancy, no matter how it ends.
"The anti-choice groups will say things like 'botched' abortions or like 'failed' abortions, and I've always been unclear what they're talking about," she said. "The idea that you would start a procedure and get halfway through and not finish it is preposterous."
Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women, which operates clinics in Seattle, Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, said its consent forms tell patients that there is a less than 1 in 500 chance that would have a pregnancy continue after a surgical abortion and need another procedure. She deemed it "highly unlikely."
She said issues sometimes arise that affect procedures such as women having multiple pregnancies that were not apparent, double uteri or ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg attaches itself somewhere other than in a woman's uterus. But having cases in which another procedure is required does not mean a clinic is offering substandard care, she said.
"This feels like people in power have decided that they don't want abortion in their state and by golly, they are going to go to whatever lengths, because they have the power, to make sure that providers aren't able to provide that care," Burkhart said.