Period - Not End of Story: Coverage of Alleged 'Tracking' of Women's Cycles by MO Health Dept. Misleading

Earlier this week, there was an alarming report out of Missouri:

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Latest on a hearing over state efforts to revoke the license for Missouri’s only abortion clinic (all times local):

5:20 p.m.

A top Missouri Democrat is calling for an investigation of the health director, who said he tracked menstrual periods of Planned Parenthood patients.

State House Minority Crystal Quade on Tuesday said Republican Gov. Mike Parson must immediately review if patient privacy was compromised.

Quade added that she’s not sure if Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams is fit to serve.

Williams testified Tuesday that he requested a spreadsheet that included the dates of the last periods of a St. Louis clinic’s patients.


Outrage ensued. Why on earth was this creepy MAN invading women’s privacy in such a way? What a sick dystopian fetish! Damn the patriarchy!

WaPo: Missouri Didn’t Track Planned Parenthood Patients’ Periods to Protect Women. It Was to Control Them

NYT: Dispute Over Data on Women’s Periods Shadows Hearing for Last Missouri Abortion Clinic

Salon: Missouri Tracked Planned Parenthood’s Patients’ Periods During Governor’s Anti-Abortion Push

Even former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (unseated in 2018 by Josh Hawley) weighed in:

My own take, upon hearing the initial report was that it raised serious questions and ought to be investigated further. But, of course, there’s always more to the story than fits the headlines. Yesterday, Missouri State Senator Bob Onder attempted to set the record straight:

Onder, a physician, was one of the authors of the bill which imposed significant regulations on abortion clinics and was a strong proponent of Missouri’s “heartbeat bill,” passed earlier this year.  As noted above, Missouri’s lone abortion clinic (the Planned Parenthood location in the City of St. Louis) is in the midst of a major legal battle regarding its licensure:


The hearing is the latest development in a protracted legal battle. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services first decided not to renew the clinic’s abortion license as of June 1 after an inspection in March found problems, including “at least one incident in which patient safety was gravely compromised,” “failed surgical abortions in which women remained pregnant,” and an alleged failure to obtain “informed consent.”

It was during the course of the hearing that the “alarming” testimony was adduced. Only, as Michael J. New over at National Review notes, those headlines were misleading (emphasis mine):

Here’s what really happened.  During the initial inspection of the Planned Parenthood clinic, Missouri officials were concerned that the state had not been receiving complication reports for failed surgical abortions, as required by law. To isolate such cases, a department investigator analyzed abortion reports filed by Planned Parenthood and identified 67 instances in which the same woman had multiple abortions during the same year. These data were then narrowed to identify a specific case in which a failed abortion was not reported by Planned Parenthood — a violation of state law.

Only then was the case shared with Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Per state law, this individual abortion report, like all other abortion reports, contained data on the patient’s last normal menses. Williams never possessed a spreadsheet of patient information, and no patient data were ever released. The doctor obtained data from one patient, data required to be included on her abortion report. This is far from the way that this information was portrayed in reporting on the hearing.

Oh. So you mean…some creepy MAN with a weird period fetish wasn’t hoarding spreadsheet data over women’s menstrual cycles after all? Well, it’s Missouri – he probably would if he could! /sarc (Brief aside: I invite any of my female readers to recall a time where they received medical care and weren’t asked the date of their last period — even when the care in question had zero to do with one’s menstrual cycle, e.g., splitting open one’s chin, spinal stenosis. I suppose this means all medical care providers are privacy invaders.)
Well, I’m glad we cleared that up! Sounds like calls for Dr. Williams’ ouster might have been a bit premature.
A gentle reminder to us all: Don’t take headlines at face value.

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