The St. Louis Fire Department recently released a list of emergency calls to the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central West End as part of a settlement in a lawsuit filed by an anti-abortion group.
The document shows 58 emergency calls to the health clinic from Jan. 1, 2009, to April 6, 2016, or about one call every 46 days. It does not specify whether calls are related to abortions. More than half of the calls were for general concerns including allergic reactions, fainting, falls, seizures, psychiatric issues and illnesses.
Mary Kogut, CEO of Planned Parenthood St. Louis, said there were about 135,000 patient visits during that time period, plus staff and visitors to the building. In addition to abortion, the clinic provides routine medical care to men and women, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease tests, permanent birth control procedures and counseling.
“I think it is a sign of a quality provider to really know when patients are in need of care greater than we can provide,” Kogut said.
There were 23 emergency calls from the clinic for hemorrhages, or heavy bleeding, which is a potential complication of abortion. Hemorrhaging can also be triggered by other disorders treated by the clinic.
If every case of hemorrhaging were linked to an abortion, the complication rate would total less than 0.1 percent of the more than 35,000 abortions performed at the clinic since 2009.
The general rate of serious complications for abortion is less than 1 percent, or similar to the rate for colonoscopies, according to a study published in 2015 in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.
About one-third of abortions are induced by medications. The most common surgical abortion procedure takes 15 to 30 minutes under local anesthesia.
“Abortion care is basic health care, some of the safest health care that we provide anywhere in any capacity,” said Dr. David Eisenberg, medical director of Planned Parenthood St. Louis.
Deborah Myers of Operation Rescue, based in Wichita, Kan., sued the fire department in 2014 seeking the ambulance reports, citing the Missouri Sunshine Law that governs access to public records.
The group has requested emergency call records from abortion clinics nationwide to bolster complaints they file with state health departments.
The local lawsuit was settled in May with the release of the list of ambulance calls.
Under Missouri law, incident reports generated by police or fire departments that list the date, time, location and “immediate facts and circumstances” of an emergency call are considered public information.
St. Louis attorneys argued that the reports are protected by federal patient privacy laws and state law preventing the release of information that can be used to identify someone’s medical treatment. The document released in the settlement does not include identifying information.
Myers’ attorney Daniel Baker of Sedalia, Mo., called the number of 911 calls from the clinic “astounding.” “It’s macabre to know that this is going to continue, that there will be another ambulance in a couple months,” he said.