Protest at Pathology Services Inc. centers on questions surrounding handling of tissue from unborn babies

About three dozen people lined the sidewalk in front of Pathology Services Inc. this weekend to protest the company's business with Planned Parenthood. They also wanted answers to what the lab does to fetal remains from abortions after pathology examinations.

Last month at a hearing of the Missouri Senate's Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life, which is investigating how Planned Parenthood operates in Missouri, it was revealed that Brentwood-based Pathology Services Inc. is the third-party provider of pathology services for abortions performed at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.

"All we know is that babies are brought here," said Mary Maschmeier, founder of Defenders of the Unborn, a local pro-life organization that sponsored the Sept. 5 protest. "What do they do to the babies? Where do they go from here?"

State law requires that a "representative sample" of tissue removed at the time of an abortion must be sent to a board-eligible or certified pathologist. Pathology Services must file copies of the pathology report with the Department of Health and Senior Services and Planned Parenthood.

Regulations also require that all tissue obtained from abortions, except tissue submitted to a pathologist for analysis, is placed in a preservative solution and transported in a leak-proof container to a facility with a waste sterilizer or incinerator approved by the Department of Natural Resources.

In a phone interview with the Review, the operations director for Pathology Services Inc., who did not want to give her name out of fear for her safety, said that the fetal tissue sample the lab receives from each abortion is sent in a sealed container filled with a formaldehyde preservative. She said she believes the lab receives all of the tissue -- not just a sample.

"It's important to note that the tissue is not fresh," she said. "This is not usable tissue," meaning that in most instances it cannot be used for research.

Once the tissue is examined, it is placed back into a sealed container and picked up by a licensed biohazard medical disposal company, she said. The sample is signed for when it is picked up, and the pathology lab receives a copy of a report indicating the tissue was disposed according to state guidelines.

The Department of Health and Senior Services, however, does not monitor what Planned Parenthood or Pathology Services Inc. does with the tissue once it's been examined.

Fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood is a small part of Pathology Services' overall business, said the operations director. The lab's website says it specializes in surgical pathology and cytology and has served doctors and hospitals in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa for more than 40 years.

"We take tissue from any surgical procedure and look at it to make sure there are no abnormalities," she said, including examples such as cancer biopsies or miscarriage.

In some cases, patients have requested to receive their child's remains after miscarriage or abortion, said the operations director, and accommodations are made.

Women who have lost a child due to miscarriage or stillbirth have the right to request their child's remains for a private burial, according to state law. But the law is silent on whether a woman can make the same request after an abortion.

"There is nothing in the law that compels (Planned Parenthood) to accommodate a request from an induced abortion," said pro-life lobbyist Deacon Sam Lee of Campaign Life Missouri.

At last month's Senate hearing, a manager with the Department of Health and Senior Services, said it discovered during an inspection of Planned Parenthood earlier this year that not all pathology reports were being sent to the department. Planned Parenthood was given time to correct the deficiency, but no other action was taken.

There was a miscommunication between the lab, Planned Parenthood and the state, explained Pathology Services' operations director. Once the lab was aware of the lapse in reporting, it took steps to correct the issue.

Pathology Services' operations director said that she views the lab's role as a service that must be provided according to state law, as long as abortions are allowed.

"I know people feel strongly about this, and we treat it like anything else — with the utmost care and respect," she said. Acknowledging that abortion is a sensitive subject for many, she added, "I have said lots of prayers about this."

Since the company's name became public, protesters have called the lab and showed up at the office, making workers feel scared for their safety. "It's been such a circus since this came up," she said. "It's turned our lives upside down."

As the protesters lined up outside Pathology Services this weekend, numerous drivers honked their horns in support. A few others shouted from their cars against the assembly.

Sally Harris, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Gerard Majella in Kirkwood, said she's trying to encourage others to speak up about life issues. "I know so many people who are pro-life; I think they're just afraid," to get involved. "I was just reading Matthew Kelly's 'Rediscover Catholicism,' and learned that one of the most used phrases in the Bible is 'Be not afraid.' We shouldn't be afraid to speak up."

"I've never been this close to abortion," said Father Jack Sieftert, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen, which is less than a mile from the pathology lab. "It just makes you want to cry. I keep going back to what Mother Teresa said. If a society can destroy its children, what's left of it? We need to fight with love and charity for the protection of the unborn. There's just too much at stake." 

Get involved

Sept. 12: National Day of Remembrance for aborted children. Visit www.abortionmemorials.com.

Sept. 15: Rally for Life, 3-5 p.m at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. Visit www.mocatholic.org. The Respect Life Apostolate is coordinating bus transportation. Call (314) 792-7555.

Sept. 19: Defenders of the Unborn will host a noon rededication of the marker at the site in Calvary Cemetery (5239 West Florissant Ave. in north St. Louis) where babies lost from abortion are buried. The local event marks the National Day of Remembrance. Visit www.defenders-stl.com.

Sept. 23: The 40 Days for Life campaign begins. See www.coalitionforlifestl.com.

Sept. 24: National Day of Student Action, hosted by Students for Life of America. Visit www.studentsforlife.org.

Oct. 25: 39th annual Respect Life Convention, "Souls on Fire for Christ." Keynote speaker: Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life. The day includes Mass, workshops and luncheon. Visit www.stlrespectlife.org to register. 

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