Defunding Clinics, GOP Governor "Throws Women Under the Bus" in South Carolina

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Defunding Clinics, GOP Governor "Throws Women Under the Bus" in South Carolina

Facing a tough primary challenge, Gov. Henry McMaster accused of "political stunt" for banning public funds for state's abortion clinics

Planned Parenthood supporters

Planned Parenthood operates of one three South Carolina clinics that provide elective abortions. Though they don't receive state funding, they do treat Medicaid patients. (The All-Nite Images/Flickr/cc)

In what Planned Parenthood is calling a "political stunt," the Republican governor of South Carolina issued an unanticipated executive order on Friday that cuts off public funding for his state's abortion clinics, threatening a variety of healthcare services for Medicaid recipients and others.

Gov. Henry McMaster's order (pdf) bans South Carolina agencies from distributing "state or local funds, whether via grant, contract, state-administered federal funds, or any other form, to any physician or professional medical practice affiliated with an abortion clinic and operating concurrently with—and in the same physical, geographic location, or footprint as—an abortion clinic."

It also instructs the state Medicaid agency to request the federal government's permission to exclude abortion clinics from its provider network. Federal law already prohibits patients from using Medicaid to cover abortions—with exceptions for incest, rape, or when a mother's life is in danger—but this exclusion would prevent Medicaid users from seeking other healthcare services from any clinic that provides abortion services.

Planned Parenthood—which operates one of the few state clinics that provides elective abortions—said that it does not receive Title X funding or any other grants through the state, but it does serve patients who rely on Medicaid for insurance.

"Planned Parenthood South Atlantic has provided annual exams, birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and lifesaving cancer screenings—such as clinical breast exams, and Pap tests—to women, men, and young people in South Carolina for over 50 years," Vicki Ringer, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said, calling the executive order a "political stunt."

"While he throws women under the bus to score political points," said Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, "we will continue to focus on providing the wide-range of accessible, affordable health care services that our patients, and his constituents, rely on. We will not stop fighting to protect our patients' access to health care."

In June, McMaster and the vocally anti-choice Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant—who has announced that he will challenge the governor in the 2018 gubernatorial race—were accused of "beating a dead horse to curry favor" with the state's rightwing voters when McMaster requested the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control "publicly reaffirm" its policy against distributing federal money to abortion providers, and Bryant held a news conference to say he wouldn't support the 2018-19 state budget if it included money for abortion clinics.

McMaster announced the new order in a written statement on Friday, and directly targeted Planned Parenthood.

"There are a variety of agencies, clinics, and medical entities in South Carolina that receive taxpayer funding to offer important women's health and family planning services without performing abortions," he said. "Taxpayer dollars must not directly or indirectly subsidize abortion providers like Planned Parenthood."

The three South Carolina clinics that provide elective abortion services—which, under a state law signed last year by then-Gov. Nikki Haley, can only occur up until a pregnancy reaches 20 weeks—are the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, the Greenville Women's Clinic, and the Charleston Women's Medical Center.

A receptionist at the Greenville clinic told the Post & Courier that its office does not file any insurance or receive any government funding, and a receptionist in Charleston said its clinic would not be affected.

However, Dr. Scott Sullivan, the director of maternal-fetal medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina—which only provides abortions deemed medically necessary by a doctor—told the paper he is "concerned" about the order and unsure how it will impact his facility. The order is being reviewed by the hospital's legal team.

Although no legal challenges to the order have surfaced yet, courts remain split on the subject. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that Arkansas can block Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood. However, in February, a federal judge blocked a similar attempt by Texas. The Texas ruling is being challenged in an appeals court by the state's attorney general.

As that court battle wages on, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and state lawmakers have continued their attempts to restrict access to reproductive healthcare. As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Abbott signed a law that bans state insurance providers from covering any abortions—even in cases of rape, incest, or medical necessity—and requires women to pay extra premiums—or as opponents have described it, "rape insurance"—for plans that cover abortions.

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