South Carolina Follows Texas And Ohio In Using Complex Rules To Shut Down Abortion Providers

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) CREDIT: EVAN VUCCI, AP
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) CREDIT: EVAN VUCCI, AP

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control suspended licenses for two abortion clinics on Friday, the Planned Parenthood of South Atlantic in Columbia and the Greenville Women’s Clinic in Greenville, according to The Post and Courier. If the clinics are not found to be under compliance by September 28, they will be shut down. There are only three abortion clinics in the entire state. The third abortion clinic, Charleston Women’s Medical Clinic in West Ashley, had four minor violations.

In late August, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) asked the department chief to take a closer look at the state’s abortion clinics. Haley said she wanted to make Planned Parenthood clinics a priority in this review of practices. The request came after a video was released by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group in June, which showed a Planned Parenthood staff member discussing a fetal tissue sample that came under fire from conservatives.

Haley wrote in her letter to Hiegel, “Over the past weeks, I have been shocked by recent accounts of unethical practices at clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood, particularly those regarding the sale of human fetal tissue.” Republican state legislators asked the Legislative Audit Council to investigate whether the Medical University of South Carolina uses fetal body parts for research, which of the hospitals provide abortions, and whether hospitals are given fetal body parts, according to the Post and Courier. Although fetal tissue donation has been heavily criticized by anti-abortion advocates, it has been legal for decades.

Some of the violations at both clinics included performing abortions sooner than 60 minutes after an ultrasound, and disposing of fetuses in landfills instead of incinerating or burying fetuses, as required by state law. Fetal tissue is not used for medical research in the state, according to Planned Parenthood.

As many as 27 states in the U.S. require a patient to wait a specific amount of time before an abortion is performed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which is usually 24 hours and state legislatures are continue to offer bills that would mandate state counseling and wait times before abortions are performed. South Dakota has a particularly onerous wait time. Patients must wait 72 hours, but holidays and weekends are not counted toward the 72 hours.

The majority of South Carolina voters polled by Planned Parenthood Health Systems did not support 20-week abortion bans once they were better informed about why patients seek abortions at this stage, which are rare, such as discovering fetal anomalies. Although Republican lawmakers have pushed for legislation such as criminalizing an abortion after 20 weeks, a measure defining life as beginning at conception, and a bill that would require abortion providers to receive admitting privileges from local hospitals, none of those bills passed.

After these recent victories, Jenny Black, CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, is worried that the recent suspensions were politically motivated, and said that less than a year ago the health department found the Columbia clinic be 100 percent compliant with state law.

Black said to The Post and Courier:

We are deeply concerned that this investigation is politically motivated and that this political interference could prevent some women from getting high-quality care …. We will quickly take all necessary steps to resume normal operations for the patients that rely on us every day.

Using inspections as a tactic to shut down abortion clinics is not unprecedented. Arizona passed a law that allows the state to conduct surprise inspections of abortion facilities last year. The state would not have to obtain a warrant. Abortion providers say that it’s common for anti-abortion lawmakers to push for dozens of new complicated abortion restrictions, enabling activists to begin filing complaints against abortion clinics, which then gets state agencies involved. There can be draconian penalties for failing to comply with what are often complicated restrictions that may even go against a doctor’s judgment. The number of clinics in Texas has fallen dramatically after clinics failed to comply with a law requiring doctors to obtain admitting privileges from hospitals, which medical experts oppose, saying the law won’t actually improve women’s health. Reproductive rights advocates say that the law will leave patients with only eight abortion providers in the very populous Lone Star State. Ohio’s Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers law has also reduced the number of clinics in the state. TARP is provision passed in the 2013 budget, which prevents abortion clinics from getting transfer agreements with public institutions, which in effect, stops them from linking up with large teaching hospitals associated with state universities. Over the past two years since it became law, half of the state’s abortion clinics have been forced to close due to the law.