A S.C. House investigation into the state’s three abortion clinics is drawing to a close without any findings of criminal activity, lawmakers said Tuesday.
However, those clinics could pay higher fees as the state’s health department tries to cover its costs to inspect the facilities.
The clinics now pay a base fee of $350 plus $25 for each procedure room for inspections. Follow-up inspections cost $200 plus $25 for each procedure room.
The fees that the clinics pay fall short of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s costs to perform those inspections by more than $1,400, Shelly Kelly, the agency’s health-regulation director, told a panel of state representatives Tuesday.
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Kelly added the agency is in the process of reviewing those fees.
Last year, DHEC’s Bureau of Health Facilities Licensing updated the fees that it charges facilities – from tattoo parlors and adult day-care centers to hospitals and nursing homes — for health inspections. Generally, those fees cover the agency’s inspection costs, a DHEC spokesman said.
But Kelly said Tuesday that DHEC has hired a new nurse and increased the number of patient charts that it reviews in its inspections of abortion clinics, increasing the cost of those inspections. Those changes came in response to a state legislative audit that said DHEC had failed to inspect abortion clinics consistently.
That audit led Republican lawmakers to request the House panel probe the state’s abortion clinics.
Also driving the lawmakers’ concerns were accusations by an anti-abortion group that Planned Parenthood illegally was selling fetal tissue donated after abortions. The nonprofit healthcare provider denied those claims, adding its one S.C. clinic does not allow tissue donation.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley also called on DHEC to inspect the clinics – for the first in five years. The inspections resulted in violations, $10,250 in fines and the temporary suspension of two clinics’ licenses. However, all three clinics remain open, having taken steps to resolve the violations.
State Rep. Gary Clary, the Pickens Republican who chairs the House panel, said Tuesday its work should wrap up next month with a summary of what was learned in its hearings. After the report is complete, committee members can recommend policy changes. Clary said the panel’s review was thorough and has led to improvements in the inspection process.
Democratic representatives complained the now-three-month probe achieved little besides debunking claims the abortion providers are breaking the law.
Noting no allegations of criminal activity were uncovered, state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, criticized lawmakers who asked for the investigation, accusing them of playing politics.
"Words matter," Smith said. “As members of the General Assembly, when we say things, it matters.
"You're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts," said Smith, adding "fear mongering" drove the probe, which has shown allegations of criminal activity are "absolutely devoid of any credit or value whatsoever."
State Rep. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, who called Monday for state-funded security at abortion clinics, noted the S.C. ties of the alleged shooter at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic last week, asking for a moment of silence for the three victims.
“That easily could have happened here,” she said.