Politics & Government

Top S.C. Republicans aim to block tax money from abortion clinics

South Carolina’s top two elected officials publicly are seeking to ensure no state or federal tax dollars go to S.C. abortion providers.

Critics say the Republican pair are beating a dead horse to curry favor with the GOP’s right wing before next year’s primary for governor.

In a Monday letter, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster asked the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to “publicly reaffirm” its policy against distributing federal family planning dollars to abortion providers.

On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, held a news conference warning lawmakers he will not sign off on the 2018-19 state budget, which takes effect 13 months from now, if it includes money for abortion clinics.

South Carolina’s three abortion providers get no money directly from the state. Nor do they get federal family dollars that flow through the state. Those grants cannot be spent on abortions, under federal law.

However, the clinics – including one operated by Planned Parenthood in Columbia – are reimbursed by Medicaid for abortions performed because a pregnancy threatens the mother’s life or resulted from rape or incest.

Bryant challenged lawmakers Tuesday to remove that Medicaid money from the state budget that takes effect July 1, 2018, saying “anyone providing abortions should not have business with the state.”

Medicaid, bankrolled mostly by federal dollars, paid more than $437,000 to reimburse the cost of 222 abortions in South Carolina between July 2010 and 2015, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services. None of those abortions were performed by Planned Parenthood.

S.C. Democratic Party chair Trav Robertson accused McMaster and Bryant of “playing politics with women’s health.”

“It’s really just asinine, quite frankly,” Robertson said. “The only reason they’re doing this is to get attention and favor with their base.”

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic public affairs director Vicki Ringer called the actions by McMaster and Bryant a “political stunt.”

McMaster, a Richland Republican, is seeking election for his first full term in 2018. Bryant is a potential GOP candidate for governor as well.

Their efforts come more than a month after GOP President Donald Trump overturned a short-lived order, signed during the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency, that temporarily barred states from withholding federal family planning grants from abortion providers.

Those grants can pay for birth control, cancer screenings and tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases – but not abortions.

“Health care services related to pregnancy care, fertility and cancer screenings may be offered in many ways, without state subsidization of abortion providers,” McMaster wrote in his letter to state health regulators.

Bryant, one of the Legislature’s strongest pro-life voices for more than a decade, said his position has nothing to do with politics. “I’ve been a pro-life activist my entire life.”

But, Bryant acknowledged, if he refuses to sign off on the 2018-19 budget, Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, could sign instead.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks