South Carolina will reject almost $14 million in federal money for health care services this year as part of an effort by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster and the GOP-controlled Legislature to defund Planned Parenthood’s two clinics — in Columbia and Charleston.
But that step won’t prevent taxpayer dollars from reaching the much-maligned abortion provider. That decision is up to the federal government and the courts.
During a special session Wednesday, the S.C. House voted 77-31 to uphold McMaster’s veto striking that “family planning” money – plus another $2.2 million in state dollars — from the state’s $8 billion general fund budget that went in effect July 1.
Just a fraction of that money goes to Planned Parenthood — $82,000 last year — and all of it pays for non-abortion services, including birth control, gynecological exams and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
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However, McMaster contends no S.C. taxpayer money should go to help subsidize the operations of an abortion provider. His critics — among them Democrats and women’s health groups — accused the governor Wednesday of playing politics with health care to score political points.
“It’s sickening the way our governor is playing with the lives of thousands of South Carolinians who need access to family-planning services,” said state Rep. James Smith of Columbia, McMaster’s Democratic opponent for governor in the November election. “It’s totally dishonest. You’ve got to care more about the people of this state and their future than your own political future.”
Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic spokeswoman Vicki Ringer said McMaster’s push to defund Planned Parenthood punishes the men, women and teens who rely on its clinics for important services.
“They don’t come to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement,” Ringer said. “They come for quality health care.”
McMaster has said S.C. residents can get those same services from clinics that don’t also provide abortions. The Columbia Republican’s veto slashed funding for other clinics in order to eliminate Planned Parenthood’s public money. But he signed an executive order in July that more narrowly targeted Planned Parenthood and provided state dollars for the other clinics.
“The governor has taken decisive steps to ensure that every family-planning provider in this state that does not provide abortions can keep their funding,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said.
The vote Wednesday means the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services must spend from its $231 million reserve fund to replace the nearly $16 million in family-planning dollars that lawmakers slashed from the state budget.
“The funding for this goes to essential health services,” said Ashley Crary Lidow, associate director of policy and government relations for the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network. “In our state, where so many people are living in poverty and are still uninsured and struggling to access healthcare, we should be making sure those programs are fully funded.”
In the meantime, McMaster and Planned Parenthood are embroiled in a legal battle over the governor’s executive order booting the abortion provider from the state’s Medicaid network. Coupled with McMaster’s veto, that order would cut off Planned Parenthood’s ability to treat Medicaid patients.
McMaster has said he wants the nonprofit to leave South Carolina.
But Planned Parenthood has challenged his executive order’s constitutionality in court, and a judge temporarily blocked McMaster’s order from taking effect.
‘This is a sham’
Also Wednesday, the House — by a voice vote — upheld McMaster’s veto of a one-year budget law giving South Carolina’s public colleges and universities more freedom to spend their “other fund” money as they saw fit.
That money — $3.7 billion in total — comes from tuition, gifts, athletic contracts and student fees, not as part of the state’s budget.
McMaster and the state agency that regulates S.C. colleges Monday railed against the one-year law and a concurrent budget amendment that removed the “other fund” money entirely from the state’s budget.
Removing that money, McMaster said, was a step backwards for transparency, arguing it could open the door for misspending, even corruption.
House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, told lawmakers Wednesday the “other fund” money technically is not tax dollars and, therefore, is not money the Legislature can spend.
“Is that taxpayer dollars or is that your dollars and your choice where you send it?” White said on the House floor. “It went from your checking account to USC, Clemson (University) or Francis Marion (University).”
White accused outside, “third-party” interests of using social media and other tactics to pressure lawmakers to sustain McMaster’s veto.
Early Wednesday, House lawmakers – including House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York – met with McMaster at the Governor’s Mansion. There, McMaster urged lawmakers to sustain Planned Parenthood and college vetoes.
White did not attend.
The S.C. Commission on Higher Education also urged lawmakers to sustain the veto, warning less state oversight could mean skyrocketing tuition costs and debt.
White’s response: The commission should better police itself.
“(As) my good friend Lindsey Graham said, ‘Y’all got shamed.’ This is a sham,” White said.
“You’ve got social media, even a state institution attacking lawmakers,” White continued. “Next year, might be a bit tough on them.”