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House panel to investigate relationship between SC agencies, abortion clinics

Lisa Read of Lexington and her 13-month-old daughter Hadley Read joined more than a hundred protesters gathered outside Planned Parenthood in Columbia Saturday.
Lisa Read of Lexington and her 13-month-old daughter Hadley Read joined more than a hundred protesters gathered outside Planned Parenthood in Columbia Saturday. mbergen@thestate.com

A House oversight panel voted 9-7 Wednesday to launch an investigation into state agencies that interact with S.C. abortion clinics.

House members will investigate the state agencies that interact with Planned Parenthood after videos surfaced showing some of its staffers discussing selling fetal tissue.

The S.C. House Legislative Oversight Committee agreed to look into state agencies including the Department of Health and Environmental Control, which regulates abortion clinics, and Health and Human Services, the state’s Medicaid agency.

Lawmakers want to know if any taxpayer money is being used on abortions. None is, a spokesperson for the agency said, adding federal health-care program does not pay for elective abortions.

“I want a fair and thorough investigation just to find out exactly what is South Carolina’s role in what is going on with all the alleged violations of Planned Parenthood,” said state Rep. Donna Hicks, R-Spartanburg.

State Rep. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, said the investigation was political. There is no evidence to support an investigation into state agencies’ involvement with S.C. abortion clinics, she said. “We are still going to have to spend time and energy and tax dollars on the issue,” said McLeod, who voted against the investigation.

State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, said there was no evidence of violations by Planned Parenthood.

Both McLeod and Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, also questioned whether the newly formed committee, with limited resources, should devote time to the investigation. But Ballentine voted in favor of the investigation.

“Planned Parenthood is wrong, and selling fetal parts for profit is beyond reprehensible,” Ballentine said. “Different from other reviews of entire agencies, this will focus specifically on whether S.C. tax dollars are funding this type of horrific practice.”

State Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York, was the only Republican to vote against the investigation. Norman said that dividing the committee’s time is not the right thing to do. “We’ve got an obligation to 10 agencies, and it’s going to be a struggle,” said Norman, adding other groups already are investigating the state’s three abortion clinics.

Earlier this month, Gov. Nikki Haley asked DHEC to investigate practices at the clinics. Attorney General Alan Wilson is also planning to look into Medicaid payments to the clinics. More than 35 lawmakers also have asked the S.C. Legislative Audit Council to review how much state money goes to Planned Parenthood.

Oversight committee chairman Weston Newton, R-Beaufort, who voted for the investigation, said he plans to form a special subcommittee to oversee the inquiry. “Among the questions to be asked is: ‘What is happening with tissue in South Carolina? Is there any inappropriate activity going on?’ ”

Planned Parenthood has said fetal tissue is only donated from two states — California and Oregon — with the woman’s consent. It also has said it only charges enough for the tissue to cover its handling and shipping costs, not to make money.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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