The Buzz

Columbia abortion clinic unlikely to close, expert says

A Columbia abortion clinic that faces the threat of being closed Monday likely will avoid that penalty, a health care expert says.

The clinic, operated by Planned Parenthood in Columbia, said it is taking action to address problems cited by state health officials, who threatened to close the clinic. It also plans to “refute allegations that we know are incorrect.”

Meanwhile, two weeks after Gov. Nikki Haley and conservative lawmakers called for a criminal investigation of the state’s three abortion clinics, state law enforcement officials say they have not yet decided whether to investigate.

Lynn Bailey, a health care economics consultant, said the state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s requests for corrective actions after it inspected the clinics in early September is not unusual. She added health regulators “do their very best ... to keep facilities open, to keep access open.”

The state health agency likely referred its findings to law enforcement as a precaution because it was dealing with a “politically motivated” probe, she added.

“The abortion centers were, in fact, lazy. They were lax. They were sloppy ... They are not criminal.”

In early September, state health officials inspected the state’s three abortion clinics after being asked to do so by Republican Haley and other conservative lawmakers, angered by video of Planned Parenthood officials.

On Sept. 11, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said its inspectors found two of the clinics — the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia and the Greenville Women’s Clinic — had failed to wait a full hour after an ultrasound exam before performing some abortions and failed to manage waste properly. Inspectors also cited numerous documentation and reporting errors.

The health department also said the two clinics and a third, in Charleston, failed to handle infectious waste properly.

DHEC suspended the licenses of the Columbia and Greenville clinics, threatening their closure Monday unless they make improvements or appeal.

On Friday, DHEC reported Greenville Women’s Clinic had met all the requirements to prevent its closure.

Last week, state health officials said they plan to meet with clinic representatives early this week to discuss waste-proposal problems that were cited.

To avoid being shut down, Greenville Women’s Clinic paid a $2,750 fine, showed it had corrected the violations and proved its staff is trained, DHEC said Friday.

Planned Parenthood of South Atlantic in Columbia must pay a $7,500 fine by Monday, along with submitting a plan to correct the violations cited, detailing what steps it has taken and will take. It also must show its employees and volunteers are trained in applicable state laws and regulations.

Planned Parenthood “will not necessarily need to have corrected all cited violations,” said DHEC spokesperson Jennifer Read last week.

In a statement, Jenny Black, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said that nonprofit is taking DHEC’s inspection findings seriously and is working to ensure its Columbia clinic is following the law.

“(N)othing is more important to us than the health and safety of our patients,” Black said last week. “We hold ourselves to high standards and take swift action to address any shortcomings.

“Since receiving the report ... we have focused our efforts on reviewing issues raised in DHEC’s findings and rigorously verifying compliance with all state laws and regulations. We will take immediate action to make any necessary corrections and will provide DHEC with evidence to refute allegations we know are incorrect.”

After threatening to close the Greenville and Columbia clinics, the state health agency also forwarded its findings to state law enforcement for review, a move applauded by Haley.

State law enforcement is reviewing the DHEC report on the clinics, a spokesman said last week.

“The matter is currently under consideration whether to conduct a preliminary review,” S.C. Law Enforcement Division spokesman Thom Berry said, adding a preliminary review would come before any formal investigation.

The S.C. abortion-clinic controversy comes as members of Congress – including U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, and others from South Carolina – push to end all public funding for the women’s health care nonprofit.

Planned Parenthood receives $528 million in public money for health care services it provides. It says 3 percent of that money goes to pay for abortions, which cannot be paid for with federal money except in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is threatened.

Congressional conservatives also are pushing to ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later. But Senate Democrats blocked that bill last week.

A similar bill restricting SC abortions could become law shortly after lawmakers return to Columbia to work in January.

Calling for the abortion probe, Haley and lawmakers said they were appalled by videos produced by an anti-abortion group alleging Planned Parenthood is selling fetal organ tissues obtained from abortions.

Planned Parenthood vehemently has denied any wrongdoing, saying a small number of its facilities allow patients to donate tissue for medical research. No one profits, the organization’s spokespersons have said, contending it is paid only for its cost of handling and shipping the tissue.

None of South Carolina’s abortion clinics allow tissue donation. Only one of the state’s two Planned Parenthood women’s health clinics performs abortions. Neither receives money in the state’s budget.

Planned Parenthood does receive Medicaid reimbursements for providing services to low-income S.C. patients. But none of that money can be used to pay for elective abortions, state health officials have said.

A state House legislative oversight panel meets Wednesday to discuss Planned Parenthood and whether it gets any money from state agencies.

State Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, a supporter of abortion rights, said she expects Planned Parenthood to meet all the requirements to stay open Monday.

No one wants to close Planned Parenthood who understands that 97 percent of its services are for procedures and health care other than abortions, she added.

“But (the issue) has become so politicized that they're probably being very cautious.”

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658

Abortions in SC

Planned Parenthood: 1,645 at 13 weeks or less

Greenville Women’s Clinic: 2,108, including 2,106 at 13 weeks or less and 2 from 14 to 19 weeks

Charleston Women’s Center: 1,887, including 1,858 at 13 weeks or less and 29 from 14 to 19 weeks

Hospitals: 74, including 7 at 13 weeks or less, 30 at 14 to 19 weeks, and 37 at 20 to 24 weeks

SOURCE: S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control