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S.C. Officials Testify Before Committee Investigating State Abortion Clinics

January 13, 2016 — The South Carolina House Legislative Oversight Ad-Hoc Committee on Monday heard testimony from several state agencies regarding the state's investigation into abortion clinics, WSPA 7 News reports (Logg, WSPA 7 News, 1/11).

Background

Gov. Nikki Haley (R) asked the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to investigate abortion clinics in the state following a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation program.

Between Aug. 31, 2015, and Sept. 4, 2015, DHEC investigated the three clinics in South Carolina: a Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, the Greenville Women's Clinic and the Charleston Women's Medical Center. The department found 21 administrative and operational violations at the Columbia clinic, six violations at the Greenville clinic and four minor errors in documentation at the Charleston facility. DHEC suspended the licenses for the Columbia and Greenville clinics. Under the department's orders, the suspended clinics had to close unless they paid penalty fees and came into compliance by Sept. 28. The closure orders were lifted after the clinics paid the fines and submitted correction plans.

However, DHEC Director Catherine Heigel in November 2015 told a state House Oversight Committee that the three clinics and two medical waste disposal companies possibly faced additional fines. Last month, the Charleston Women's Medical Center paid $1,800 in fines related to fetal tissue disposal while the Texas-based waste disposal company MedSharps agreed to pay $6,000 in fines, which will be paid out in six installments. Final consent orders show both entities will pay nearly $2,000 less in fines than originally proposed by DHEC.

Meanwhile, a DHEC spokesperson said negotiations with another disposal company and the two other state abortion clinics are ongoing (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/17/15).

Panel Details

On Monday, the state House committee asked DHEC, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Social Services about their relationship with abortion providers in the state. According to the Greenville News, Monday's meeting was the fourth legislative hearing on the state's investigation into abortion providers. The agencies said they did not provide any funding to Planned Parenthood for abortion care. Further, they said they had no evidence that the organization had participated in the sale or donation of fetal tissue.

State HHS Director Christian Soura told the panel that the agency has allocated about $300,000 to Planned Parenthood over the past five years. He said while most of the funding went toward women's health services, "zero or close to zero" went to abortion care.

Separately, Heigel said last year's inspections into the clinics found some instances of improper fetal tissue disposal, but had not found any instances of fetal tissue being sold or donated.

In addition, Heigel urged state legislators to clarify state law on the disposal of fetal tissue resulting from abortion care. According to Heigel, state law requires fetal tissue to be buried, cremated, incinerated or donated for medical research. "The General Assembly may consider amending the current statute to clarify that it's unlawful to sell fetal tissue or receive reimbursement for the donation of fetal tissue," she said, adding, "That is ... implied in existing regulations but it's not explicitly stated."

She also stated that DHEC plans on proposing several abortion regulations, such as requiring abortion clinics and hospitals to notify DHEC about abortion-related complications, requiring ultrasounds to determine fetal age and prohibiting abortion at 18 weeks of pregnancy (Smith, Greenville News, 1/11).