Board postpones vote on another Planned Parenthood review

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina's Legislative Audit Council postponed voting Thursday on whether to launch another state investigation into Planned Parenthood.

Members of the agency's governing board expressed concern about duplicating other investigations. But they said they're still inclined to approve audit requests signed by dozens of House and Senate Republicans.

The board plans to vote at its next, not-yet-scheduled meeting. Meanwhile, staff will consult with other agencies on work done since the council received legislators' requests two months ago.

Rep. Garry Smith, who wrote one of the letters, said he still wants the Legislature's investigative agency to do a separate review to verify what's being reported. His letter, signed by 26 representatives, was the first received by the council in late July.

There can't be too many investigations "when we're dealing with the lives of our unborn children," said Smith, R-Simpsonville, who's also a nonvoting board member.

The investigations follow the release of secretly-taped videos showing Planned Parenthood officials in other states discussing the collection of fetal organs for research.

Thursday was the board's first meeting since receiving legislators' letters.

In August, Gov. Nikki Haley asked South Carolina's public health agency to investigate the state's abortion clinics, starting with Planned Parenthood. Attorney General Alan Wilson then announced he's looking into Medicaid payments for abortion. And the House Oversight Committee pursued its own investigation of any taxpayer funding tied to abortions.

Planned Parenthood officials have repeatedly said the organization has done nothing illegal, and that none of its clinics in the South Atlantic region — which includes the Carolinas, West Virginia and much of Virginia — participates in fetal tissue collection.

"We've been told it's not happening here, but I'd rather inspect than expect," Smith said.

A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said Wednesday the multiple investigations are part of a political witch hunt.

Her comments came after the director of the state's Medicaid agency testified at the House Oversight Committee's first hearing on the issue. Director Christian Soura told legislators Medicaid paid for 222 abortions statewide over the last five fiscal years, at a cost of $437,361, but none of those were provided by Planned Parenthood.

The law allows Medicaid to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.

The investigation prompted by Haley's Aug. 18 request resulted in the Department of Health and Environmental Control suspending the licenses of two of the state's three abortion clinics earlier this month. Both turned in correction plans and paid their fines by Monday's deadline. While the Greenville clinic has been cleared, Planned Parenthood's suspension was put on hold after the organization disputed four of the cited violations and sought a review.

Of the three clinics in South Carolina that provide abortions, Planned Parenthood operates only the one in Columbia. It's also the only one enrolled as a Medicaid provider.

Wilson has given no update on either his office's review of the Medicaid payments or the DHEC findings.

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