- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s governor and lieutenant governor are taking aim at annual cancer screenings, health care visits and contraceptives provided by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

Gov. Henry McMaster asked the board of South Carolina’s public health agency to reaffirm, as a symbolic gesture, that it won’t direct federal funds to abortion providers. In a letter provided Tuesday to The Associated Press, McMaster specifically asks the Health and Environmental Control board to confirm in a public vote that none of the federal grant money it gets to support family planning will go to Planned Parenthood or any other abortion provider.

“Health care services related to pregnancy care, fertility and cancer screenings may be offered in many ways, without state subsidization of abortion providers,” McMaster’s letter says.

Federal rules already prohibit the pregnancy prevention money from paying for abortions.

And Planned Parenthood gets no directly appropriated money from the state to be used for any purpose, said the organization’s state spokeswoman, Sarah Eldred.

The organization did get about $300,000 in combined state and federal Medicaid funding for non-abortion services, such as office visits, annual cancer screenings, and condoms, birth control pills and other contraceptives between 2010 and 2015, according to the testimony from the state Medicaid agency’s director that year.

But McMaster is taking aim at a different source of funds: federal Title X money provided to states for preventive health care for people who otherwise wouldn’t get such services. South Carolina gets about $5.6 million annually in Title X funds that it distributes to health care clinics, none of which are abortion providers, for family planning and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The Republican governor cites a law President Donald Trump signed in April allowing states to deny certain federal funding to Planned Parenthood. That law overturned a regulation finalized at the end of President Barack Obama’s administration that stopped states from denying federal Title X family planning funds to clinics that also provide abortion services.

“Fortunately, this rule change was short-lived,” wrote McMaster, who is seeking election in 2018 to his first full term as governor.

The board will take up McMaster’s request at its July meeting, said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Read.

Meanwhile, Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, a potential McMaster running mate, said Tuesday that no taxpayer money should go to “evil” abortion providers, even if it’s to provide “vitamin C.”

Bryant warned that he won’t sign off on next year’s budget as the Senate president if a single penny goes either directly or indirectly to Planned Parenthood.

“We’ve got a year to figure this out,” he said.

Bryant doesn’t have veto authority. Bills approved by both chambers are ratified with the signatures of the Senate and House leaders before going to the governor. But if the lieutenant governor doesn’t sign, Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman could.

But Bryant says it’s a matter of principle. The former state senator was one of the Legislature’s staunchest abortion foes.

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Vicki Ringer called McMaster’s and Bryant’s actions “political stunts.”

“While they spend taxpayers’ time and money on scoring political points, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic will continue to focus on providing the wide range of accessible, affordable health care services that our patients, and their constituents, rely on,” she said.

Planned Parenthood operates only one of three abortion clinics in the state, but it receives the brunt of criticism from South Carolina Republicans who oppose abortion.

State law does allow Medicaid to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. Christian Soura, director of South Carolina’s Medicaid agency, told legislators in 2015 that while the federal-state Medicaid program paid for 222 abortions over the previous five fiscal years, none of those were provided by Planned Parenthood.

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