- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley asked South Carolina’s public health agency Tuesday to investigate the state’s three abortion clinics, starting with the one operated by Planned Parenthood.

Haley is the latest Republican to call for a review of abortion practices following the release of videos - secretly taped by an anti-abortion group - that show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the collection of fetal organs for research.

Three weeks ago, 26 House Republicans requested a review by the Legislative Audit Council. Ten senators signed an identical request Monday. The council’s governing board will vote on the letters at its next, not-yet-scheduled meeting.

Haley’s letter to the director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control - the agency that regulates abortion clinics - called for a “comprehensive investigation of the policies and practices of abortion clinics,” starting with Planned Parenthood.

In response, agency spokeswoman Jennifer Read said “we will promptly initiate an investigation.” The governor does not directly control the agency, but she appoints all of its board members.

Haley noted that a Legislative Audit Council report in May found the agency hasn’t consistently inspected the state’s three licensed abortion clinics as required by law.

Jenny Black, president of the Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said last month that South Carolina’s anti-abortion legislators are using the videos to advance their own political agendas, calling it part of a smear campaign by extremists who want to ban abortion.

None of Planned Parenthood’s clinics in the South Atlantic region - which includes the Carolinas, West Virginia and much of Virginia - participates in fetal tissue collection, according to its regional office in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress said the videos it released show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit.

Planned Parenthood executives contend any donations are legal and ethical. Federal law allows abortion providers to be paid for processing fees.

In South Carolina, regulations require fetal tissue to be incinerated, buried or donated for medical research.

Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic accounted for 29 percent of the 5,700 abortions performed in South Carolina last year. Clinics in Greenville and Charleston that provide abortions are not operated by Planned Parenthood. They respectively provided 37 percent and 33 percent of the 2014 abortions. The remaining 1 percent occurred in hospitals, according to data from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The videos on Planned Parenthood have incensed Republican lawmakers across the nation. Anti-abortion groups are organizing protests outside their clinics nationwide this weekend, including in South Carolina.

A new rule issued Friday by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey requires abortion clinics in that state to report what happens to the remains of aborted fetuses.

Also Friday, Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered an end to Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for family planning and gynecological services. Similar announcements in Alabama and Louisiana earlier this month prompted a warning from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that it could violate federal law.

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