South Carolina becomes the latest state pushing to restrict abortions by cutting funding

Henry McMaster with Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign rally in Florence, S.C. McMaster, now South Carolina's governor, signed an executive order aimed at restricting abortions.
(Sean Rayford / Getty Images)

In the latest move by states to curtail abortions, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has signed an executive order to stop giving state money to any doctor or group affiliated with providing abortions.

The move is part of a growing trend. More than four decades after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed abortion legal, states are trying to place restrictions on when and how the procedure may be performed, or to cut off funding for groups that perform abortions.

South Carolina’s move is also another salvo aimed at Planned Parenthood, the largest single provider of abortions in the country, and a popular target among conservatives who oppose abortion. The group was the subject of a bill signed quietly by President Trump in April that allowed states to deny some federal funding to the nonprofit group’s operations.


“There are a variety of agencies, clinics, and medical entities in South Carolina that receive taxpayer funding to offer important women’s health and family planning services without performing abortions,” McMaster said in a statement. “Taxpayer dollars must not directly or indirectly subsidize abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.”

It is already illegal to use federal dollars for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.

Planned Parenthood officials say that abortions make up a small fraction of the services they provide, and that federal funding supports the other healthcare services the group offers.

Planned Parenthood tweeted shortly after McMaster signed the executive order, saying state residents would hold the governor accountable and ending with a one-word admonishment: “Shame.”

Trump’s signing of the bill overturned a regulation that stopped states from denying federal Title X family planning funds to places that also provide abortions. Planned Parenthood — which has three locations in South Carolina, only one of which offers abortions — fell under the scope of that bill, which narrowly passed earlier this year with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.


McMaster, who supported Trump’s presidential campaign, is facing a primary challenge next year, and some of his opponents had already come out in favor of defunding sites that offer abortion services.

South Carolina is just the latest state to take aim at Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that allowed abortion. The executive order follows the state’s decision last year to ban doctors from performing abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. That law also doesn’t allow for an exemption if the fetus has a fatal defect in the womb, and also makes no exceptions for rape or incest cases.

Carole Joffe, a professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at UC San Francisco, notes that conservatives who oppose abortion rights have been steadily passing restrictive state laws and making abortions almost unattainable in some states.

Some states may only have one abortion provider, making it difficult and expensive for many low-income women to get abortions. The lack of access due to tough state restrictions, Joffe says, has effectively made abortion not an option for some women.

“Trump’s election may change this and the women’s marches may change this, but historically, Democrats have been much more mobilized around presidential elections and congressional races,” she said. “Republicans have done a much better job in bringing people though the pipeline of local races — school board, then state assembly and state senate. Democrats haven’t paid as much attention at this level.”

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and Democrats controlled both houses in Congress, Republicans got to work. In the 2010 midterm election, the GOP cashed in at the congressional and state legislative level and among governorships.

State legislatures swung to the GOP as well — with 25 states entirely controlled by Republicans. There are only five states where Democrats are in control of both the governor’s seat and the legislature. Republicans also hold 33 governor’s seats.

The Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for reproductive rights including abortion, reported that since Republicans began dominating at the state level after President Obama’s election, hundreds of state measures have been passed that have choked off access to abortions.

Iowa and Kentucky joined about 16 other states that restrict abortions after 20 weeks — though federal courts have said they violate Roe vs. Wade. Tennessee passed a law requiring that two doctors confirm a fetus is not viable before an abortion can be provided at 20 weeks or later, except in a medical emergency.

Arkansas and Texas joined Mississippi and West Virginia in passing bans on a procedure used in the second trimester referred to as dilation and evacuation — though the courts have stepped in to block the bans. Last week, however, Arkansas appealed that federal court order.

The Guttmacher Institute reported this year that the abortion rate in the United States declined 14% between 2011 and 2014 — a record low as the number of procedures fell below 1 million annually.

McMaster’s executive order was praised by National Right to Life, an antiabortion nonprofit, and the Susan B. Anthony List, which has fought to defund Planned Parenthood.

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said that until Roe vs. Wade can be overturned — something she is optimistic about if Trump gets to appoint another U.S. Supreme Court justice — the state strategy has been effective, and she applauded McMaster’s executive order.

“There is no reason tax dollars should be used to pay for abortions,” Tobias said. “And organizations that provide abortions or have them offered on site shouldn’t receive those public funds either.”

Twitter: @davemontero


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