Planned Parenthood Funding Takes Center Stage in South Carolina’s Election

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announces he is vetoing $16 million from the state budget because part of the money goes to Planned Parenthood at a news conference July 6, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

No matter how many times South Carolina lawmakers try to restore the $16 million Gov. Henry McMaster chopped from the state’s healthcare budget, the Republican governor vowed to just “keep on vetoing it.”

McMaster said he cut the money from the legislature-approved budget in July to make sure not a dime of South Carolina taxpayer money paid for Planned Parenthood abortions.

“This is the center, this is the core of it and that’s why I vetoed it. And I’ll keep on vetoing it,” McMaster said. “The veto is the most direct way to get the money going to them for family planning services, which in Planned Parenthood land means abortions.”

McMaster also promised to continue stopping state money from flowing into Planned Parenthood until the federal government permitted South Carolina to exempt the organization from the state’s Medicaid provider network.

The South Carolina Legislature reconvenes in September. Restoring the money vetoed by McMaster will be at the top of Democratic lawmakers’ agendas in advance of the November election.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Rep. James Smith not only branded McMaster’s veto “a moral outrage,” he called it a classic example of “how this governor cares far more about ideological posturing on divisive issues than he does about the people of South Carolina.”

“He has no interest in the basic needs of our people; he’s all about throwing red meat to his base,” Smith added.

Vicki Ringer, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, told WACH-TV the McMaster healthcare budget veto was nothing but a “political stunt” that would affect more than just women seeking abortions.

“As a result of this political move,” Ringer said, “none of the South Carolinians who rely on Medicaid for their healthcare will be able to access family planning services at any of the state’s 4,000 Medicaid providers.”

The Post and Courier also criticized McMaster’s veto of $16 million from the $8 billion healthcare budget approved by the legislature as politically motivated.

“If you want to reduce the number of abortions performed each year, a logical starting point would be to protect access to birth control and other family planning services,” The Post and Courier editorialized. “But if you’re a politician looking to score points during an election year, common sense doesn’t figure into such equations.”

Planned Parenthood abortions have become a hot election-year issue in the state’s gubernatorial general election after a GOP primary season that featured candidates trying to prove they were more pro-life than the rest of the field.

Thanks to McMaster’s healthcare budget veto, Planned Parenthood abortion services are at the center of the November election.

Planned Parenthood endorsed Smith’s campaign for governor in May because “he has been a staunch supporter in the fight for women’s rights and a vocal advocate on the S.C. House floor to protect the fundamental care Planned Parenthood provides to thousands of women, men and young people in South Carolina each year,” Ringer said in a statement.

South Carolina Republican lawmakers pushed two anti-abortion bills during the just-concluded legislative session. One would have required doctors to euthanize fetuses before dilation and evacuation procedures were performed. The other was an attempt to ban all abortions by extending legal rights to fertilized eggs at the moment of conception. Neither proposal was approved by the legislature.

Back in June, when McMaster was in a GOP runoff election to win a spot on the November ballot for reelection, he attacked Planned Parenthood during a news conference outside a faith-based pregnancy center.

“There are young children, unborn children who are being killed right now as we’re standing here just up that hill at Planned Parenthood,” McMaster said. “There are young women who are having abortions.”

All five GOP gubernatorial candidates spent money during the primary season extolling the virtues of their pro-life views.

“I am a bit mystified by how much time the candidates are spending on how much they love Donald Trump and how much they oppose abortion,” Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson told the Post and Courier in June. “This does not distinguish them from each other and they all have the same position. Why spend the most time talking about this?”

Former South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson cleared up Vinson’s confusion by explaining that “to hardcore Republican voters, being pro-life is their No. 1 issue.”

“You have to talk about it. It is necessary,” Dawson added. “The one who talks about this the most has a better chance of getting that vote.”

An April 2015 Winthrop Poll of likely South Carolina Republican 2016 presidential primary voters put the numbers behind Dawson’s contention.

The survey showed nearly 21 percent of likely GOP voters believed all abortions, no matter what the circumstances, should be banned. Almost 54 percent of the voters surveyed said abortion should be legal “only in a few circumstances.”

But McMaster said the abortion issue for him went beyond setting the table with plenty of red meat for the South Carolina GOP base because it’s on a much higher level than more mundane topics like school funding and road repair.

“If you’re not alive, you don’t need a highway,” McMaster said. “You don’t need anything.”