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GOP governor cuts $16 million from budget to take anti-abortion stand

Henry McMaster, the South Carolina governor, said he was keeping a campaign promise. Planned Parenthood called it a "political stunt."
Image: Gov. Henry McMaster speaks to the crowd at the Coastal Carolina campus
Gov. Henry McMaster speaks at Coastal Carolina University on June 23 in Conway, South Carolina.Richard Shiro / AP

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has removed $16 million for health care from the state budget, saying he wants to make sure that no taxpayer money goes to abortion providers.

The Republican governor said he was keeping a promise he has made repeatedly as he campaigns for a full term. Planned Parenthood was set to receive less than $100,000 of the money, and all of it goes for family planning, not abortion.

“I have stated many times I am opposed to what Planned Parenthood is doing. And the veto I have is the most direct way,” McMaster said at a news conference Friday after issuing 42 vetoes cutting about $36 million from South Carolina’s $8 billion spending plan.

Planned Parenthood said the veto is a “political stunt” and the practical effect will be to remove birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and even cancer screenings by thousands of federally approved family planning providers for poor women on Medicaid.

“It’s clear that the governor is singularly focused on his election bid in November and that is at the expense of South Carolina women. The veto does not ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood, but it will ensure that South Carolinians who use Medicaid as their primary insurance will be unable to access affordable, basic health care,” Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Vicki Ringer said in a statement.

Republicans have been fighting over the “family planning” line in the budget for months. McMaster did not veto the entire $34 million in the item. His office said eliminating all that money would keep 700,000 women and children from getting prescriptions through Medicaid.

Democrats and some Republicans — even those adamantly against abortions — said removing the money from the budget was shortsighted because so little goes to Planned Parenthood in the first place and removing it from the spending plan could mean less money for needs like law enforcement or help for families with autistic children.

“You are voting for a budget with an illusion at the expense of a reality,” said Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia, during last month’s debate.

McMaster said he would prefer that the federal government approve his request for a waiver that would allow South Carolina to withhold any public funds from Planned Parenthood. But his office does not know when that might be considered.

Some Republicans threatened to toss out the entire budget because the money remained after a conference committee vote — the House took it out, while the Senate put it back in. But legislators at the time pointed out that it would take a two-thirds vote to override the veto. In the Senate, 12 Republicans would have to join the 18 Democrats, and in the House, 40 Republicans would have to join 44 Democrats if everyone is present to put the money back in the budget.

“I’m sure they should be sustained,” McMaster said of his vetoes. “Whether they will be is another question."

Legislative leaders said they were reviewing the vetoes and had not decided when or if they would return to Columbia, the state capital, to consider them.