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AG looking into Medicaid payments to abortion clinics

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office is looking into Medicaid payments to South Carolina’s three abortion clinics to determine whether any fraud occurred, according to letters provided Thursday to The Associated Press.

Wilson becomes the latest Republican to pursue investigations into abortion clinics following the release of videos — secretly taped by an anti-abortion group — that show Planned Parenthood officials elsewhere discussing the collection of fetal organs for research.

Gov. Nikki Haley asked the state’s public health agency Tuesday to investigate the clinics’ policies and practices, starting with Planned Parenthood. The agency responded that it will promptly do so.

On Thursday, Wilson asked Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Heigel to also send him the findings so his office can determine whether to pursue any potential crime.

His letter to her specifically refers to the “Planned Parenthood abortion clinics.” However, Planned Parenthood operates only one of the three clinics in South Carolina that provides abortions. It’s located in Columbia. Its health clinic in Charleston doesn’t offer abortions.

Wilson also wrote that Deputy Attorney General Bill Gambrell is looking into possible Medicaid fraud.

Planned Parenthood says its Columbia clinic receives no government funding for abortions.

According to the state’s Medicaid agency, it paid the organization about $156,000 over the past three years, mostly for birth control and related services, such as annual exams. By law, Medicaid in South Carolina can cover abortions due only to rape, incest or when the mother’s life is threatened.

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 officials have repeatedly said any tissue donations are legal and ethical, as federal law allows abortion providers to be paid for processing fees, but its Columbia clinic does not participate in tissue donation anyway.

They contend the criticism is purely political.

“The fact that Planned Parenthood South Atlantic doesn’t participate in tissue donation programs underscores that Gov. Haley’s call for an investigation is about political grandstanding, not facts,” Paige Johnson, a vice president of the regional office in Raleigh, North Carolina, said Wednesday. “This is just another attempt to restrict access to safe, legal abortion in South Carolina.”

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.

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