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Following outcry, S.C. officials drop some changes to regulations targeting abortion providers

South Carolina officials on Wednesday said they would drop certain contested changes to draft regulations targeting abortion clinics in the state, the Post and Courier reports (Prabhu, Post and Courier, 10/20).

Background

According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) submitted the draft regulations for public comment last month. The public comment period remains open through Monday, and a public hearing is expected to be held on the proposed regulations in December. At that point, DHEC's recommendations would be reviewed by the state Legislature.

Among other changes, the draft regulations would have required any woman who is married and living with her husband to obtain her husband's consent to access abortion care. The draft regulations also would have required providers to administer certain tests to women seeking abortion care, including a Pap smear and tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Other proposed changes to the regulations include ending judicial bypass, the process by which a minor seeking abortion care can obtain permission from a judge instead of her parents; a requirement that abortion providers be board certified in OB/GYN; and a requirement that clinics meet the building requirements of ambulatory surgical centers (Adcox, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/19).

Advocates voice concerns over changes

Vicki Ringer, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, lambasted the proposed changes. "Restrictions like requiring husband's consent, admitting privileges, denying minors' judicial bypass and mandating surgical-facility requirements, are all blatantly unconstitutional," she said, adding, "These restrictions among others -- such as mandatory (sexually transmitted infection) testing no matter the woman's circumstances -- are intended to shame women and put barriers in their way of seeking constitutionally protected medical care."

Ringer continued, "Simply put, the regulations are based in politics, not medicine."

Separately, state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D) on Wednesday said the proposed changes further the state's efforts to "make sure that women in South Carolina have zero access to an abortion." She said, "These people aren't dealing in the real world with women who are faced with these choices ... It's amazing to me how the state of South Carolina continues to put roadblocks and barriers to accessing women's health care" (Post and Courier, 10/20).

DHEC revises draft requirements

On Wednesday, DHEC officials voted unanimously to remove the consent and testing requirements. According to the agency, the spousal consent requirement was an error. Under state law, a husband's consent is required only when abortion care is provided in the third trimester, and such abortions can only be provided in hospital settings. Abortion clinics may only offer care through 18 weeks of pregnancy (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/19).

Jennifer Read, a spokesperson for DHEC, also said the department would review the section regarding judicial bypass to ensure it complies with state law. According to the Post and Courier, the judicial bypass section -- in addition to removing the bypass process -- currently requires minors to obtain a parental signature and does not permit another legal guardian to provide consent. However, under state law, minors seeking abortion care can submit the signature of another legal guardian or pursue the judicial bypass process.

Read also claimed that language in the recommendations regarding an admitting privileges requirement only clarifies current requirements and does not alter them (Post and Courier, 10/20).

Read said officials reviewed a corrected version on Thursday. "As a result of comments received during the current public comment period, we realized there were two errors in the language of the existing draft revision," she said (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/19).