DHEC Moves to Terminate Choice

DHEC's plan for abortion providers would limit access and raise costs


The General Assembly only wanted to ensure that abortion doctors were performing legal and safe abortions but, if the Department of Health and Environmental Control has their way abortions could become unavailable in South Carolina, at least temporarily. The Department recently issued a second draft of the Standards for Licensing Facilities that Perform Abortions During the First and Second Trimesters. If enacted as written, clinics in South Carolina would be forced to close while they redesigned their facilities to comply with the regulations. When finally able to reopen, the additional paperwork and staff would dramatically raise the cost of the procedure.
DHEC's regulatory authority is granted through the General Assembly's "Woman's Right to Know Act." The act was passed after a Charleston clinic was shutdown for illegal and unethical practices. The intent of the General Assembly was to ensure abortion providers met health and safety standards. Even the proposed regulations declare their intentions to "ensure professional and safe care for patients," but there is little to indicate that safety and professional responsibility are their true aims.
The regulations are replete with requirements that place an undue burden on clinics and are medically unnecessary. "It appears as though DHEC looked at the standards employed by the best run medical clinics and deliberately drafted new ones intended to put them out of business," said Steven Bates, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina The regulations attempt to mirco-manage the clinics to the point of dictating the size of rooms, the width of doorways, and the height of the ceiling. Planned Parenthood testified at a recent public hearing that they would have to "close for an extended period of time, either for a complete gutting and reconstruction of the current site or for relocation to another site."
Clinics are required to keep detailed patient files including information such as mother's name, father's name, marital status, husband's name and religion. While it is unclear how a patient's religion is relevant to the medical procedure, it is more disconcerting that DHEC, free to inspect the facilities at any time without notice or reason, is permitted to make copies of these records effectively nullifying doctor/patient confidentiality.
Staff and volunteer files are also open to inspection. Staff and volunteers, including clinic, escorts will have personnel files kept on them. Clinic escorts, who are only needed because women are continually assaulted while exercising a constitutional right, will have to undergo TB testing. These tests and files do nothing more than raise the cost of the procedure. If TB tests are needed for clinic escorts then they should be necessary for clinic protesters, too.
Abortion is defined to include any "medicine, drug or other substance" used to terminate pregnancy. Should RU 486 or other such drug become legal in this country physicians would either have to become mini-hospitals or be barred from administering these drugs in their offices thus limiting women's access to abortion.
The standards have yet to be approved by the DHEC Board of Directors and by the General Assembly. Sen. Holly Cork only reluctantly supported the Woman's Right to Know Act because she was worried the legislation would be used to limit women's access to abortion. Upon reading DHEC's proposal she said her "worst fears had been realized" and that DHEC had gone far beyond the General Assembly's intent.
The DHEC board is a political creature. The present board was appointed to office by governors David Beasley and Carroll Campbell, both of whom oppose a woman's right to choose abortion. The board is overstepping its authority by doing what the Legislature has failed to do: terminate a woman's right to choose.

Katrina Nylund is program coordinator for A.C.L.U. of south Carolina.

"Application of these proposed regulations may well drive some, if not all, of the clinics in South Carolina out of business, severly restricting access to abortion."

Dr. William L. Lynn

© Copyright by POINT, 1995
Last modified 12/15/95