COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster removed $16 million for health care from the state budget, saying Friday he wanted to make sure no taxpayer money goes to abortion providers.
The Republican governor said he was keeping a promise he made repeatedly as he campaigns for a full term, disagreeing with Democrats and some Republicans who said Planned Parenthood gets less than $100,000 of the money and all of it goes for family planning and 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 in a news conference after issuing 42 vetoes worth 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 for hundreds of thousands of 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, with his office saying 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 — called removing the money from the budget shortsighted since so little goes to Planned Parenthood in the first place and removing it from the spending plan could mean less money for things like law enforcement or help for families with children with autism.
"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 if the federal government approves 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 it will 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." McMaster said.
Legislative leaders said they were reviewing the vetoes and had not decided when or if they would return to Columbia to consider them.
The governor issued a number of other vetoes, including removing a provision put in the budget that would give priority for foster parents to adopt children away from their biological parents after nine months. McMaster said that kind of abrupt and major policy change should be made through the legislative process and not in the budget.
McMaster also struck out of the budget a line that removed from public view in the spending plan more than $3 billion that colleges and universities collect through fees, grants, athletic ticket sales and other revenue streams. The governor said that money needed to stay in the appropriation process for the benefit of the public and policy makers.