Providers adjust to abortion limits

New laws set to further strain clinics in southeastern U.S.

South Carolina state Sen. Penry Gustafson, R-Camden, speaks during a Senate debate on whether to pass a stricter law on abortion in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday.
(AP/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina state Sen. Penry Gustafson, R-Camden, speaks during a Senate debate on whether to pass a stricter law on abortion in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday. (AP/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A wave of newly approved abortion restrictions in the southeastern United States has sent providers scrambling to reconfigure their services for a region with already severely limited access.

Stiff limitations enacted in South Carolina and pending in North Carolina and Florida -- states that had been holdouts providing wider access to the procedure -- are threatening to further delay abortions as appointments pile up and doctors work to understand the latest constraints.

"There's really going to be no way for the whole abortion-providing ecosystem to manage it all," said Jenny Black, the president of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

Black, who oversees the organization's work in North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and parts of Virginia, said providers have had to quickly determine how to comply with the pending laws amid the "decimation of abortion access across the South." She expects new restrictions will compound the stressors on a system that was already seeing lengthy waiting periods in North Carolina driven by an influx of patients from Georgia and Tennessee.

Abortion is severely restricted in much of the South, including bans throughout pregnancy in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. In Georgia, it's allowed only in the first six weeks.

South Carolina joined its neighbors in rolling back the procedure Thursday when the governor signed a bill banning most abortions around six weeks of pregnancy. But providers quickly filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law that resembles one already deemed a violation of the state constitution's right to privacy by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

"This is a great day for life in South Carolina, but the fight is not over. We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed," Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement.

A report released in early April by the Society of Family Planning found rising numbers of abortions in states near those with the deepest restrictions but where abortion had remained largely legal. Florida and North Carolina were among the states with the biggest increases -- and among those where new limits are pending.

Most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy will be banned in North Carolina beginning July 1 and a six-week ban in Florida will take effect only if the state's current 15-week ban is upheld by the state Supreme Court.

South Carolina had also proved to be a key destination for people seeking abortions. Provisional state Health Department data showed larger numbers of out-of-state patients after the state's highest court overturned previous restrictions and left abortion legal through 22 weeks.

DOCTOR REPRIMANDED

Also Thursday, an Indiana board decided to reprimand an Indianapolis doctor after finding that she violated patient privacy laws by talking publicly about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from neighboring Ohio.

The state Medical Licensing Board voted that Dr. Caitlin Bernard didn't abide by privacy laws by telling a newspaper reporter about the girl's treatment in a case that became a political flash point in the national abortion debate days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer.

The board, however, rejected accusations from Indiana's Republican attorney general that Bernard violated state law by not reporting the child abuse to Indiana authorities. Board members chose to fine Bernard $3,000 for the violations, turning down a request from the attorney general's office to suspend Bernard's license.

Bernard has consistently defended her actions, and she told the board on Thursday that she followed Indiana's reporting requirements and hospital policy by notifying hospital social workers about the child abuse -- and that the girl's rape was already being investigated by Ohio authorities. Bernard's lawyers also said that she didn't release any identifying information about the girl that would break privacy laws.

The Indianapolis Star cited the girl's case in a July 1 article that sparked a national political uproar in the weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, putting into effect an Ohio law that prohibited abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Information for this article was contributed by James Pollard, Hannah Schoenbaum and Tom Davies of The Associated Press.