Henry McMaster campaign abortion (copy)

Gov. Henry McMaster points at the building housing a Planned Parenthood clinic near downtown Columbia during a campaign news conference on May 29, 2018. File/Andy Shain/Staff

Planned Parenthood is turning to the federal court system for help after Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order earlier this month that barred abortion clinics from receiving taxpayer money. 

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, along with a patient, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Friday seeking a preliminary injunction against McMaster's order, which included a directive that the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services "terminate abortion clinics as Medicaid providers."

In the suit, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which operates at 14 locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, contends that prior court decisions make it clear that patients using Medicaid as insurance have the right to visit any qualified provider that accepts Medicaid payments. 

"Federal law prohibits states from interfering with Medicaid patients' access to the qualified provider of their choice," according to a statement by Planned Parenthood.

South Carolina already has a shortage of health care providers, especially those who use Medicaid, according to the statement.

Hundreds of thousands of low-income South Carolinians qualify for family planning benefits, including pelvic exams and birth control, through the state Medicaid agency.

Planned Parenthood locations in the Palmetto State also offer other health care services like breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections, treatment for HIV and other preventive care.

After the executive order was issued, Brian Symmes, a spokesman for McMaster, said the governor always intended to impact as few patients as possible.

Symmes emphasized that point again on Friday.

"Gov. McMaster ordered (Health and Human Services) to continue reimbursing family planning providers because he recognizes how important those services are," he said in a statement Friday night. "But like millions of South Carolinians, he believes in the fundamental right to life for unborn children and does not believe tax dollars should go to organizations that perform elective abortions, and he will fight this foolish lawsuit with everything he has."

In a statement, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic CEO Jenny Black said the executive order has forced her organization to stop providing basic, preventative health care services to Medicaid patients that rely on them. 

"The women and men who come to Planned Parenthood for healthcare aren’t doing so to make a political statement," Black said. "Every day that this continues, both (Planned Parenthood) and our patients are irreparably harmed."

Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.