Improve abortion clinic oversight


Not long before Upstate attorney Catherine Heigel was appointed as director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, the Legislative Audit Council released a list of the department’s shortcomings in regulating abortion clinics.

And while former director Catherine Templeton made headway by putting better business practices in place, Ms. Heigel should finish the job.

This will be a good opportunity for the former president of Duke Energy operations in South Carolina to prove her mettle.

The Legislative Audit Council (LAC) was asked by lawmakers to determine if the state Department of Health and Environmental Control properly regulates abortion clinics as required by the state. The answer: Not altogether.

And it concluded that DHEC’s deficiencies could “result in serious problems for patients.” So Ms. Heigel should waste no time putting things in order.

Among the LAC findings are that inspections of the three abortion clinics in the state aren’t as thorough as required by law, that some abortion data might not be properly reported and that clinics’ plans to amend problems revealed during inspections are not validated by DHEC quickly enough.

According to the LAC audit, DHEC’s system for dealing with complaints is inadequate. It doesn’t always provide information to patients regarding how to file a complaint, and it does not have a toll-free number.

The audit noted that DHEC inspectors were not required to undergo adequate training specific to the task, that they were not assessed as to their competence in the job and that they were given no refresher training. DHEC has attended to these weaknesses.

DHEC’s website also came up short. The LAC said it is difficult to navigate and that inspection reports are slow to be posted. It also doesn’t post complaint investigation results as do other states.

Eleven free ultrasound providers operate in South Carolina.

They are required by the Woman’s Right to Know Act to provide on their websites specific information to women seeking abortions. Some of them post information that is incorrect or incomplete, the LAC found.

The rate of legal abortions in South Carolina has declined steadily between 1991 and 2011: from 15.7 to 7.1 abortions per thousand women aged 15-44.

Many would say any number of abortions is too many, but as long as the procedure is legal in South Carolina, the state needs to ensure that clinics are operated safely and efficiently.

It’s a limited problem, and a good place for Ms. Heigel to get going in her new post.