South Carolina’s 6-week abortion ban becomes law, providers file lawsuit
GREENVILLE, SC — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a new six-week abortion ban behind closed doors Thursday, sparking a new battle for abortion access in the state as the southern United States faces a wave of severe healthcare restrictions.
The new state ban prohibits abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, which the law says is when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The ban will take effect immediately.
“With my signature, the Fetal Heart Rate and Abortion Protection Act is now in effect and will immediately begin saving the lives of unborn children,” McMaster, a Republican, said in a press release. “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 challenge and are confident that we will succeed. The right to life must be preserved. and we will do everything we can to protect it.”
The media were not invited and only a few lawmakers stood around McMaster as he finalized passage of the bill. Hours after the law took effect, doctors associated with Planned Parenthood, Greenville Women’s Clinic and Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in state court.
South Carolina joins a growing number of states limiting abortion care. Since last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe V. Wade, Southern states have seen a wave of abortion restrictions introduced and approved by Republican lawmakers.
Bans on abortion during pregnancy have already been passed in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. In Georgia, it’s only allowed for the first six weeks.
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South Carolina faces immediate legal challenges
Challengers to the South Carolina law said it was identical to the 2021 fetal heart rate law, which was struck down by the South Carolina Supreme Court in January. The majority decision, written by former Justice Kaye Hearn, the only woman on the bench, ruled that the state violated privacy rights enshrined in the state constitution.
The South Carolina Supreme Court’s lead opinion said the 2021 ban was an “unreasonable restriction on a woman’s right to privacy.”
But some things have changed since the January decision. Earlier this year, lawmakers stunned by the state Supreme Court ruling voted to elect Greenville Judge Gary Hill to replace Hearn. For the first time in more than two decades, the High Court has no women on the bench.
“The law is an affront to the dignity and health of South Carolinians. Decisions related to having a family are among the most personal South Carolinians will ever make,” the lawsuit filing said. “Pregnancy itself is a physical, emotional and financial challenge, and having a child is a huge, life-changing decision. There are myriad factors that determine if and when to have or add to a family.”
The lawsuit argues that the ban is unconstitutional under the state constitution and violates “its guarantees of privacy, equal protection and due process.”
Before it reaches the High Court, lower courts will consider whether provisions of state law violate the privacy rights of victims of sexual assault. The lower courts will also consider whether mandating disclosure of their personal information to law enforcement violates Medicaid law and whether a law that was settled in January remains in effect.
Exceptions to the new state ban include medical emergencies, if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, and for certain fetal diagnoses.
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Abortion Care in the South
The Center for Reproductive Rights has called South Carolina a “key access state” for abortion care. According to the advocacy group, the state provided the care to state residents and patients from states including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.
“Access to abortion care is increasingly precarious in the South, and it’s crucial that we protect it in South Carolina,” Caroline Sacerdote, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Just four months ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court did just that. We’re just asking the court to follow that precedent here.
Jenny Black, president of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, told The Associated Press that abortion providers have had to quickly figure out how to comply with ongoing laws amid the “decimating of abortion access in the South”.
Black said the new restrictions will only put more pressure on providers who have seen an influx of patients from restricted states.
In a report released in early April by the Society of Family Planning, states where abortion care had remained largely legal saw an increase in abortions. Florida and North Carolina were among the states with the biggest increases, which now have pending limitations.
Contributor: The Associated Press
Devyani Chhetri covers the South Carolina State House and is an SC government watchdog reporter. You can reach her at email@example.com or @ChhetriDevyani.