Abortion-rights activists

Abortion rights activists wait for state lawmakers to arrive before a Senate vote on a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy at the South Carolina Statehouse on May 23, 2023 in Columbia, South Carolina.

(Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

'Bad News for the South': State Supreme Court Upholds 6-Week Abortion Ban in South Carolina

"The result will essentially force an untold number of affected women to give birth without their consent," wrote Justice Donald Beatty in his dissent. "I am hard-pressed to think of a greater governmental intrusion by a political body."

Despite a recent poll showing that just 37% of South Carolinians backed a six-week abortion ban, the state Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated the previously blocked law, gutting what remained of abortion access for millions of people across the South.

The ruling was handed down by the all-male high court following the mandatory retirement of former Justice Kaye Hearn, who wrote the majority opinion in another ruling in January which struck down a nearly identical six-week ban that had been passed in 2021.

The state Legislature appointed Judge Gary Hill to replace Hearn after two women who were running for the seat dropped out. State Sen. Sandy Senn (R-41) accused House Republicans of forcing Judges Stephanie McDonald and Aphrodite Konduros out of the race by holding informal polls that showed they were behind Hill. South Carolina now has the only all-male state Supreme Court in the United States.

The previous law was overturned in a 3-2 ruling, and Wednesday's decision was 4-1 with Chief Justice Donald Beatty dissenting.

Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said Wednesday's ruling "puts the dangerous politicization of South Carolina's highest court on full display."

"This abortion ban is nearly identical to the ban struck down by this court just months ago—the only thing that has changed is the makeup of the court," said Black. "Planned Parenthood South Atlantic's doors remain open, and we will continue to provide abortion care in South Carolina under the severe restrictions of this law, but we know that's not enough. This abortion ban takes away people's ability to control what happens to their bodies, forcing many South Carolinians to remain pregnant against their will."

The law upheld by the court, S.B. 474, bans abortion care after six weeks of pregnancy—before many people even know they are pregnant. It contains so-called "exceptions" for situations in which the pregnant person's life or health are at risk and in cases of a fetal diagnosis that is "incompatible" with life—but numerous cases in states that have placed extreme restrictions or bans on abortion care since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year have shown that such exceptions place pregnant people's lives and health at great risk.

S.B. 474 also ostensibly permits survivors of rape and incest to access abortion until 12 weeks of pregnancy, but only if their physician reports the crime and the survivor's name to law enforcement.

Planned Parenthood noted that not only South Carolina but people across the South will be affected by the ruling. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama now have full abortion bans and are bordered by states that also ban or severely restrict abortion care. Georgia and South Carolina both ban abortion at six weeks and a six-week ban is also being reviewed being reviewed by Florida's Supreme Court.

"South Carolinians who need care past the earliest stages of pregnancy will have to travel out of state for care, seek abortion outside the healthcare system, or continue pregnancies against their will," said Planned Parenthood in a statement. "South Carolina has been a critical access point for abortion in the South, as surrounding states have banned or severely restricted abortion. Today's ruling means people across the region will need to travel much further for abortion care."

Noting a survey taken by Winthrop University in May that showed nearly two-thirds of South Carolina residents opposed a six-week ban, NARAL Pro-Choice America said the state Supreme Court had "subverted the will of South Carolinians."

"The result will essentially force an untold number of affected women to give birth without their consent," wrote Beatty in his dissent. "I am hard-pressed to think of a greater governmental intrusion by a political body. This outcome is not an affirmation of the separation of powers, as the majority declares, but an abdication of this court's duty to ascertain the constitutionality of the challenged legislation."

After the 2021 law was struck down by the court in January, Republican legislators amended the law to clarify that contraceptives are permitted, among other changes.

But Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Alexis McGill Johnson said the new ruling is "not only a stunning reversal of a decision made just seven months ago but an exceedingly dangerous and cynical move by the court that has chosen to do the bidding of anti-abortion politicians in the Legislature."

Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that "with today's decision, the court has turned their backs on South Carolinians and their fundamental rights."

"A change in the court's makeup shouldn't change the enduring protections of South Carolina's constitution," she added. "The right to make deeply personal healthcare decisions should not depend on where you live, and we will not stop fighting for reproductive freedom in South Carolina and across the country."

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