This week, the South Carolina state Supreme Court blocked the enforcement of a six-week abortion ban in the state as further litigation over the measure, which was blocked for over a year until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, continues.
The state Supreme Court in South Carolina didn’t express an opinion regarding the fundamental merits of the case, although the court characterized arguments as perceptibly close, without a clearly winning set of contentions at this stage in the proceedings according to the high court’s estimation. “To the extent we address the merits, we acknowledge an arguably close question is presented, which further supports the need to maintain the status quo (that allowed abortions during the first twelve weeks, or first trimester, of pregnancy) by granting a temporary injunction,” as the court unanimously explained. The challenged law blocks most abortions after some six weeks of pregnancy, a point when many individuals who are pregnant don’t even know it.
The law is characterized by its supporters as kicking into gear once a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, but developed hearts aren’t present at that stage of gestation, making the description deceptive. After a federal court agreed to a request by the South Carolina governor for lifting a stay previously blocking the enforcement of the six-week ban, the case underlying this action by the state Supreme Court was filed on July 13. Plaintiffs include Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic alongside two individual South Carolina physicians who work as abortion providers. Those two reproductive healthcare organizations are responsible for the only abortion clinics in the state. The case alleges that the six-week ban violates provisions of the state Constitution in South Carolina. (Others challenging post-Roe abortion restrictions elsewhere in the country also point to state Constitutional protections.)
Specifically, the South Carolina case points to state rights to privacy and equal protection. One of the issues cited by the plaintiffs in apparent connection to the latter argument is that sexual assault survivors who may obtain abortions under the South Carolina restrictions must share personal information with law enforcement before doing so. Abortion providers may immediately resume providing abortions past six weeks in South Carolina under the terms of the state Supreme Court’s decision. A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic indicated the organization would likely resume offering abortions past six weeks within days.
Meanwhile, state legislators in South Carolina are considering a proposal to ban most abortions throughout the entirety of pregnancy without exceptions for cases involving rape or incest. A state House committee recently advanced a bill containing those provisions, with a special session of the state legislature and consideration by the full House looming. Litigation targeting abortion restrictions pushed by Republicans since Roe was overturned is unfolding in an array of states nationwide. In New York and California, state constitutional amendments protecting the right to abortion are moving through the processes required for ratification.