The South Carolina Supreme Court struck down the state’s abortion banThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — The South Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a ban on abortion after six weeks, ruling that the Deep South state’s restriction violated the state’s constitutional right to privacy.
The ruling marked a significant victory for abortion rights advocates suddenly forced to find state-level safeguards after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. With federal abortion protections waning, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic tried in July under the South Carolina Constitution the right to privacy. Restrictions in other countries also face challenges, some such as a a matter of religious freedom.
But since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, no state court until Thursday in South Carolina had definitively ruled on whether the constitutional right to privacy — a right not expressly enumerated in the U.S. Constitution — it also covers abortions.
“Planned Parenthood will continue to work day by day and state by state to protect this right for all people,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement after Thursday’s decision.
The 3-2 decision comes nearly two years after Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed the cap into law. The post-cardiac ban, which included exceptions for pregnancies by rape or incest, or pregnancies that threaten the patient’s life, almost immediately sparked lawsuits.
Justice Kay Hearn, writing for the majority, said the state “undoubtedly” has the power to limit the right to privacy that protects against state interference in the abortion decision. But she added that any restriction should allow enough time to determine whether she is pregnant and to take “reasonable steps” if she decides to terminate that pregnancy.
“Six weeks is just not a reasonable amount of time for those two things to happen,” Hearn added.
South Carolina currently prohibits most abortions at approx 20 weeks after fertilization or a gestational age of 22 weeks.
On Twitter, White House spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre applauded the strict “extreme and dangerous state ban on abortion.”
“Women should be able to make their own decisions about their bodies,” added Jean-Pierre.
The various orders gave both supporters and opponents of the law cause for celebration and consternation. Those seeking abortions in the state saw the legal window expand to the previous 20-week limit before reverting to the recent limits and vice versa.
Federal courts had previously suspended the law. But a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed the restrictions to stand — for a while. Then the state Supreme Court temporarily blocks it last August as the judges deemed a new challenge.
In South Carolina, lawyers representing the state legislature argued that the right to privacy should be interpreted narrowly. During oral arguments last October, they argued that historical context suggests lawmakers intended to protect against searches and seizures when they ratified the law in 1971. Planned Parenthood attorneys representing the challengers said the right to privacy includes abortion. They argue that previous state Supreme Court decisions have already expanded the right to bodily autonomy.
Chief Justice Donald Beatty and Justice John Cannon Malco joined Hearn in the majority. Justice George James, Jr. wrote in a dissenting opinion that the right to privacy protects only against searches and seizures. Judge John Kittridge wrote separately that the state constitution protects the right to privacy outside of searches and seizures, but did not apply in this case.
Multiple justices emphasized that Thursday’s ruling faced only legal issues and dismissed the political aspects of the debate.
The judges’ limited ruling left the door open for future changes. The state House and Senate failed to agree last summer on additional restrictions during a special session on abortion. Still, a small but growing group of conservative lawmakers have vowed to push the framework through one more time this legislative session — despite earlier insistence by some Republican leaders that no deal was possible.
In a statement to The Associated Press, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson hailed the decision as “a voice of reason and common sense to moderate Republican legislative actions to disenfranchise women and doctors.”
Republicans, led by the governor, vowed Thursday to move forward with new attempts at restrictions. McMaster, who is about to enter his final full term, has indicated that a new abortion measure will be a priority when the Legislature reconvenes next week.
“With this opinion, the Court has clearly exceeded its authority,” McMaster said in a statement. “People have spoken through their elected officials many times on this issue. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to right this wrong.
South Carolina House Republican Speaker G. Murrell Smith Jr. tweeted that state judges had created “a constitutional right to abortion where none existed.” Smith echoed Justice Kittridge, adding that the decision failed to observe the separation of powers.
In a dissenting opinion, Kittridge cautioned against leaving it to the judiciary to resolve what he said was a “political dispute.”
“Our legislature made a policy decision to regulate abortion in South Carolina. The legislative policy statement, as contained in the Act, prioritizes the protection of the lives of the unborn,” Kittridge wrote.
Abortion access advocates on Thursday doubled down on their opposition to any new restrictions pending further legislative debate.
South Carolina Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said any continuation of the Republican “war on women” is a deliberate waste of taxpayer money.
And standing side by side outside the Palmetto State Supreme Court Thursday afternoon, advocacy groups celebrated what they called a “mandate.”
“This is a monumental victory in the movement to protect legal abortion in the South,” Planned Parenthood South Atlantic President Jenny Black said in an earlier statement. “Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and our partners will continue their fight to block any bill that allows politicians to interfere in people’s decisions about private health care.”
This version corrects the week in which current South Carolina law prohibits abortion. It is at a gestational age of 22 weeks or about 20 weeks after fertilization, not at a gestational age of 20 weeks.
Associated Press writers Meg Kinard and Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report. James Pollard is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. America Report is a national nonprofit program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.
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