The Daily Gamecock

What the end of legal abortion will look like in South Carolina

<p>A sign for Planned Parenthood at Columbia's only abortion clinic on June 21, 2022. There are three abortion clinics in South Carolina in three different cities.</p>
A sign for Planned Parenthood at Columbia's only abortion clinic on June 21, 2022. There are three abortion clinics in South Carolina in three different cities.

In early May, Politico reported the US Supreme Court will eliminate the constitutional right to abortion and strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide for the first 24 weeks. This would legalize South Carolina's six-week abortion ban which passed in 2021 but was blocked by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

When the six-week abortion ban passed, Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted it was about "protecting the sanctity of life."

Molly Rivera, the communications director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said when the Supreme Court decision comes — assuming it does eliminate the constitutional right to abortion — she expects abortion to be restricted in more than half of the U.S.

"The majority of the South, and certainly the Deep South, will ban abortion immediately or very quickly after the decision comes down," Rivera said. 

Rivera said she expects the court's official decision to be made sometime in late June. Once the decision comes down, it is expected the six-week ban will go into effect within a couple of weeks.

If the constitutional right to abortion is eliminated, Gov. McMaster said he is willing to call the state legislature back to Columbia for a special session to pass more abortion restrictions beyond the current six-week ban. 

South Carolina's current landscape

The current ban on abortion in South Carolina is at 20 weeks. The state currently has three abortion clinics in three different cities — Columbia, Charleston and Greenville — and people are also able to obtain an abortion in a hospital setting or from a private provider.

Ashley Lidow, the director of policy and government relations for The Women's Rights and Empowerment Network, said South Carolina is already considered one of the states with the most restrictions on abortion.

"It is already very, very difficult to access abortion in our state and you have to jump through a lot of hoops as a patient to do so," Lidow said.

Some of those restrictions include a ban on providing the abortion pill via telehealth where the person has to be present in front of a provider to receive a medication abortion — a process that now makes up more than half of all U.S. abortions.

There is also a 24-hour mandatory delay before receiving an abortion, a counseling requirement and a ban on state health plans covering abortions unless in the cases of incest, rape or the life of the mother being endangered.

Looking to the future

The most immediate effect for South Carolina will be the six-week abortion ban being able to go into effect.  

The six-week ban on abortion, titled the SC Fetal Heartbeat Protection From Abortion Act, requires an ultrasound prior to an abortion, and if any embryonic sounds are heard, then no abortion may be performed. 

The closest state where abortion is expected to remain protected is North Carolina — a state with a democratic and pro-abortion governor who has already vetoed two Republican-backed abortion-related bills.

Even with a neighboring state allowing abortion, needing to travel can be very costly. One study showed that the  average South Carolinian will have to travel 267 miles to reach the nearest abortion clinic while the current average is 30 miles. The typical person to receive an abortion is low-income and unmarried.

"There are very few opportunities for people in South Carolina with our neighboring states," Courtney Thomas, representative of the Cypress Action Fund, said. 

One state has already attempted to restrict people traveling out of state for abortions. Missouri lawmakers proposed a bill that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident receive an abortion, regardless of whether the people helping live in Missouri or not.

"(South Carolina lawmakers) blatantly know certain things are unconstitutional and they are still pushing the limits to push the courts to overturn precedent," Lidow said.

The six-week ban the South Carolina legislature passed in 2021 was blocked by a federal court. The federal court called the bill unconstitutional.

Allen Chaney, the director of legal advocacy at the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, said they work to inform lawmakers when they are doing something unconstitutional, such as writing the six-week ban. Chaney said South Carolina lawmakers have not changed their behavior when told they are doing something unconstitutional.

"In South Carolina, there are very few, if any, legislators that are at all interested in whether or not what they are doing is constitutional or not," Chaney said.

How South Carolina's abortion providers are preparing

Vicki Ringer, the director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said she was not surprised by the Supreme Court's decision but she was surprised it was leaked before the official ruling.

"I was shocked at the timing and that it was a leaked opinion," Ringer said. "I don't think any one of us was surprised by what the ruling was ... I don't think anybody doubted that they wouldn't lean towards overturning Roe v. Wade."

Ringer said she had been expecting the ruling ever since the Supreme Court began being filled with more conservative justices such as Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. 

"We have been in a constant state of playing defense," Ringer said. "For some time, we have been preparing in the states where abortion rights are protected to expand our capacity there in anticipation of patients in our southern states needing to travel."

After Texas restricted abortion in 2021, its neighboring states saw a large surge in Texas patients. Oklahoma saw close to a 2,500% increase in Texas patients and Louisiana saw almost a 347% increase in abortion patients from Texas.

With all of these changes expected within the next couple of weeks, Rivera said she is prepared for anything.

"We're about to enter a post-Roe v. Wade world, I'm not counting anything out of the realm of possibility," Rivera said. 


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