On Thursday, the state Supreme Court of South Carolina issued a ruling that the state’s restriction on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy violates the constitution of the state.
The law of 2021 prohibited abortions once what it called a “fetal heartbeat” was detected, which can occur as early as four weeks, but more commonly, six weeks into pregnancy. Exceptions were made for fetal abnormalities, risks to the life of the mother, and certain instances of rape or incest, however.
The court decided by a vote of 3-2 that the law violated the privacy protections outlined in the state constitution. Justice Kaye Hearn wrote in the lead opinion that the “state constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.” This was the reasoning behind the majority of the court’s decision.
According to Hearn wrote, even though the state can place some restrictions on these rights, “any such limitation must be reasonable and it must be meaningful in that the time frames imposed must afford a woman sufficient time to determine whether or not she is pregnant and to take reasonable steps to terminate that pregnancy.”
In a dissenting opinion that was written by Justice John Kittredge and joined in part by Justice George James, Kittredge wrote that he “would honor the policy decision made by the General Assembly,” adding that the responsibility of determining abortion policy in the state lies with its elected lawmakers. Justice George James joined Kittredge’s dissent in part.
“Abortion is a significant problem, both from a moral and a political standpoint. The voices of the people, as conveyed by the representatives they have democratically chosen, have been heard. In his dissenting opinion, Kittredge stated that “matters of policy should be determined not by this court but by the South Carolina legislature.”
Henry McMaster, the Republican governor of South Carolina, issued a statement on Thursday in which he criticized the verdict and said that the court “has identified a right in our Constitution which was never intended by the people of South Carolina.” McMaster’s remark was included in a press release.
“By rendering this ruling, the court has gone beyond the bounds of its power. On several occasions, the people have sent their opinions regarding this matter to their elected representatives. The governor has stated that he is looking forward to working with the General Assembly to rectify this mistake.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wrote in a tweet that the Obama administration is “encouraged by South Carolina’s Supreme Court judgment today on the state’s draconian and harmful abortion ban.” Despite this, the decision was hailed by the White House.
In July of last year, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, in addition to two individual providers, filed a lawsuit challenging the law, alleging that the law’s prohibition on the procedure for the first six weeks after birth violates several clauses of South Carolina’s constitution. Two individual providers also joined the lawsuit.
Late in July, a judge on the circuit court declined to block the ban and recommended that the lawsuit be moved to the state’s high court. In August, the state’s high court granted a request from state abortion providers for a temporary injunction so that they could continue their legal challenge to the law. However, the judge did not permanently block the ban from being enforced.
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