Legal /

South Carolina Supreme Court Reverses Previous Decision, Backs Abortion Ban

Justice Kittredge: ‘At a certain point in the pregnancy, a woman's interest in autonomy and privacy does not outweigh the interest of the unborn child to live’

The Supreme Court of South Carolina upheld the state’s restrictions for abortions, reversing an earlier decision from the court.

Despite having previously ruled to block the law, the justices have now ruled 4-1 to maintain the ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected – six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual cycle.

“Does the Act infringe on a woman’s privacy interest? Are the concerns and challenges of Planned Parenthood worthy of this Court’s profound respect and careful consideration?” asked Justice John Kittredge, who wrote the majority opinion. “The answer to both questions is unequivocally ‘yes.’ To be sure, the 2023 Act infringes on a woman’s right of privacy and bodily autonomy.”

“Even so, and despite our temporary acceptance of an expansive construction of the privacy provision in article I, section 10, the constitutional question before us is not easily answered,” he continued. “The legislature has made a policy determination that, at a certain point in the pregnancy, a woman’s interest in autonomy and privacy does not outweigh the interest of the unborn child to live. As a Court, unless we can say that the balance struck by the legislature was unreasonable as a matter of law, we must uphold the Act.”

The law includes exceptions, permitting women to get abortions if the pregnancy was conceived through rape, to protect the mother’s life, or in the case of fatal fetal anomaly. The law also includes an exception in the case of incest up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Chief Justice Donald Beatty wrote the dissenting opinion, arguing that there is ambiguity on when cardiac activity begins.

Both the 2021 Act and the 2023 Act—which bear the same name and ban abortion at exactly the same point in time—preclude many women from being able to exercise informed choice over their reproductive health decisions because the prohibition takes effect before many women can realistically know that they are pregnant and obtain an abortion,” wrote Beatty. “Further, I strongly disagree with the suggestion by the majority that the availability of contraception to prevent a pregnancy has any bearing on the amount of time a pregnant woman has to discover and decide whether to continue a pregnancy, and to obtain medical care based on that decision.”

“In my view, the notion that the existence of contraceptives expands the time for a woman to discover that she is pregnant is absurd,” he continued. “I seriously doubt that the legislature intended contraceptives to be viewed in that context.”

According to a Winthrop University poll that was released in May, 37% of South Carolinians were in favor of a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy while 43% were opposed. The majority of respondents were in favor of exceptions to an abortion ban, including to protect the life of the mother (81%), in the case of rape (78%), and if the baby would be born with serious health issues or a severe disability (57%).

*For corrections please email [email protected]*