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South Carolina Supreme Court rules 6-week abortion ban is unconstitutional

south_carolina_legislature.jpg
Adam Fagen
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Abortion rights advocates protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled today that the state’s six-week abortion ban is unconstitutional. The ruling found the ban violates an individual’s constitutional right to privacy.

In 2021, South Carolina passed an abortion ban known as the “heartbeat law.” The measure prohibits abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which usually occurs around six weeks into a pregnancy. It includes some exceptions for victims of rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies and the life and health of the mother.

[Read the ruling here]

Federal courts had previously suspended the law. The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade allowed the restrictions to take effect — but for just a brief period. The state Supreme Court temporarily blocked the law this past August.


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In Thursday’s 3-2 vote, South Carolina’s high court wrote: “We hold that our state constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.”

Justice Kaye Hearn, the sole woman on the bench, was among the three who voted that the ban was unconstitutional. In her opinion, Hearn wrote: “few decisions in life are more private than the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy.”

Molly Rivera with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic called today’s ruling a monumental one.

"It has been a grueling fight for many years," Rivera said. "And this victory is such a clear definitive win for the fight to maintain legal abortion in the south, it’s really incredible."

The decision comes nearly two years after Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed the measure into law, a move that immediately drew lawsuits.

South Carolina currently bans most abortions after 20 weeks.

Republican officials in South Carolina quickly came out against the court's ruling, which the state's Republican party called "extremely disappointing and yet another unfortunate example of judicial activism."

"We respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the Court’s ruling. We’re working with the Governor’s office and legislature to review all our available options moving forward," said Attorney General Alan Wilson.

McMaster blasted the ruling, and the court's reasoning behind it. He also said he would seek legislative action on the issue, which has been stymied in recent years.

"Our State Supreme Court has found a right in our Constitution which was never intended by the people of South Carolina. With this opinion, the Court has clearly exceeded its authority. The people have spoken through their elected representatives multiple times on this issue. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to correct this error," McMaster said, in a statement.

Abortion rights advocates, on the other hand, celebrated the decision. Planned Parenthood called it a "monumental victory."

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the "ruling is a win for freedom."

"We are relieved that this dangerous law has been relegated to the history books and can no longer threaten patients and providers in South Carolina. Reproductive health care, including abortion, is a fundamental right that should never be subject to the whims of power-hungry politicians," said Johnson.

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Sarah Delia covers criminal justice and the arts for WFAE. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.