Tomorrow a subcommittee of the SC Senate Medical Affairs Committee will consider a bill (S.1) that would prohibit abortions after any embryonic cardiac activity is detected, which is usually at six weeks. Make no mistake, this bill is intended to ban abortion in South Carolina.
Under this bill, abortions would be banned before most people even know they are pregnant. As a result, most pregnant people will be denied the right to decide about their healthcare before they know they have a decision to make. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 29% of South Carolinians live in a county with an abortion clinic. As these clinics also offer a range of other reproductive health services, abortion services are provided on an extremely limited basis. The passage of S.1, when combined with these and other barriers including transportation access, mandatory waiting periods, and cost, would amount to a total ban on abortion for most people in South Carolina.
This legislation places both medical providers and their patients at risk. It imposes criminal sanctions on abortion-providing doctors unless the procedure is intended to prevent death or serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function. Because there is no clear, universal definition of the point at which a pregnant person’s life becomes endangered, even when a physician is certain that an abortion or another intervention which poses a threat to a pregnancy is in the patient’s best interest, the risk of prosecution will incentivize waiting to act until the patient’s symptoms become demonstrably life-threatening. The threat of prosecution directly conflicts with a doctor’s ability to effectively treat a patient needing medical care.
This legislation is unconstitutional. The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees a right to privacy, and the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed that this right includes a person’s ability to make decisions about their healthcare. Popular opinion polling has long established that Americans support keeping abortion legal, rejecting the idea that bodies are public property to be regulated by government officials. To date, every abortion ban passed by state legislatures around the country has been successfully challenged in the courts and blocked from going into effect. Each challenge has imposed an unnecessary burden on taxpayers. In addition to violating the US Constitution, it likely also violates the right to privacy found in Section 10 of the SC Constitution, which states that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures and unreasonable invasions of privacy shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, the person or thing to be seized, and the information to be obtained.” If S.1 passes, South Carolinians will inevitably bear the cost of a preventable and expensive lawsuit.
Instead of pursuing this unconstitutional and dangerous legislation, legislators should be focused on increasing access to reproductive healthcare and reducing pregnancy-related mortality. The rate of pregnancy-related mortality in South Carolina is 25.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, significantly higher than the national average of 14 deaths per 100,000 live births. Under this statistic lies a staggering racial disparity, with pregnancy-related death rates being 2.6 times higher for Black people in South Carolina (43.3 deaths/100,000 live births) than for their white counterparts (16.4 deaths/100,000 live births). For each person who dies as a result of pregnancy, many more experience life-threatening complications. Forced pregnancy at the hands of the legislature is at odds with our state’s goal of decreasing pregnancy-related mortality and disparately endangers the lives of Black South Carolinians and people who live in rural and/or under-resourced areas.
Our lawmakers must protect the health, safety, and privacy of South Carolinians.