Pro-choice protesters on Saturday gathered outside City Hall to demand that abortions remain available in South Carolina | Photo by Samantha Connors

Across South Carolina, as in the rest of the nation, political liberals are fuming while religious conservatives are relieved about a controversial Friday decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to end constitutional protections for women seeking abortions.

Pro-choice activists seethed that the conservative court voted 6-3 to gut the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and take away a freedom that allowed a woman to determine whether to be pregnant. In the new case, called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court upheld by a 20-week abortion ban in Mississippi. A version of the ban passed last year in several states, including South Carolina. 

In the Dobbs case, the court asserted a person does not inherently have the right to privacy and that no provision in the U.S. Constitution protects the right to abortion. Associate Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion declared the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade that protected abortion was “egregiously wrong from the start” and that “its reasoning was exceptionally weak.” The Friday decision does not ban abortions in the U.S., but it turns the decision over to the states. 

Reactions differ in Charleston

At a Saturday protest outside Charleston City Hall that drew about 200 people, one angry person summed up the sentiments of many: “It’s unfair that other people’s religious beliefs are dictating our bodies. I feel like I have no autonomy.”

Protesters held signs with slogans like “Pro-life is a lie. You don’t care if women die” and “You can’t trust me with a choice but trust me with a child?” Another person who attended the peaceful rally said the six justices who voted to overturn the Roe decision claimed to be pro-life, but were really just pro-birth.

“If they really cared about the life and health of the child, they would be supporting federal programs to provide childcare, medical and health care and focus on improving the safety of children.”

But outside a grocery store across the peninsula on Monday, in comments that highlighted how the hot-button issue of abortion splits neighbors, several area residents supported the court’s decision.

“I am pretty happy with the decision,” one person said. A downtown female resident reflected, “Well, I wish we had gotten here sooner, and we probably would have if we still had [Donald] Trump as president.” 

A West Ashley woman added, “This is hopefully the first step in a long journey in getting the country back on the right path with the Lord. We’ve prayed for this for so long, and we can finally breathe a sigh of relief and know that we are on the right track.”

A man who lives downtown said he hadn’t read a lot about the court’s decision, “but I do know that the decision of the Supreme Court is going to drastically reduce the number of abortions, and that’s a victory for thousands of babies, thousands of families, in America.”

Meanwhile, Friday, in a separate decision, the high court ruled in a contradictory manner to the Dobbs case that directed laws on abortion to be decided by states. In a ruling on a New York statute on guns, the court said the state did not have the authority to make decisions on whether a person could carry a concealed weapon.

South Carolina leaders react to abortion decision

Elected South Carolina leaders on Friday quickly went to social media and other platforms to shout cries of victory or grief over the court’s abortion decision. 

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a resounding victory for the Constitution and for those who have worked for so many years to protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us,” Gov. Henry McMaster wrote on Twitter. “By the end of the day, we will file motions so that the Fetal Heartbeat Act will go into effect in South Carolina and immediately begin working with members of the General Assembly to determine the best solution for protecting the lives of unborn South Carolinians.”

On Monday, a federal judge in South Carolina lifted an injunction that blocked the six-week so-called “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban passed last year by the state legislature. 

McMaster’s Democratic gubernatorial opponent in the November’s general election, former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, vowed to use his authority as governor, should he win, to ensure abortion rights remained intact in the Palmetto State. 

“This is a dark day in American history,” he said in a statement. “The four walls of a doctor’s office simply aren’t big enough for a woman, her partner, her doctor and the government. But the government has decided to force themselves in anyway. 

“Governor McMaster and radical politicians in Columbia have already pledged to ban all abortions in South Carolina with no exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother,” he continued. “The only thing standing in the way of this draconian reality is my veto pen. As governor, I won’t hesitate to use that pen to stand up for women and their right to control their own bodies.”

What happens now in South Carolina?

With the politics of abortion being upturned, many South Carolinians are wondering what steps the state may take next.

Several Republican S.C. House members, including House Speaker Murrell Smith of Sumter, former Speaker Jay Lucas of Darlington and Reps. John McCravy of Greenwood, Travis Moore of Spartanburg, Brian White of Anderson and Thomas Ligon of Chester, have already sponsored H. 5399, a bill that aims to entirely ban abortions. Though no other details on the bill have been released yet, McMaster has previously stated that he would support a bill that bans all abortions with no exceptions for situations like rape, incest or life-threatening complications for the mother.

At the end of May, Smith established an ad hoc committee, chaired by McCravy, to seek public testimony on the impact an abortion ban would have on South Carolinians. The committee will flesh out details for the H. 5399 bill. The date of the public hearing has yet to be announced. 

It’s unclear how far state legislators will try to take abortion restriction laws in South Carolina and whether they will try to pass legislation criminalizing abortion procedures and possibly even criminalizing out-of-state travel to receive abortion care.

Another bill currently in committee in the state Senate, S. 988, seeks to prohibit abortion procedures and “provide penalties for violating the prohibition,” though it’s unclear what those penalties could entail.

This is a developing story.

Reporters Skyler Baldwin and Samantha Connors contributed.

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