Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The mind-numbingly endless debate about abortion in South Carolina has gotten even weirder.

Radical Republicans in the legislature — the very people who haven’t stopped talking about abortion for two decades and inject it into the legislative debate at the drop of a hat – now want us to stop talking about it completely. And if we don’t? We could be complicit in breaking the law.

Of course, the state Senate and then the House would have to pass a version of a bill to ban abortion that includes unconstitutional prohibitions on providing information about abortions.

The bill, S. 1373 by Sens. Richard Cash, Rex Rice and Danny Verdin, all Upstate Republicans, would make it a felony to knowingly and intentionally provide abortion information to a pregnant woman or anyone seeking information for a pregnant woman by telephone, internet or any form of communication. The proposal, now in Verdin’s Senate committee, also would make it a felony to host an internet website that provides abortion information.

In other words, the bill seeks to prohibit doctors from providing information to patients about how someone in South Carolina could get an abortion outside of South Carolina. But it would also prohibit anybody from sending an email or providing information on a website. And that would include any newspapers or media outlets that published stories in print or online about abortions and where people are getting them.

These guys want, in no uncertain terms, to chill our rights to free speech and my constitutional right to publish what I believe is newsworthy.  

And they’re unabashed in admitting it, as one of the three said in a genial Thursday conversation. 

“The bill is drafted and in there for debate,” said Rice, a Greenville Republican. “I would love to say you can’t say anything about abortion and you can’t tell anybody to go to North Carolina” to get one.

But Rice also admitted the current bill likely wouldn’t be passed with speech muzzles as written.

“I’d like to pass it that way, but do I believe it will pass that way? Probably not.” But he repeated, “I would like you not providing information about going to North Carolina to get one [an abortion].”

When asked about the need to criminalize the news process and people’s ability to share information, Rice said, “I think that is something we need to discuss in committee. Obviously that is an extreme position that myself as a cosponsor of the bill would like to address.  We don’t want that information provided.”

Throughout a wide-ranging conversation, Rice was polite and seemed to listen carefully.  He emphasized the bill’s proposals would be scrutinized in committee, which would take into consideration concerns about free speech and the free press. 

“The three of us that helped draft that bill,  none of us are attorneys,” Rice admitted. “I think there’s some stuff that obviously the [Senate] attorneys will say you can’t do that, and we’re going to have to listen to those concerns.”

But that hasn’t stopped these zealots from poking the bear of free speech and free press. It’s pretty amazing that in an America worried by government takeover of guns, health care or any number of issues, these very same leaders want to use the government to take away our constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

They should be ashamed. How did we get to a place in America where people are using the legislative process as a hammer to talk about what they don’t want us to talk about?

Now, however, the poked bear is awake. And these folks will have a hell of a battle on their hands to tell editors what they can and can’t write. 

And they’ll also have to live with unintended consequences. Right now, for example, it’s completely legal to write a story about how someone in South Carolina can get an abortion somewhere else. Someone will. And I’ll publish it.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of the Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.


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