S.C. Supreme Court building in downtown Columbia | CP file photo

As state senators met in a Columbia committee room to talk about almost completely banning abortion, the S.C. Supreme Court unanimously issued an order Wednesday to block the state’s recently triggered ban temporarily on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That law generally has ruled out abortions after six weeks.

“We applaud the court’s decision to protect the people of South Carolina from this cruel law that interferes with a person’s private medical decision,” said Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “For more than six weeks, patients have been forced to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion or suffer the life-altering consequences of forced pregnancy. Today the court has granted our patients a welcome reprieve, but the fight to restore bodily autonomy to the people of South Carolina is far from over.”

Clearly, the raw politics of abortion continue to roil the legislative and judicial landscape in South Carolina.

In the injunction, the state’s five justices granted an emergency motion by abortion providers to suspend the state’s current abortion law, which was triggered in June after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal protection offered by the landmark Roe v. Wade case. The order essentially returned South Carolina to the status quo on abortion in the state before the federal June ruling that turned the matter over to the states. And now at issue is whether state law enshrouds privacy protection that extends to abortion. 

“We merely maintain the status quo by adhering to that part of our state’s policy set forth” in 1974, the court wrote, noting that state legislators didn’t get rid of previously-passed abortion protections when they passed the fetal heartbeat ban. And that, they wrote, “arguably creates a conflict in the law.”

Also of note in the state Supreme Court’s order:

  • The court agreed to take on the case directly, which is expected to lead to a quicker decision than having lower courts rule followed by likely appeals from unsuccessful litigants. 
  • The Supreme Court set out an expedited two-month schedule for abortion providers and the state to file briefs and motions.
  • Observers say the injunction doesn’t indicate how the court will rule down the road.  It highlights how there’s a conflict in the law that needs to be settled.

“Even under the expedited schedule, that process could take weeks or, more likely, months,” said a spokesman from Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, one of the plaintiffs. “We expect the process to continue into the fall, during which time we’ll be able to provide abortion care to people like we did before the six-week ban went into effect in June.”

Andrews blasts Senate committee

The S.C. Supreme Court’s order came while the S.C. Senate Medical Affairs Committee heard public testimony in Columbia on S. 1373,  a proposed bill seeking an almost total abortion ban that would make it a crime for anyone to provide an abortion outside of a medical emergency. The Senate bill would also restrict the ability to share information on abortion, which has drawn broad criticism by the press on free speech grounds.

Medical experts and community members spoke about the ramifications of restricting abortion access during the hearing. 

Andrews

Dr. Annie Andrews, a Mount Pleasant Democrat running for Congress in the First Congressional District, reminded senators she’s testified before to refute conservative talking points on Covid-19, gun violence and abortion.  

“I am here again, today, to tell you that this bill is not consistent with established science and this bill will kill women and turn doctors into criminals,” she said in prepared testimony. “But will you listen to me? Unlikely. Time after time you deny science, you turn away expertise, all so that you can score political points and win your primaries.  

“You consistently put political science over actual science. You should be ashamed.”

Earlier today at Commonhouse Aleworks in North Charleston, a group of people watched the hearing on television. One local litigation paralegal described the hearing as scary.

“I feel like a lot of these [Senate] members are being reinforced by their echo chamber — the people who were bussed in all over the state to fill up the docket,” said Amanda Dowd of Mount Pleasant. “And a lot of people were turned away at the last committee and are going to be turned away again. It’s disappointing. It’s scary.”

The brewery in Park Circle hosted a watch party and co-working event Wednesday with Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN), a statewide organization building a movement to advance the health and economic well-being of South Carolina’s women. 

“We consider this abortion ban extremely harmful and threatening to the lives and wellbeing of women and anyone who can give birth,” said Melissa Moore, WREN’s director of organizing “So that’s why we’re here today.”

The event aimed to accommodate working individuals who want to be apprised of the legislative process and advocacy opportunities surrounding a possible abortion ban in South Carolina. 

“It makes me feel sane to know that I’m surrounded by other people who are also afraid that their bodily autonomy is being taken away from them,” Dowd said. “I have two daughters and they now have less rights than I did at their age.”

Wednesday’s hearing occurred after a S.C. House Judiciary Committee voted 13-7 Tuesday to advance H.5399 to the House floor for debate. This bill proposes a near total abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest. Thirteen Republican committee members voted for the bill; three GOP members did not vote. Seven Democrats voted no against the bill, which is expected to face a big legislative fight if there are no exceptions.

WREN’S Wednesday’s event included voter registration stations, an advocacy 101 lesson and opportunities to learn more about taking action. 

“We are going to offer more co-working opportunities as the legislative session gets started because these hearings are during work hours making it very difficult for people who work or who have caregiver responsibilities to be able to advocate,” Moore said. “We’re going to try to make the Statehouse more accessible by hosting co-working spaces [that are] child friendly.”

Also in attendance were representatives of the ACLU, the S.C. Housing Justice Network, the League of Women’s Voters, We Are Family, the Alliance for Full Acceptance and If/When/How Lawyering for Reproductive Justice. 

“It’s difficult in S.C. when there’s so much effort to suppress voters, especially in majority Black and Brown communities, and indigenous and other people-of-color communities,” Moore said. “There is gerrymandering that has been happening and redistricting [happening] all the time, making sure that people’s votes that would be more about gender justice are suppressed. So it is difficult when there’s such a strong effort to suppress votes in S.C. especially within BIPOC communities.”

Chelsea Grinstead, Andy Brack and Samantha Connors contributed to this story.


Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.