The South Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the state’s ban on abortion after six weeks, ruling that the law violated constitutional rights to privacy that extend to the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy.
The court ruled in a 3-2 decision to strike down The Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act. With the overturning of this law, abortions in South Carolina will be permitted up until 20 weeks of gestation.
The bill was signed into law in February of 2021, but did not go into effect until shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision last summer.
Under the law, abortions were banned when a fetal heartbeat was detectable, which usually occurs around six weeks, which South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn noted was before many women knew they were pregnant.
In her opinion, Hearn rejected the argument put forth by the South Carolina state government that the constitutional rights to privacy were limited by the absence of language mentioning bodily autonomy and medical care, an argument that states with similar laws have previously made.
“We hold that our state constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. The State unquestionably has the authority to limit the right of privacy that protects women from state interference with her decision, but any such limitation must be reasonable and it must be meaningful in that the time frames imposed must afford a woman sufficient time to determine she is pregnant and to take reasonable steps to terminate that pregnancy,” Hearn concluded.
South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty and Justice John Cannon Few concurred with Hearn’s opinion. Justices George James Jr. and John Kittredge dissented.
In a statement provided to The Hill, the Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Rep. Murrell Smith (R), said the court had created “a constitutional right to an abortion where none exist.”
“Today’s decision fails to respect the concept of separation of powers and strips the people of this state from having a say in a decision that was meant to reflect their voices. Instead, South Carolina is left with a decision that is not reflective of our state’s political process or will,” Smith said.
The case challenging the law’s constitutionality was brought forward by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, Greenville Women’s Clinic and South Carolina physicians Katherine Farris and Terry Buffkin
Reproductive right activists applauded the decision on Thursday, with Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, calling it a rejection of an “insidious attempt to take away South Carolinians’ fundamental rights under the state’s constitution.”
“These radical bans have wreaked havoc across the South and Midwest, but today’s decision means that the right to make deeply personal health care decisions will remain protected in South Carolina — an immense victory for South Carolinians and the entire region,” said Northrup.
–Updated at 1:19 p.m.