As some rejoice South Carolina’s new abortion ban will save lives, others fear it’ll put lives at risk

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Published: May. 24, 2023 at 7:13 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The signature of Gov. Henry McMaster is all that is now needed to enact a ban on most abortions in South Carolina after about six weeks into a pregnancy.

Opponents argue many women do not even know they are pregnant at that point, but supporters herald the bill as a measure that will save lives.

“I think we’ve got the opportunity now, with the governor’s signature on the fetal heartbeat bill, to make a difference in the lives of many, many — thousands — of preborn children in South Carolina,” Mitch Prosser, interim president of the conservative Christian group Palmetto Family Council, said.

The bill bans most abortions in South Carolina after fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically around six weeks into a pregnancy.

That’s why supporters often refer to this as a “heartbeat bill,” and it imposes the same restriction that is currently in place in Georgia. South Carolina’s other neighbor, North Carolina, recently passed a ban on the procedure after 12 weeks.

South Carolina’s bill allows limited exceptions to save the mother’s life when the fetus has a fatal anomaly that would prevent it from surviving outside the womb, and for victims of rape and incest.

The exception for sexual assault survivors only applies before 12 weeks into a pregnancy, and it requires the doctor who performed the abortion to report the crime to the local sheriff within 24 hours of the procedure.

“The exceptions are already extremely problematic and really don’t help anybody,” Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network CEO Ann Warner said. “If they have survived a rape and incest and have to report that to local law enforcement, that is not a safe or reasonable position for survivors to be in, and it’s going to put them at more risk.”

Until the new restrictions go into effect, abortion is legal in South Carolina before about 20 weeks into a pregnancy, one of the least restrictive abortion laws in the southeast.

Provisional data from DHEC shows many more residents of other states are coming to South Carolina for the procedure now compared to a year ago.

In the first three months of 2022, 87 residents of other states got abortions in South Carolina. That number spiked nearly 1500%, up to 1,385 out-of-state residents, in the first three months of 2023.

“It certainly ramped up the urgency, and a lot of people called South Carolina and the most liberal law in the southeast, the abortion destination state of the southeast,” Prosser said.

But opponents of the bill say South Carolinians will still do what they believe they need to do to get abortion care, which could put them in danger while putting doctors in a bad position, too.

“This bill is incredibly confusing and hard for doctors to comply with, and unfortunately, what that’s going to result in is doctors looking at their lawyers before they provide healthcare to people,” Warner said.

Planned Parenthood has said it will file a lawsuit challenging this bill once the governor signs it into law.

After that, a court could temporarily block the law or let it remain in effect as the lawsuit works its way through the legal system.

This bill is similar to South Carolina’s previous six-week ban, which the state Supreme Court struck down in January.

Republican supporters say they are confident this bill is different enough from the former one for the court to uphold it.

But opponents say it is fundamentally the same restriction that has already been deemed unconstitutional.

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