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South Carolina enacts six-week abortion ban, threatening access across entire South

Abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion protestors demonstrate at the South Carolina capitol on 23 May as lawmakers approve a six-week ban on abortion care.  (Getty Images)
Abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion protestors demonstrate at the South Carolina capitol on 23 May as lawmakers approve a six-week ban on abortion care. (Getty Images)

The state of South Carolina has outlawed abortion at roughly six weeks of pregnancy, extending the sweeping restrictions and outright bans on abortion care across the entire US South, and threatening legal access to care for millions of Americans.

Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed legislation into law on 25 May after the bill’s final passage earlier this week. It goes into effect immediately.

Republican lawmakers in neighbouring North Carolina recently voted to override the Democratic governor’s veto of a bill outlawing abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy, restricting abortion access in a state that has been a haven for abortion care in the year after the US Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v Wade.

More than a dozen states, mostly in the South, have outlawed most abortions or severely restricted access within the year after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which revoked a constitutional right to abortion care that was affirmed for nearly half a century.

Abortion rights restrictions in North Carolina and a six-week ban in South Carolina dramatically change the map for abortion access in the US, where abortions are banned in most cases from Texas to West Virginia and along the Gulf Coast, making legal access to care out of reach altogether across the Deep South.

Abortion rights advocates and civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit to challenge South Carolina’s law in court.

The lawsuit comes just four months after the state’s Supreme Court permanently struck down a nearly identical law, which the court determined ran afoul of the state’s constitution.

Restrictions on abortion care “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,” Justice Kaye Hearn wrote in the majority opinion on 5 January.

“Six weeks is, quite simply, not a reasonable period of time for these two things to occur,” the judge added.

Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement that South Carolina lawmakers “have once again trampled on our right to make private health care decisions, ignoring warnings from health care providers and precedent set by the state’s highest court just a few months ago.”

“The decision of if, when, and how to have a child is deeply personal, and politicians making that decision for anyone else is government overreach of the highest order,” she added. “We will always fight for our patients’ ability to make their own decisions about their bodies and access the health care they need. We urge the court to take swift action to block this dangerous ban on abortion.”

Governor McMcaster has pledged to defend the law in court.

“We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed,” he said in a statement. “The right to life must be preserved, and we will do everything we can to protect it.”