Health and Education

What does the abortion ban mean for South Carolina?

by Kelli R. Parker on Sep 1, 2023

It’s been one week since the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld a law that bans abortion after “cardiac activity” can be detected by an ultrasound, with limited exceptions.

In some cases, the so-called “heartbeat” can be heard starting at roughly the sixth week of pregnancy, which is why the law has consistently been called a six-week ban. Regardless of the wording, restricting access at six weeks is effectively a total abortion ban in South Carolina. There are only four exceptions: for rape up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, for incest up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, in cases of fatal fetal anomaly, and in cases protecting the mother’s life.

Medical professionals and research data overwhelmingly show that the average person doesn’t even know they’re pregnant until the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy. This law leaves pregnant people with almost no time to make decisions that affect their health and their family’s future. As Dr. N. Dawn Bingham said in a recent editorial for The Post and Courier :

“… a pregnant person would have to have a perfect 28-day menstrual cycle, 12 months a year, a constant supply of pregnancy tests and unrestricted access to health care in order to obtain an abortion in this two-week timeline; anyone who menstruates knows how ludicrous this is.”

A person at a protest holding a sign listing the history of women's rights: 1920 right to vote, 1972 right to equal education, 2016 right to serve, and a question mark with right to control our own body
Until last week, the state’s 20-week abortion law was in place, allowing providers in South Carolina to provide critical abortion care for those across the Southeast while neighboring states continue to restrict access in a post-Roe era. The law is effective immediately and impacts all people who can get pregnant across the state and the region.

Currently, the closest out-of-state options are clinics in North Carolina, where it’s legal through 12 weeks but two in-person visits are required; Florida, where it’s banned at 15 weeks; and Virginia, where it remains legal through the second trimester. The downside, however, is that with so many people now seeking services outside of the South, wait times across the country to get an appointment may make these options unavailable. This interactive map has policy information and explains each state’s restrictions and requirements.

The barely-there silver lining in all of this is that self-managed abortions are no longer a crime in our state. That does not mean that police and prosecutors won’t misuse other laws to target and punish people for how their pregnancies end. We all know that criminalization happens despite what the actual laws say. The Repro Legal Helpline offers a free, confidential service where you can get information about your legal rights.

Emergency contraception (EC), taken after sex to prevent pregnancy, is still legal and can be purchased from the drugstore without a prescription if you are 17 or older (with a prescription if you are under 17) or for low or no-cost at a family planning clinic. While pills like Plan B® lower your risk of pregnancy by 75 to 88%, — and up to 95% if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex — it will not harm a fetus or end a pregnancy. The longer a person waits to take EC the less effective it is.

What can we do?

Of course, we are sad and angry that the country’s only all-male state Supreme Court upheld a law that ultimately harms all South Carolinians. This devastating court decision and the new law strips all people of the basic human right of bodily autonomy.

WREN and our growing network of peers, partners, and supporters will absolutely continue this fight to protect reproductive healthcare. You can help.

If you are pregnant and have concerns, don’t wait. Call your doctor right away to ask for options and resources. We have constantly updated information on how to quickly get the help and care you need.

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