Health and Education, Policy Updates

What’s At Stake in the Battle over Abortion Rights in South Carolina

by Ann Warner on May 18, 2019

We have reached a new stage in the battle over abortion rights in America, and South Carolina is on the frontlines.

Year after year the South Carolina General Assembly plays political games with women’s lives by introducing legislation to restrict access to abortion care. This year, however, South Carolina lawmakers have gone to unprecedented lengths. The so-called Personhood Act was introduced this year for the 20th year in a row, but with a twist: the authors made explicit provisions to criminalize women who seek abortion, at any point during their pregnancies. H 3020, the so-called fetal heartbeat bill, bans abortions at 6 weeks, before most people have any idea that they are pregnant. The bill was rushed through the House of Representatives, despite overwhelming opposition from doctors, women, and community members. Both of these bills threaten to put women and doctors behind bars.

Why now? All over the country extremists have been emboldened by an Administration that is openly hostile to women’s health, and by the increasingly conservative make-up of the federal courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. National anti-choice extremist groups have developed model legislation that they are pushing in Statehouses across the country. Seeing their political opportunity, lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and many others are tripping over themselves to pass them. Even lawmakers who acknowledge the harm that these bans would cause are still voting in favor, fearing the political costs of voting otherwise. Outrageously unconstitutional, the laws will inevitably be challenged in the courts. Proponents hope that the challenges will eventually land in the United States Supreme Court, toppling Roe vs. Wade and other constitutional precedent that have protected the right to abortion care for decades. Recent decisions by the Supreme Court bode poorly for the fate of Roe vs. Wade and other legal precedents.

Meanwhile, women’s lives are at stake. The most obvious impact of the bans is that women will effectively lose access to safe abortion care. It is estimated that one in four women has an abortion at some point during her life. Abortion care should be a normal aspect of healthcare. Women will not stop needing or seeking abortions; they will simply be forced to pursue less safe and reliable methods to end their pregnancies. Women with means may be able to travel to other states to access abortion care, but most women will not have that privilege. Women of color, poor women, and women living in rural areas will be harmed the most. They will be forced to carry through with pregnancies that they do not want. The implications of being denied abortions are numerous: studies have shown that women who are denied abortions that they want are more likely to have health complications; more likely to be poor; and more likely to stay tethered to abusive partners.

The implications even go beyond elective abortions. Bills that criminalize abortion make it more difficult for doctors to treat women who are pregnant, who wish to become pregnant, or who suffer from a miscarriage. Under laws like these, women could be subject to criminal scrutiny if they have a miscarriage, or if they seek treatment for another health condition that ends up harming the embryo or fetus. Doctors will be less reluctant to treat pregnant women because they run the risk of facing criminal liability, and pregnancy will become more dangerous. In South Carolina we already have a shortage of obstetricians and gynecologists; draconian abortion bans would likely reduce this number even further.

Abortion bans undermine our individual liberties. By banning abortion, we are interfering in private health care decisions a person is fully entitled and capable of making, in consultation with her health care provider. Laws like these threaten to turn South Carolina into a police state, where any woman of reproductive age can be under scrutiny for her actions before, during, and after pregnancy. This is not hyperbole: in multiple states and countries where abortion is outlawed, women have been subject to criminal charges for their actions during pregnancy. This has already happened in a number of cases in South Carolina. Under these radical proposed restrictions, the scrutiny of women of reproductive age will intensify.

All of these individual consequences add up to catastrophic impacts to the health and well-being of South Carolinians. South Carolina’s already high maternal mortality rate will skyrocket. We have seen this happen in states like Texas, when abortion access is reduced, and in multiple countries around the world. When women are deprived of the ability to plan if, when, and under what circumstances to become pregnant, they will be far less equipped to pursue their aspirations for education, employment, or political leadership. Their children and families will suffer as a result. Women of color, poor women, and women in rural areas will suffer the most.

Our state is already at the bottom when it comes to basic equality between women and men. Laws like these would seal our fate as the worst state in the nation for women to have healthy pregnancies and thriving families.

South Carolinians need to speak up now, in defense of the rights of women. Everyone has strong feelings about the complex issues of pregnancy, parenting, and abortion, but it is imperative that we keep the legislature out of these decisions. We already face enough threats to our health, well-being, and personal liberties. Now is the time to join the increasingly loud and angry chorus of voices declaring: Not in South Carolina.

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