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Activists gather as S. Carolina committee takes up abortion

Abortion South Carolina
Meg Kinnard/AP
/
AP
A woman supporting abortion rights shouts at anti-abortion protesters outside the South Carolina Statehouse on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. Protesters clashed outside a legislative building, where lawmakers were taking testimony as they consider new restrictions on abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision overturning of Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

The stark differences in state-by-state approaches to abortion law were on display in South Carolina on Thursday, when national advocacy groups and hundreds of demonstrators descended on the Statehouse grounds to testify before lawmakers considering new abortion-related measures in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

"Trigger bans" immediately went into effect in 13 states after the ruling two weeks ago and Democratic leaders in other areas have sought to demarcate their states as safe harbors for abortion providers and seekers.

South Carolina's Republican leaders have signaled their intent to go further than the law banning abortion around six weeks of pregnancy that took effect on June 27.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said he would work with the General Assembly — where the GOP holds a supermajority in both chambers — "to determine the best solution for protecting the lives of unborn South Carolinians."

That process began Thursday, with the first meeting of an ad hoc committee considering a bill "to prohibit abortions." More than 150 people demonstrated outside the meeting, with dozens lining up at sunrise to secure a spot to testify.

Savannah Duke, a 21-year-old college student from Spartanburg, testified that a 20-week ultrasound showed her parents she had a severely underdeveloped left leg and a cyst on her brain. Although a doctor encouraged them multiple times to seek abortion, her parents decided against it.

"I'm thankful my parents chose to speak up for me and give me a chance to live," Duke said before the committee. "So now it's my turn to speak up."

Abortion-rights supporters emphasized that the state has the country's eighth-highest maternal mortality rate, with Black women dying at four times the rate of white women during childbirth. These health disparities, they argued, would only worsen under increased abortion restrictions.

In his testimony, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Joe Cunningham noted the story of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio — which has a similar six-week abortion ban — who recently traveled out-of-state for an abortion.

"This little girl is not old enough to vote. She's not old enough to hold a job. She's not old enough to hold a bank account," Cunningham said. "But she was told she was old enough to become a mother."

Ahead of the hearing, Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson told The Associated Press the laws being discussed "are designed to create chaos and confusion for people seeking access to care."

McGill Johnson had just come from North Carolina, where Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Wednesday protecting out-of-state abortion patients from extradition.

McGill Johnson praised North Carolina as an abortion "refuge" and condemned South Carolina lawmakers' efforts.

According to Planned Parenthood South Atlantic President Jenny Black, over one-third of Planned Parenthood's appointments in North Carolina this week were made by out-of-state patients — many from South Carolina and Tennessee.

At the moment, North Carolina is a regional outlier on abortion. In Georgia, a 2019 law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy — also blocked in federal court — is expected to take effect. In Alabama, it is a felony to perform an abortion at any stage, with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Mississippi's only abortion clinic closed this week.

Black said the organization's locations in North Carolina have been working to increase capacity in anticipation of abortion rights' rollback.

"We aren't brand new to this," Black said. "Advocates have been saying this is the future that will happen."

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James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow James Pollard on Twitter.