South Carolina's 6-week abortion ban can continue for now
South Carolina can continue enforcing its six-week abortion ban after a judge on Tuesday denied a request to temporarily block it amid a legal battle that is now headed to the state Supreme Court.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal right to the procedure last month, abortion rights advocates in conservative states have turned to state constitutions as they seek to protect abortion access.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and other plaintiffs had asked the judge for an injunction while their lawsuit challenging the ban moves through the courts. The lawsuit argues that the law violates the state constitution's rights to privacy and equal protection.
State lawyers on Tuesday argued the significance of the issues raised and the need for a speedy trial made it necessary for the state Supreme Court to hear the case now.
Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning — who said this case raised the "most fundamentally important constitutional issue" he has seen — agreed and transferred the case. While the judge said Planned Parenthood could seek an injunction there, Planned Parenthood's attorney Hannah Swanson argued that patients in South Carolina need more urgent action to protect their health and freedom.
"We need protection right now," Planned Parenthood South Carolina Director of Public Affairs Vicki Ringer told reporters. "We need the constitution to do what it says it does: protect our right to privacy. And privacy begins with our bodies."
South Carolina Deputy Solicitor General Thomas Hydrick on Tuesday argued that voters did not intend to cover abortion rights when they approved the state's right to privacy in 1971.
Many state restrictions have increased in the South since the Supreme Court last month overturned the federal right to the procedure. A Georgia law banning most abortions once fetal cardiac activity is present — as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — took effect last week.
In contrast to the South Carolina judge's decision, a Louisiana judge ruled last week that three abortion clinics in that state can continue operating while a lawsuit goes through the courts.
South Carolina's Republican-dominated legislature is on track to further restrict the procedure. A special committee last week advanced a proposal to ban almost all abortions, except when the mother's life is at risk.
GOP Gov. Henry McMaster signed the six-week ban last year but a federal appeals court prevented it from taking effect in February. That hold lasted until the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.
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.