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Abortion rights advocates brace for tougher ban as lawmakers reconvene

Abortion rights advocates gather outside the Statehouse to watch public testimony before a Senate committee
Victoria Hansen
/
South Carolina Public Radio
Abortion rights advocates gather outside the Statehouse in Columbia to watch a live stream of public testimony being given inside before the Senate Medical Affairs Committee. August 17, 2022

Even as the South Carolina Supreme Court temporarily halts a ban on abortions after six weeks, state lawmakers are expected to consider even more restrictive legislation as they reconvene this week.

A bill, advanced earlier this month to the House of Representatives for debate, would outlaw all abortions except under extreme circumstances, like protecting the health and life of the mother. It does not include rape and incest and would hold abortion providers criminally liable.

“I thought it was done,” says Carol MacNett. “The disrespect comes flying back again.”

The 81-year-old fought for the constitutional right to abortion decades ago. But now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, MacNett finds herself in battle again.

Carol MacNett and other abortion rights advocates watch a live stream of public testimony inside the Statehouse
Victoria Hansen
/
South Carolina Public Radio
Carol MacNett (middle) joins abortion rights advocates watching a live stream of public testimony before the Senate Medical Affairs Committee in Columbia. August 17, 2022

She recently joined dozens of abortion rights advocates beneath a tent outside the Statehouse in Columbia on a wet, weekday morning to watch a live stream of public testimony before the Senate Medical Affairs Committee. Its members are considering language for yet another abortion bill. This one would make it illegal to help a woman get an abortion by providing information.

The proposal has prompted a Philadelphia based group, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, to put up billboards across the state reminding people of their constitutional rights. The billboards read, “Speech about abortion is free speech.”

Attorney Susan Dunn testified before the committee pointing out South Carolina’s constitution does include a right to privacy.

“The right to privacy seems kind of vague,” Dunn said. “But I can stand before you as a woman and let you know that my uterus is about the most private thing I have.”

Billboard promoting free speech about abortion
Provided
/
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression
Billboards like this have been put up across the state by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) in response to a proposed abortion bill that would make it illegal to help a woman get an abortion by providing information.

Not long after Dunn spoke, Planned Parenthood announced the South Carolina Supreme Court had granted its’ request for a temporary injunction on the state’s six-week abortion ban to determine if the law is constitutional under the privacy provision.

Testimony continued after the announcement from a variety of people including religious leaders, doctors, rape survivors and parents of children with disabilities. Some argued abortion is the murder of an innocent child. Others said women should have the right to choose what to do with their bodies. And several doctors expressed concern over women’s health as well as the potential for facing criminal charges.

This week’s debate on the House floor over a nearly total ban on abortion is expected to be intense. One Republican representative has publicly expressed regret over passing the six-week ban.

Rep. Neal Collins says he couldn’t sleep after learning a 19-year-old nearly lost her uterus and her life was put at risk when she could not get an abortion because of the ban.

“This weighs on me,” Rep. Collins said. “I voted for that bill. These are affecting people."

The Senate reconvenes after Labor Day.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.