After Roe, South Carolina Considers More Restrictions on Abortion

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Nearly two weeks after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade, South Carolina lawmakers became the first to consider more restrictive legislation.

The state had already decided to outlaw abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. But on Thursday its legislature, now empowered to consider even greater restrictions, offered the first glimpse of a state taking early steps into a post-Roe America.

Many conservative states had passed tight restrictions on abortion — including outright bans — in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision. But now more are poised to consider abortion bans at conception, limits on out-of-state abortions and shutting down access to abortion pills.

The fall of Roe started a frenzy of legal and legislative activity across the nation, with anti-abortion groups lobbying for a federal ban, and the most strident edge of the movement pushing to make abortion homicide and prosecute women who have the procedure.

At the same time, abortion rights groups are suing to stop existing state bans from being enforced and fighting to strengthen state laws that protect abortion rights. Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois has said he plans to call a special session to expand abortion access.

Special legislative sessions meant to restrict abortion are expected in Nebraska and Indiana. In Kansas, where abortion is allowed up to 22 weeks of pregnancy, voters will go to the polls next month to decide whether to amend the State Constitution to say it does not include a right to abortion.

With anti-abortion Republicans in firm control of South Carolina’s legislature and executive branch, a new proposal offering something closer to an outright ban seems quite likely, although the details have yet to be hammered out. On Thursday, the exploration of a new abortion law began with a meeting of a 14-member, Republican-dominated House committee. But a bill introduced in the House has been left intentionally vague, with just a few lines of text — including a statement that state law would be changed “so as to prohibit abortions in the state of South Carolina.”

State Representative Travis Moore at the special House committee meeting about a potential abortion ban. A bill that has been introduced is intentionally vague.Credit…Sean Rayford for The New York Times

Courtney Milbank, an Indiana lawyer, urged the committee to adopt model legislation she had helped draft for the National Right to Life Committee. The draft legislation bans all abortions except to prevent the death of the pregnant woman, and calls for criminal prosecution of anyone “conspiring to cause, or aiding or abetting, illegal abortion,” including anyone who takes a minor to another state for an abortion. The legislation would not punish women in civil or criminal court.

A bill to ban abortion already introduced in the South Carolina Senate contains similar provisions.

Some Democrats say Republican leaders may not be willing to push too far past public opinion, which shows overall support for abortion rights, with some limits.

From Opinion: The End of Roe v. Wade

Commentary by Times Opinion writers and columnists on the Supreme Court’s decision to end ​​the constitutional right to abortion.

  • David N. Hackney, maternal-fetal medicine specialist: The end of Roe “is a tragedy for our patients, many of whom will suffer and some of whom could very well die.”
  • Mara Gay: “Sex is fun. For the puritanical tyrants seeking to control our bodies, that’s a problem.”
  • Elizabeth Spiers: “The notion that rich women will be fine, regardless of what the law says, is probably comforting to some. But it is simply not true.”
  • Katherine Stewart, writer: “​​Breaking American democracy isn’t an unintended side effect of Christian nationalism. It is the point of the project.”

The first-term governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, has twice announced plans to call a special session of the State Legislature. South Dakota already has a complete ban on abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest. But a special session could allow Republican lawmakers to impose additional restrictions, like attempting to prohibit residents from traveling out of state to receive an abortion.

Yet Ms. Noem, a Republican who is facing re-election in November, has not called a special session.

Democrats say the governor is worried that a session to strengthen the state’s already sweeping ban could reveal that public opinion is divided on abortion. A representative for Ms. Noem said the special session was not “in the immediate future.”

“I think that the governor is realizing she is out of step with the people of South Dakota,” State Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat, said.

South Dakota voters rejected two ballot initiatives, one in 2006 and another in 2008, that would have banned abortion long before Roe v. Wade seemed vulnerable to reversal. An effort is underway for a new ballot initiative that would enshrine the right to abortion in the State Constitution.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican who is up for re-election in November, has said he welcomed the House committee’s work on a new abortion bill. But he may face a difficult political decision if he is presented with a bill that does not include exceptions for rape and incest, which are in the current law.

In late June, he told reporters, “I look forward to the day that we don’t have any abortions in South Carolina, and we won’t need exceptions.”

On Thursday at the South Carolina State House, Jenny Black, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, criticized the current six-week ban, saying that at that point, “most people don’t even know they are pregnant yet, and it is often logistically impossible for many to arrange for safe legal abortion care in time.”

South Carolina currently bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape and incest.Credit…Sean Rayford for The New York Times

Ms. Black said Planned Parenthood’s two South Carolina clinics, in Columbia and Charleston, continued to offer abortions within the scope of the new law. (An independent clinic in Greenville is also continuing to provide abortion services, a worker there said on Thursday.)

Committee members on Thursday gave little indication of what kinds of new restrictions they might adopt, giving over the bulk of the hearing to residents who wished to speak on the topic. Some quoted Scripture. Some spoke of abortion as part of a woman’s right to privacy.

Former U.S. Representative Joe Cunningham, the Democratic nominee for governor, told the committee that it was robbing women of “the right to decide what happens to their very own bodies.”

Craig Scott, a pastor from Abbeville, spoke in favor of greater restrictions. He told the committee that he had been diagnosed, in the womb, with birth defects, and that doctors had told his parents he would be a “vegetable” after birth. Mr. Scott noted that he had graduated from college and currently leads a church.

“All I’m asking today is to give these children a chance — a chance to flourish, the chance to succeed and a chance to live,” he said.

In North Carolina on Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed an executive order instructing state agencies to “protect people or entities who are providing, assisting, seeking or obtaining lawful reproductive health care services in North Carolina.” The order recognized that North Carolina has begun attracting people from nearby Southern states where abortion has been restricted or banned.

“Your ZIP code should not determine your rights,” Mr. Cooper said in a news conference. “But because of the Supreme Court’s outrageous decision, that’s the reality right now.”

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