In a striking decision for the historically conservative state, the South Carolina Supreme Court declared the state’s law banning abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy as unconstitutional. The 3-2 decision was based on the explicit right to privacy granted to citizens in the state’s constitution. “We hold that the decision to terminate a pregnancy rests upon the utmost personal and private considerations imaginable, and implicates a woman’s right to pregnancy,” Justice Kaye Hearn wrote in the majority opinion. The 6 week ban was determined to place an “unreasonable” restriction on a woman’s right to privacy, however, the Court’s ruling leaves the prior ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy intact. 

In 2021, South Carolina legislators passed a law prohibiting abortion after the detection of a heartbeat in a fetus, usually about 6 weeks into a pregnancy – before many individuals even know they are pregnant. The majority opinion of the Court specified that any limitations on abortion must give a woman enough time to “determine she is pregnant and to take reasonable steps to terminate that pregnancy” in order to comply with the right to privacy. The Court also rejected the arguments that the privacy provision in the state constitution only applied to instances of search and seizure.       

Abortion rights groups celebrated this monumental victory for abortion in the South. This was the first ruling by a state Supreme Court on the state constitutionality of abortion since the overturn of Roe v. Wade. The decision proved to activists that the current strategy of filing lawsuits in an attempt to establish a right to abortion under state constitutions can be successful. 

Sources: New York Times 1/5/2023; CNN 1/5/2023

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