In this landmark ruling, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed abortion as a protected privacy right under the state’s constitution. The ruling, made January 5, 2023, permanently blocked the state’s ban on abortion at approximately six weeks of pregnancy. Read more about the ruling below or here.
In February 2021, South Carolina’s S.B. 1 abortion ban was temporarily blocked by a federal district court after a lawsuit challenging the law was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners.
But after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion in June 2022, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster filed an emergency motion to stay the injunction that had previously blocked S.B. 1. The ban went into effect on June 27, 2022, three days after the Supreme Court’s decision.
On July 13, the plaintiffs filed a new challenge in South Carolina state court against the law on state constitutional grounds. The lawsuit, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic v. State of South Carolina, et al., asked the court to block the ban because it violates the South Carolina Constitution’s right to privacy and equal protection by banning abortion, providing inadequate protections for patients’ health, and conditioning sexual assault survivors’ access to abortion on the disclosure of their personal information to law enforcement.
On July 20, the state petitioned the South Carolina Supreme Court for original jurisdiction in order to bypass the judicial process. The petition argued that S.B. 1 is constitutional because the South Carolina Constitution does not protect the right to abortion.
On July 26, the South Carolina state trial court refused to grant abortion providers’ request for relief and instead granted the State’s motion to transfer the case to the South Carolina Supreme Court. On July 27, the plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for a temporary injunction against S.B. 1 in the South Carolina Supreme Court. The motion argued that the court should block the ban from taking effect while it considers the state’s petition for original jurisdiction.
On August 17, the South Carolina Supreme Court blocked S.B. 1 from taking effect, granting the emergency request by the Center and its partners for a temporary injunction while litigation in the case proceeds. Abortion services have resumed in the state.
The South Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on October 19. Genevieve Scott, Senior Counsel at the Center, said, “This unjust ban is incredibly dangerous and jeopardizes people’s health and wellbeing. People should not have to question if and how they can access the essential health care they need. We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to fight for and protect South Carolinians’ fundamental right to abortion.”
“Today’s ruling is especially significant because it builds on the body of jurisprudence throughout the country holding that state constitutions independently recognize and protect abortion rights.” –Genevieve Scott, senior counsel
South Carolina Supreme Court ruling:
On January 5, 2023, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued its decision, ruling that abortion is protected under the state constitution’s right to privacy and permanently blocking the six-week ban. The ruling allows doctors to continue providing abortion care to patients beyond the earliest stages of pregnancy.
The lead opinion states, “. . . this Act, which severely limits—and in many instances completely forecloses—abortion, is an unreasonable restriction upon a woman’s right to privacy and is therefore unconstitutional.” Referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June 2022 eliminating the constitutional right to abortion, the lead opinion also states, “Dobbs does not control, nor even shed light on, our decision today since the South Carolina Constitution expressly includes a right to privacy.”
“Today’s ruling is especially significant because it builds on the body of jurisprudence throughout the country holding that state constitutions independently recognize and protect abortion rights,” said Genevieve Scott, senior counsel for the Center. “States have unique constitutions that can provide broad protections for reproductive autonomy. Considering the robust privacy and equal protection clauses in South Carolina’s constitution, the state supreme court clearly made the right decision today.”
Excerpts from the lead opinion:
- “The Act cannot withstand the clear directive of our state constitution—that “unreasonable invasions of privacy shall not be violated . . . .” [I]t forecloses abortion in South Carolina for many pregnant women who may seek it . . . . By leaving no room for many women to exercise that choice, the Act prohibits certain South Carolinians from making their own medical decisions.”
- “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 privacy. While this right is not absolute, and must be balanced against the State’s interest in protecting unborn life, this Act, which severely limits—and in many instances completely forecloses—abortion, is an unreasonable restriction upon a woman’s right to privacy and is therefore unconstitutional.”
- “We reject Respondents’ argument to limit the right to privacy guaranteed in our constitution merely because the words used do not specifically mention medical care or bodily autonomy. This narrow interpretation would render the words “and unreasonable invasions of privacy” superfluous.”
- “Recognizing that Roe was overturned partially based on its reliance on an unmentioned and hence arguably nonexistent constitutional right to privacy, Dobbs does not control, nor even shed light on, our decision today since the South Carolina Constitution expressly includes a right to privacy.”
- “[T]he actual scientific data demonstrates that the guise of an “informed choice” is merely an illusion in many instances because women typically do not realize they are pregnant until around six weeks, precisely when the Act bans this medical procedure.”
On January 30, the State filed a motion for reconsideration. On February 8, the Court denied the request, marking the conclusion of the case.
Center Attorneys: Genevieve Scott
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Burnette Shutt & McDaniel, PA
Plaintiffs: Planned Parenthood South Atlantic; Katherine Farris, M.D.; Greenville Women’s Clinic; and Terry L. Buffkin, M.D.
|June 27, 2022||S.B. 1 goes into effect.|
|July 13, 2022||The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners file a state court challenge, arguing that the ban violates the South Carolina Constitution.|
|July 20, 2022||The state petitions the South Carolina Supreme Court for original jurisdiction, in an attempt to bypass the judicial process and delay proceedings.|
|July 26, 2022||A South Carolina trial court refuses to grant abortion providers’ request for relief, moving to transfer the case to the South Carolina Supreme Court.|
|July 27, 2022||Plaintiffs file an emergency motion for a temporary injunction against S.B. 1 in the South Carolina Supreme Court.|
|August 17, 2022||The South Carolina Supreme Court blocks S.B. 1 from taking effect while litigation proceeds.|
|October 19, 2022||The South Carolina Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the challenge to S.B. 1.|
|January 05, 2023||The South Carolina Supreme Court rules that abortion is protected under the state constitution’s right to privacy and permanently blocks the six-week ban, allowing doctors to continue providing abortion care to patients beyond the earliest stages of pregnancy.|
|January 30, 2023||The State files a motion for reconsideration.|
|February 08, 2023||The Court denies the State’s motion for reconsideration. The case is now concluded.|
- Complaint in Planned Parenthood South Atlantic v. State of South Carolina, et al., 07.13.22
- Order on Petition for Temporary Injunction, 08.17.22
- South Carolina Supreme Court ruling, 01.05.23
- Press Release: South Carolina Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Six-Week Abortion Ban, 08.17.22
- Center Argues to Protect Abortion Rights Under State Constitutions, 10.18.22
- Press Release: South Carolina Supreme Court Permanently Blocks Six-Week Abortion Ban, 01.05.23
- South Carolina Supreme Court Affirms Abortion as a Protected Privacy Right Under the State’s Constitution, 01.05.23