Case update: On August 24, plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing over ambiguity identified in the Court’s August 23 decision.
In January 2023, the South Carolina Supreme Court struck down the state’s six-week abortion ban as a violation of South Carolinians’ right to privacy under the state constitution.
Today, that same court, in a 4-1 vote, upheld a six-week ban that is almost identical to the one it struck down less than a year ago. The ruling will devastate abortion access in the state and throughout the region.
What changed since January? The legislature passed a new ban in May with limited exceptions—and the makeup of the Court changed.
The Court’s only female justice, who wrote the lead opinion in the January ruling, has since retired. The state legislature appointed Justice Gary Hill to fill her seat, making South Carolina the only state in the country with an all-male high court.
The result of the ruling “will essentially force an untold number of affected women to give birth without their consent,” wrote South Carolina Chief Justice Beatty in a dissenting opinion. “I am hard-pressed to think of a greater governmental intrusion by a political body. This outcome is not an affirmation of the separation of powers, as the majority declares, but an abdication of this Court’s duty to ascertain the constitutionality of the challenged legislation.”
“The South Carolina Supreme Court has failed in its duty to protect the rights of South Carolinians,” said Caroline Sacerdote, staff attorney at the Center, about the August 23 ruling. “The Court struck down a nearly identical ban less than a year ago. We are deeply disappointed that the Court has chosen to disregard its own precedent and allow this devastating ban to go into effect.”
Ban Contains Only Limited Exceptions
The law passed in May, S.B. 474, bans abortion care after approximately six weeks of pregnancy and contains limited exceptions for the life and physical health of the pregnant person and for cases of a fetal diagnosis “incompatible” with life. Survivors of rape and incest can only access care until 12 weeks of pregnancy and only if their physician reports the assault — and the survivor’s name — to law enforcement, regardless of the survivor’s wishes.
“A change in the court’s makeup shouldn’t change the enduring protections of South Carolina’s constitution,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “South Carolinians’ rights should not be up for debate.”
South Carolina Has Served as a Key Access State
Because South Carolina is surrounded by states that have banned or severely restricted abortion access since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the federal constitutional right to abortion, it has served as a key state for abortion access. In addition to providing care for South Carolinians, providers have been serving patients from states throughout the region.
Northup added, “Under this cruel ban, people across the South will be forced to travel even further just to get the essential health care they need. The right to make deeply personal health care decisions should not depend on where you live, and we will not stop fighting for reproductive freedom in South Carolina and across the country.”
The case, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic v. South Carolina, was filed by the Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Burnette Shutt & McDaniel on behalf of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic — which operate the only clinics offering abortion services in South Carolina — and two physicians who provide abortion care in the state.