Arguments over South Carolina abortion ban return to newly all-male state Supreme Court

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — Abortion rights in South Carolina are back in the state’s highest court as Republicans try to reinstate a ban that was overturned earlier this year — this time before the only state Supreme Court in the country. entirely made up of men.

Tuesday’s oral arguments will mark the second time since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal protections last summer that state and vendor attorneys will present their case to the state Supreme Court. A 3-2 majority in January rejected a similar law banning abortion once heart activity is detected, or at about six weeks and before most people know they are pregnant.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster recently signed into law a similar ban that begins once heart activity is detected. This restriction has been temporarily suspended while the case involving the new ban moves through the courts. Meanwhile, abortion remains legal for 22 weeks in this conservative state.

The circumstances are different this time after a change in the composition of the court. Judge Kaye Hearn, the author of the leading opinion in the January ruling and the only woman on the court, has since quit after reaching the court’s mandatory retirement age. An all-male bench with newly sworn in judge Gary Hill will hear arguments on Tuesday.

The case will test the strength of January’s ruling. State attorneys must overcome a higher bar after the state Supreme Court recently ordered them to explain why it should overturn the previous ruling. The five justices drafted their own legal explanations for the January ruling in an unusual move that state attorneys say left the ruling devoid of any solid precedent.

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic argue that there is no substantial difference between two laws that both limit abortions at the same time of pregnancy. The collective opinions of the three majority justices all found that a roughly six-week ban violated the state constitution’s right to privacy, the attorneys wrote in a legal brief.

The new law resembles the 2021 ban that was reversed in January. But Republican lawmakers changed it to overturn the vote of a judge who more closely joined the majority.

The state has argued in legal briefs that the new law directly responds to Justice John Few’s criticism that the General Assembly failed to consider whether or not a six-week ban gives patients enough time to learn that ‘they are pregnant to justify limiting their privacy rights involving decisions. around abortion.

This time around, lawmakers considered the patient’s ability to “engage in meaningful decision-making” and “make the necessary arrangements,” the lawyers said. They cited data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found about 45% of abortions nationwide in 2020 occurred within six weeks of pregnancy and that nearly 81% occurred within nine weeks.

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic argued in their legal filing that the Republican-led General Assembly had “erroneously” assumed that the “substantial unconstitutionality of the new law could be corrected by replacing a set of magic words with another”.


James Pollard is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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