South Carolina’s supreme court has struck down the state’s 2021 heartbeat bill – a hugely controversial ruling likely to inflame the debate over abortion just days before state lawmakers are set to reconvene in the Palmetto State capitol for the 125th session of the S.C. General Assembly.
“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,” the majority opinion written by associate justice Kaye Hearn noted. “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.”
The 3-2 decision specifically focused on the six week requirement of the law, which the court temporarily blocked in August of 2022 after it was challenged by the South Atlantic office of national abortion provider Planned Parenthood on the grounds it violated protections of the S.C. Constitution (Article I, Section 10).
A narrow majority of justices – all of whom were appointed to their posts by “Republican-controlled” legislatures – agreed.
“The state unquestionably has the authority to limit the right of privacy that protects women from state interference with her decision, but any such limitation must be reasonable and it must be meaningful in that the time frames imposed must afford a woman sufficient time to determine she is pregnant and to take reasonable steps to terminate that pregnancy,” Hearn wrote. “Six weeks is, quite simply, not a reasonable period of time for these two things to occur, and therefore the Act violates our state Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable invasions of privacy.”
“Privacy has no meaning if we fail to limit how closely the state may regulate our personal, medical, intimate, and moral decisions,” Beatty wrote in a concurring opinion.
As for Few, he cited the framers of the state constitution as entrusting the judiciary with the task of determining what constituted “unreasonable invasions of privacy.”
“It is not the privilege of this Court to determine which forms of privacy we prefer and which we do not prefer,” Few wrote in his concurring opinion, adding that previous definitions imposed by the justices “do not become invalid simply because we now address a politically controversial issue.”
In a dissenting opinion, associate justice John Kittredge said the state legislature had clearly spoken on the subject of abortion “in a democratic process through their elected representatives.”
“The majority of the court has opted for a judicial resolution of this policy dispute,” Kittredge added, blasting his colleagues for making “a stunning departure from settled law.”
“The legislative policy determination gives priority to protecting the life of the unborn child,” Kittredge noted.
In a separate dissent, associate justice George C. “Buck” James argued his colleagues misapplied “the intent of the framers and the voters.”
“It is clear the framers did not intend to create a full panoply of privacy rights, much less the right to bodily autonomy or the right to have an abortion,” James wrote, noting the framers of the state constitution focused their right to privacy on “protection from law enforcement searches and seizures of communications and information through improper use of electronic devices.”
Signed into law last February, the ‘heartbeat bill’ banned a majority of abortions in the Palmetto State once a fetal heartbeat was detected. Exceptions were made for cases involving rape or incest.
Originally blocked by federal courts, it became law last summer when the U.S. supreme court struck down Roe v. Wade.
As previously noted, I am passionately pro-life. I believe life begins at conception, and I oppose abortion on demand – especially late-term abortions. I further believe life is the indispensable liberty – and if we as a society cannot protect it, the other liberties don’t matter all that much.
Having said that, my job is to host a conversation within the marketplace of ideas on this issue – which is why my microphone is always open to those in the pro-choice movement who wish to share their views with my audience.
THE RULING …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has an incredible hat collection including that Tampa Bay Rays sunburst batting practice lid.
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