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South Carolina's top court hears arguments on 6-week abortion ban


It's been a year since the U.S. Supreme Court handed authority to states to decide their own restrictions around abortion. South Carolina is the latest state to consider a ban on the procedure at six weeks' gestation. The Supreme Court in that state heard arguments today over whether this proposed ban can take effect. Current law there allows for abortions up to about 20 weeks. South Carolina Public Radio reporter Maayan Schechter was in the courtroom and joins me now. Welcome.


SUMMERS: So just for starters, tell us about this case.

SCHECHTER: Sure. So the case was filed by South Carolina's two abortion providers. One is Planned Parenthood, and the other is the Greenville Women's Clinic. That's a private practice that provides health care to women. And lawyers for those organizations were in court today, making arguments defending women's access to reproductive health care. And when we talk about this case in particular, it's also important to consider the geography of South Carolina. South Carolina has been - in what many have described it to be - an abortion island. Many of the surrounding states already have much more restrictive bans on the books, such as six and 12 weeks in place, and so many Republican lawmakers and state leaders here did not want the state to become what they consider to be an abortion destination. And that's one of the reasons why those leaders and lawmakers have been so aggressively defending this case throughout the courts.

SUMMERS: And I understand that this is the second attempt at a six-week abortion ban in South Carolina. Why is the court debating this when they've already ruled a ban unconstitutional?

SCHECHTER: Right. Well, this is an entirely new court. A key justice who actually authored the lead opinion back in January - she retired recently, and she was the only woman on the court. In South Carolina, the mandatory retirement age for judges is 72. And this particular justice, Kaye Hearn - she turned 72 and therefore had to retire. And since then, she's really publicly defended her decision to strike down the law. In one instance recently, she was quoted as saying, six weeks is a joke. But now that she's gone, the court is actually all male because lawmakers elected her successor, Gary Hill. And therefore, the court is now all men. And the legislature thought they'd have better luck now, so they decided to tweak the ban that was previously rejected and try again with a brand-new audience.

SUMMERS: What were the arguments you heard today in court?

SCHECHTER: Sure. So the lawyers representing the abortion providers - they argued that nothing really has changed since the last attempt at a six-week ban, and they consider this ban to still be unconstitutional. A lawyer for Planned Parenthood made the point today that, for most people, it's very unlikely they'll know that they're pregnant this early, saying people, quote, "are not sitting around taking pregnancy tests every single day."

The lawyers on the other side - that would be for the state and the Republican leaders - they argue that they've made what they consider significant changes to this bill. For example, they removed language about women being able to make a, quote, "informed choice." And that was in response to concerns from one justice who was considered the swing vote. He had previously raised questions about the time women have to know that they're pregnant and also how much time they have to make a decision. And he actually made some ambiguous statements during today's hearing, forecasting maybe a possible change of heart, saying, quote, "I promise you I'm not changing my analysis, but that does not mean the outcome is the same."

SUMMERS: And briefly, tell us what is next for this law?

SCHECHTER: So it's a bit unclear when the Supreme Court is going to hand down the decision. It could be days or weeks before we have a ruling from the Supreme Court. But for now, it's currently still legal to get an abortion in South Carolina until about 20 weeks. Advocates here have really been hammering that message, particularly on social media. There is some irony in that there are actually only three clinics in the state that offer abortions. And often, they have serious backlogs. So despite the law, access here is already limited.

SUMMERS: Maayan Schechter of South Carolina Public Radio. Thank you.

SCHECHTER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLIE EILISH SONG, "YOUR POWER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Tinbete Ermyas
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.