Legislators in South Carolina have shamefully passed a nearly total abortion ban.
The bill, “The South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” prohibits abortions when a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. This can happen as early as five weeks’ gestation — before most women even know that they are pregnant. The bill only makes exceptions for cases of rape, incest or when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger. Doctors who perform an abortion after this period would face felony charges.
And while a federal court has temporarily blocked the measure after Planned Parenthood brought the case to court, this bill is a harbinger for the religiously rooted attempts by legislators across the country to deprive women of reproductive rights. Indeed, former South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon has bragged that this bill could challenge Roe v. Wade.
The bill is problematic in several ways.
To begin with, its definition of a “fetal heartbeat” is intentionally deceptive and not based in science. In fact, Ted Anderson, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization that represents 58,000 physicians in the United States, refuses to use the terminology of “heartbeat bills.” Instead, Anderson explains that the pulsing is “electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops.”
Furthermore, this bill challenges the U.S. Supreme Court’s long-established decision that it is unconstitutional to impose a pre-viability abortion ban, which is around 24-26 weeks of gestation. Even then, the court has acknowledged a medical determination that is specific to each pregnancy. Therefore, banning abortions when there is electrically induced flickering is far below the range of viability and is unconstitutional.
Beyond this, the South Carolina bill impacts women’s health because when abortion care is denied, women’s health is worsened. In fact, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a woman’s health declined over five years after being denied an abortion. Lauren Ralph, an epidemiologist at University of California-San Francisco and the study’s leader, explained that there is no data suggesting that abortion restrictions protect women’s health.
Finally, there is no medical or evidence-based reason to restrict abortions. Study after study has shown that abortions are safe and effective. A 2018 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that serious complications are rare. In fact, risk of major complications related to medication abortions is minimal — less than 1 percent. Instead, studies have shown women are about 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth than from complications of an abortion. As such, the government has no interest or business in obstructing abortion care.
Given the newly ultraconservative Supreme Court, this bill is designed to set a new precedent and bring sweeping abortion bans across the nation — all for purely religious rationale. Condon has opined that Roe is more likely to be altered today because of the three conservative justices that Trump nominated to the bench: “Given the ideological preferences that clearly exist within the new justices, and particularly with Justice Amy Coney Barrett, I do think from the standpoint of predicting what could happen, there is, again, a distinct possibility that Roe v. Wade could be modified.”
In a secular nation, our health care laws should reflect science — not religion. South Carolina’s move to ban abortion is a paternalistic action that claims to know what is best for women, their families, lives and futures. In doing so, it rejects the human right to bodily autonomy and favors religious motivations. This abortion ban has dangerous consequences not just for women in South Carolina, but throughout our country.