COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD)- On a late Monday night in May 2022, Politico leaked a U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion that would overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that has guaranteed the right to an abortion for nearly five decades.
The draft opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, effectively contends that there is no constitutional right to an abortion and allows individual states to regulate or outright ban the procedure. The decision also targets the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v Casey which reaffirmed Roe but allowed states to place some restrictions on the practice.
“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” the opinion states. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
South Carolina Republicans who have bolstered the push to limit abortion rights applauded the prospect but expressed concern over the leak, with Sen. Lindsey Graham calling it “a dangerous day for the Rule of Law.”
“If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which I believe was one of the largest power grabs in the history of the Court, it means that every state will decide if abortion is legal and on what terms. That, in my view, is the most constitutionally sound way of dealing with this issue and the way the United States handled the issue until 1973,” Sen. Graham said in a statement released Tuesday.
Democrats, on the other hand, vowed to continue fighting against the possibility.
“It is unconscionable that the Supreme Court would upend half a century of precedent that has saved countless lives,” Gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham said in a statement. “I promise you, I will do everything in my power to ensure that women retain control over their own reproductive decisions, while Henry McMaster will do everything in his power to take away the rights of South Carolina’s women to choose what happens to their body.”
What would overturning Roe v Wade mean for South Carolinians’ access to abortion?
In 2021, Governor Henry McMaster signed the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” into law, which would ban most abortions at six weeks or once a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. The only expectations within that law were for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, or if a mother’s life is in danger.
The law was immediately challenged in court by Planned Parenthood. In February of this year, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that temporarily blocked the law’s enforcement.
So while the heartbeat law remains blocked by a federal court, state lawmakers have continued to move to limit abortion access, severely restrict it, and outright ban it.
Republican state legislators filed a bill in January called the “Equal Protection for Unborn Babies Act,” which would create a so-called “trigger ban” meaning abortions would be outright banned in South Carolina should Roe v Wade be overturned. The passage of that bill would have joined South Carolina with 13 other states with “trigger bans” in place.
Although that bill gained some traction in the Senate, it remains stalled in the Medical Affairs Subcommittee.
Still, South Carolina is surrounded by states with similar laws. Georgia’s early-term ban also hit snags in federal court, but would likely go into effect if Roe is overturned.
With neighboring states expected to enact tighter restrictions or implement total bans, that leaves South Carolinians seeking an abortion with fewer options.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, there were 10 facilities in the state providing abortions in 2017, 4 of those being clinics. That same year, roughly 93% of South Carolina counties had no clinics that performed abortions, leaving approximately 71% of South Carolina women without access. Now, there are only clinics in the state in Charleston and Columbia.
Should Roe be overturned, 1.2 million South Carolina women aged 15 to 49 would need to travel an average of 176 miles roundtrip to find the nearest abortion clinic. North Carolina would have the nearest provider.
“Many people travel at least two hours,” Meredith Matthews, a Planned Parenthood field organizer said. “Some even have to travel from out of state. When we speak of this six-week ban, that’s, in essence, banning it altogether for a lot of individuals.”
Matthews stressed that Planned Parenthood will continue to be a resource and advocate for women and girls should South Carolina’s six-week ban go into effect.
“There is hope so I don’t want people to think there’s nothing left to fight for,” she continued. “We are there working for you, there are so many people striving who will not give up until the right is secured for all generations.”
South Carolina Citizens for Life, an affiliate of National Right to Life, agrees with the statement of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch who said, “We will let the Supreme Court speak for itself and wait for the Court’s official opinion.”
*The Associated Press contributed to this report