Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

The Post and Courier. June 29, 2022.

Editorial: SC voters need to weigh in on post-Roe abortion restrictions

The U.S. Supreme Court did not outlaw abortion last week. It did not restrict abortion. And if the court eventually reverses its precedents in cases involving contraceptives or same-sex marriage, it almost certainly will not outlaw any of that. Instead, it will do what it did with abortion, which is to return the question to our elected representatives.

That is understandably worrisome for people who believe that abortion should remain legal — particularly people who live in South Carolina and other states where lawmakers seem determined to outlaw it. But it’s difficult to justify outrage toward the court if you believe in the foundational principle of our representative democracy: that we elect lawmakers to make our laws, and that courts step in only to interpret those laws and to guard clearly defined constitutional rights.

And it’s irresponsible to suggest that the court should be expanded or altered because of unhappiness with its decisions — decisions reached as a result of a nearly five-decade effort by Americans who felt as disenfranchised by the court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade as many Americans do today about its Dobbs v. Jackson ruling overturning Roe.

The court’s long-expected ruling in fact returns abortion to the status of most divisive issues, which are settled at the ballot box. Indeed, what’s most unfortunate is that the ruling came in 2022, when our nation seems particularly ill-equipped to deal reasonably with the matter.

In 1973, our society seemed to be well on its way to reaching a nuanced, middle-of-the-road position on abortion that would have allowed it early in pregnancies and under extraordinary circumstances later. That position, which would more closely mirror the rest of the industrialized world than either the anything-goes approach that has dominated our political landscape for a half-century or the total prohibitions that many states are likely to adopt, would have served our entire society well.

But the 1973 court foreclosed that by prohibiting states and the Congress from regulating the procedure at all during the first three months of pregnancy (a position it has slowly backed away from) and severely limited restrictions through the next three months. The tragic reality is that the tribalism that has grown in no small part as a result of removing abortion from the normal give-and-take of politics might well have brought us to a position where a nuanced resolution is no longer possible.

Still, we have an obligation to try to reach that sensible middle ground. That starts in South Carolina with our Legislature, which now has the legal leeway to impose any sort of abortion restrictions it chooses — and which also has the ability to reach reasonable compromises.

Although the Legislature intends to return to work this summer and fall to consider additional restrictions, lawmakers should recognize that a 2021 state law — which a federal judge allowed to take effect on Monday — already bans most abortions after about six weeks. That law is expected to cut the already-declining number of abortions performed in South Carolina by more than half. For anyone who cares about representing their constituents, that law should provide breathing room as voters come to terms with the new political reality.

We understand that for some lawmakers, like some voters, this is a completely black-and-white issue: that abortion is murder, regardless of the circumstances. For many, though, staking out that position has been a political calculation: They knew it was popular among voters for whom ending abortion is the No. 1 political issue, and they knew that, as long as the court prevented them from following through, they wouldn’t alienate more moderate voters who don’t share that view. Like many Christian denominations, those lawmakers and much of the public believe that our society has been too promiscuous about abortion and that added legal restrictions are necessary but also that absolute bans go too far.

Lawmakers whose current positions are based largely on political calculations — as are lawmakers’ positions on most issues — should insist on taking the time to carefully measure how the political landscape is changing. The job of lawmakers, after all, is to represent their constituents — not to parrot our positions on every issue, but to be in broad alignment with our values.

For voters who don’t fall into either of the extreme camps, the task ahead is clearer: First, let your elected officials know what you think about abortion. Lawmakers will be hearing a lot from the no-restrictions and total-ban camps; they need to hear from all of us somewhere in the vast middle.

We then should vote accordingly, for the candidates who come closest to our own positions, including the candidates who are best equipped to work toward reasonable restrictions.

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The Times and Democrat. June 29, 2022.

Editorial: S.C. lawmakers should be seeking abortion balance

The U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Roe vs. Wade decision from 50 years ago making abortion a legal right moves a long-standing battle back to elected lawmakers on the federal and state levels.

In Washington, Democrats, with the support of the of President Joe Biden, vow to push legislation making abortion legal across the country. Passage is unlikely, which puts the abortion issue back at the state level, where the Supreme Court says it belongs.

Foes of the high court ruling claim abortion is being outlawed. Proponents rightly say that is not so, though some states will soon have laws that ban nearly all abortions. But because it is left to each state to formulate its own statutes, abortion will remain available to varying degrees across the country.

South Carolina is not among states that has in place an anti-abortion law to be triggered automatically by the court ruling overturning Roe. What the state does have is a 2021 law that bans an abortion once an ultrasound detects a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The law provides exceptions for cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s health is at risk.

The law has been blocked by the courts, but the Roe ruling gives South Carolina a new opportunity to put it into effect, with state Attorney General Alan Wilson promising action to do so.

Abortion rights supporters worry South Carolina will go further, with Gov. Henry McMaster signaling previously he is ready to do so.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said following the high court ruling: “The current reality is grim, but Democrats will continue to fight like hell to protect a woman’s right to a legal, safe abortion. Conservatives believe that freedom and life begin at conception, and under their vision for America, it ends there as well.”

Yet to do date, even many Republican lawmakers have been reluctant to go further with legislation taking away exclusions such as rape and incest.

Our hope had been that U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts would push compromise as the best national solution on Roe and abortion. We envisioned a compromise that would not have eliminated Roe vs. Wade, primarily meaning abortion would be allowed in the first trimester of pregnancy. States would have the right to put limits on abortion and even outlaw it in the second and third trimesters.

As much as it is arguable that such a “compromise” would go beyond the court’s role and into legislating, action is now up to lawmakers.

South Carolina and other states should not undo a woman’s right to an abortion in all cases. McMaster said he would “immediately begin working with members of the General Assembly to determine the best solution for protecting the lives of unborn South Carolinians.” In doing so, he should urge lawmakers to balance laws passed from 2008 to 2016 with the 2021 Fetal Heartbeat Bill.

• A 2008 law requires women to wait at least 60 minutes after an ultrasound before getting an abortion. It also requires doctors to ask women if they want to see the ultrasound, either on the screen or on a printout, and women must sign a document verifying they’ve been informed of that right.

• A 2010 law requires women to wait at least 24 hours for an abortion after receiving information about the types of abortion procedures, the stages of fetal development, and other options such as adoption.

• The 2012 “Born Alive Infant Protection Act” says a fetus surviving an abortion attempt cannot be treated as medical waste.

• Under a 2016 South Carolina law, an abortion can’t be performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless there are serious health concerns or the pregnancy is placing the patient in danger. The patient must also get an ultrasound and consult with a medical care provider 24 hours ahead of time.

• The 2021 law goes further, banning abortion once an ultrasound detects a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

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