State still has interest in protecting life, says judge, even as she strikes down heartbeat law.
Banning abortion when an unborn child’s heartbeat is first detected does not give a pregnant woman a chance to decide whether or not to continue her pregnancy, a judge in South Carolina said Thursday, striking down the state’s ban on abortion at six weeks.
The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled January 5 that the state’s constitution provides a right to privacy that includes the right to abortion. It is the first final ruling by a state Supreme Court on the state constitutionality of abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24, 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, overturning Roe v. Wade, the New York Times reported.
In the 3-2 ruling, Justice Kaye Hearn wrote that the “state constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.” She said that any regulation on privacy in regards to abortion should give a woman “sufficient time to determine she is pregnant and to take reasonable steps to terminate that pregnancy.” Six weeks was “not a reasonable period of time” to ban abortion, Hearn concluded.
South Carolina’s law prohibited abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detectable — which is usually around six weeks gestation, and that is often before a women even knows she is pregnant.
The six-week ban violates a provision in the state constitution which says that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures and unreasonable invasions of privacy shall not be violated,” the high court ruling claimed.
But the right to abortion is “not absolute, and must be balanced against the State’s interest in protecting unborn life,” the justices said.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, disagreed with the ruling, saying the privacy protections in the South Carolina Constitution were not designed to protect abortion access.
Also on Thursday, Idaho’s Supreme Court found that that state’s constitution does not protect a right to abortion. The court’s 3-2 decision said there was rational basis for certain state laws, including one that totally bans abortion and another that forbids it after six weeks.
“Each of these laws is constitutional because it is rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in protecting prenatal fetal life at all stages of development, and in protecting the health and safety of the mother,” Justice Robyn Brody wrote in the majority opinion.