On August 30th, the South Carolina House of Representatives will debate H. 5399, a bill that would totally ban abortions in the state of South Carolina. The only exception the bill includes for abortion is that it may be performed to prevent the death of a pregnant person. This means that a pregnant person must be at the brink of death in order to access an abortion.
South Carolina has some of the worst reproductive health outcomes in the country, and many South Carolinians are already facing extreme economic challenges. According to Ann Warner, CEO of the Women’s Rights & Empowerment Network, “about 15% of women live below the federal poverty line. About 40% of children live in households led by single mothers, and 35% of children growing up in single-parent households live below the poverty line. South Carolina also has one of the widest gender and racial wage gaps in the country.” Criminalizing abortion will push healthcare further out of reach and continue to widen already monstrous levels of inequality relating to both access and outcomes.
I grew up in Seneca, South Carolina in the late ‘80s & early ‘90s, and though I have long since moved away, I still spend a good deal of time there visiting family. I have often joked with my youngest siblings that their Gen Z experience growing up in Greenville, a rapidly growing city boasting everything from sushi, to vegan juice bars, microbreweries, gay bars, and an art scene, is so vastly different from my own experience that we may as well have come from different countries.
Until recently, I had begun to think of South Carolina as changing. Not Changed, as if any place or anyone ever really shakes all the shade of their past, but certainly changing. Comparing my experience growing up to that of my Gen Z younger siblings, each confidently expressing their creativity and authenticity in various ways, I am not only proud of them, but amazed at the vibrancy and tolerance, even inclusiveness of the community they have grown up in. It has not become a utopian place where racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia has vanished, but it is becoming a place that is just beginning to say to ALL young people, “yes, you are invited, you are worthy, and you are home.”
Until recently, I even began to think of this phenomenon as occurring throughout the US, tolerance and inclusion ever on the rise, even if slowly and with ugly setbacks, on the way to becoming culture that is not threatened by diversity, but celebratory of diversity. That is, until recently, with the first of what, if not blocked, will amount to a series of ongoing attacks on our basic civil liberties, our health and safety, our privacy, and our right to just be who we are. Our budding multiculturalism itself is under attack via an instrumentalization of “wedge issues” like abortion, designed to divide and conquer.
From D.C. to Columbia
It started on June 27th. After being blocked by federal courts since 2021, South Carolina’s ban on abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy (Senate Bill 1) took effect just 3 days after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
On August 16, the South Carolina House of Representatives Judiciary Committee then rushed to advance H. 5399, a total abortion ban.
Had I been mistaking glossy main street gentrification, the removal of the confederate flag from the Statehouse, and the presence of an emerging above ground culture celebrating diversity from LGBTQ pride events to cultural events like the Greenville Jewish Film Festival and the Soul Deep: African-American Masterworks Exhibit for deeper changes? Where is this backlash against long secured civil liberties and against multiculturalism emanating from? And why are certain state officials rushing to push through this radical and dangerous legislation without giving South Carolinians the opportunity to understand the proposed bill and to voice their opinions?
What Do WE Want?
The fact is, this harmful legislation is not coming from us, South Carolina. We never asked for it, and both the data and the word on the street suggests we overwhelmingly don’t wan’t it. The question remains, will we accept it, or will be make our dissent known and demand accountability and justice?
To drive home just how widely and deeply unpopular this new abortion legislation actually is, we can dive into some numbers. On July 6, Katherine Patterson, of Public Policy Polling published this memo:
[Nearly Two-Thirds of South Carolinians Support Right to Abortion & Oppose a Statewide Abortion Ban; Think State Legislature Spends Too Little Time Focusing on South Carolina Families
A new Public Policy Polling survey finds strong support for abortion rights in South Carolina, with nearly two-thirds of South Carolinians (63%) saying it is important to them that women in South Carolina have access to all reproductive health care options, including abortion.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, South Carolinians also oppose an abortion ban in their state with nearly two-thirds (61%) saying they believe that abortion should be legal, and just 8% saying they think it should be illegal in all cases.
Three in four (75%) respondents agree that women should have the right to make their own personal health care decisions.
South Carolinians also do not think the state legislature should be involved in decisions around abortion, with 69% saying that the decision whether or not to have an abortion should be left to the woman and her doctor, as opposed to state lawmakers.
A majority (59%) also think South Carolina state lawmakers spend too much time focusing on abortion, while 60% say they do not spend enough time focusing on legislation to support South Carolina families such as increasing access to affordable housing, childcare, health care, and paid leave.
The survey also finds strong opposition to criminalizing women who get abortions and health care providers for proving abortion or care for miscarriages and other dangerous pregnancies:
- 64% of respondents oppose charging South Carolina women who have abortions with a felony, while just 31% are in support.
- 60% of respondents oppose charging a doctor who provides an abortion with a felony, with only 35% in support.
- 91% of respondents agree that doctors should be able to help their patients experiencing pregnancy complications and miscarriages without fear of being charged with a felony.]
It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
The people want women to have the right to make their own personal health care decisions.
The people want healthcare practitioners to be able to get back to the business of care and of saving lives without fear of criminal prosecution or harassment.
The people want their legislators to stop focusing on abortion and get down to the business of supporting families and addressing the state’s woefully inadequate social and healthcare program.
Legal Chicanery & Anti-Democratic Maneuvering
Commencing with an analysis and rejection of these new abortion bills, we can examine their legal validity and logic. To help wade through the lengthy opinions and rulings and get past the jargon, it is helpful to consult some local lawyers. The concepts, it turns out, are not overly complicated nor beyond our reach as mere citizens. In their Aug 23rd OpEd in The Post and Courrier, Orville Vernon Burton and Armand Derfner (co-authors of “Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court”, Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press) question S.C. lawmakers’ legal authority to pass H. 5399, and even challenge their mandate as elected officials to push through any abortion legislation without consulting their constituents.
“A funny thing happened on the way to South Carolina’s newest, toughest anti-abortion law. The constitution got in the way. No, not the federal Constitution — the South Carolina Constitution.”
The Federalist argument made by the ultra-right bloc of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court is that no references to “privacy” exist in the federal Constitution and so there is no constitutional right of privacy. Leaving aside whether there is merit, let alone justice, in this line of argument, it turns out that in South Carolina, the right to privacy is explicitly enshrined. Article 1, Section 10, of the S.C. Constitution states: “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 argument seems pretty plain: If there is no right to an abortion under the federal Constitution because that Constitution has no right of privacy in it, then it certainly sounds like a constitution that does have a right of privacy in it will protect a woman’s right to privacy in her medical decisions, such as choosing an abortion” (Burton & Derfner). Boom. You don’t need to be a Harvard Law graduate to follow this logic.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, which operate the only clinics offering abortion in South Carolina, also noticed this logic and on June 13, decided to sue the state over the unconstitutionality of the abortion bill. The case is ongoing, and they are represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the law firm Burnette Shutt & McDaniel.
But before we celebrate State’s Rights and rest assured that at least one Constitution will remain a guarantor of our rights, even under the arcane and nonsensical watch of Federalists, South Carolinians should examine this timeline of legal chicanery, put together by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (and editorialized by me):
July 13: (Not so fast. See you in court, SC!) Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, Greenville Women’s Clinic, and two physician plaintiffs file a new state court challenge to S.B. 1. The lawsuit asks a state trial court to block the ban for violating South Carolinians’ constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection under the South Carolina Constitution by banning abortion, by providing inadequate protections for patients’ health, and by conditioning sexual assault survivors’ access to abortion on the disclosure of their personal information to law enforcement.
July 20: (Commence legal chicanery and baldly anti-democratic maneuvering of our elected officials.) The state petitions the South Carolina Supreme Court for original jurisdiction in an effort to bypass the judicial process and delay proceedings. In that petition, Gov. Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, House Speaker G. Murrell Smith, and Senate President Thomas Alexander ask the South Carolina Supreme Court to declare that S.B. 1 is constitutional and that the South Carolina Constitution does not protect the right to abortion.
July 26: (Stripping away our rights seems to be on a rush-track, yet consideration for citizens in desperate need of care, and for healthcare practitioners in fear of felony charges for doing their jobs, can be put on the back burner.) The state trial court refuses to decide abortion providers’ request for relief against S.B. 1 and agrees to try to transfer the case to the South Carolina Supreme Court, leaving patients and providers in legal limbo.
July 27: (There are people of good will and intent fighting for us, the people. I stand with them and will shout their good work.) Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic file an emergency motion for a temporary injunction against S.B. 1 with the South Carolina Supreme Court, arguing that the court should block the ban while it considers the state’s petition for original jurisdiction.
August 17: (This is a crucial victory for immediate harm reduction, but we must keep fighting for our present and our future.) The South Carolina Supreme Court grants abortion providers’ emergency motion for a temporary injunction, blocking S.B. 1 while litigation continues.
Give the People What They Want
Glaring legal hypocrisy aside, in a democracy, aren’t we compelled to ask, what do the people think?
Checking back in with the legislation lawyers, Burton and Derfner agree: “The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion ditching Roe v. Wade said the issue should go back “to the people and their elected representatives.” Not just the “representatives,” but “the people” as well. And the S.C. Constitution starts right off at the beginning with Article I, Section 1: “All political power is vested in and derived from the people only ….”” This means that abortion legislation is very much an issue that legally requires a referendum to seek direct input from all South Carolinians.
In addition to the fact that legislators are ignoring that this ruling explicitly requires citizens’ direct input on abortion, how about what common sense tells us is the mandate of elected officials? Abortion is an issue on which almost every person has a strong view. Responsible and genuine legislators would take concrete steps to ascertain the will of the people. That is most clearly not what our legislative leaders have done.
Why are S.C. officials so keen to rush through legislation without a referendum? They are not asking for our opinion, they are not listening, and they are not representing – they are pursuing an agenda and calling it democracy. The speaker of the House, referring to the fact that last year’s anti-abortion bill was passed by two-thirds of the (mostly male) Legislature, called that vote “a reflection of the will of the people.” Indeed. Just like the French king who used to say, “L’etat, c’est moi” — “I am the State.”
Kansas legislators learned they were not the state when after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution protected the right to an abortion, the Kansas legislature put the constitutional question on the ballot: “Shall the Kansas Constitution be amended to eliminate the state constitutional right to an abortion?”
It seemed like a safe bet for the legislators, most of whom were very anti-abortion and assumed their constituents would tow an encroaching party line above their own sense of humanity, liberty, and common sense. Instead, in a massive turnout, the vote was defeated in a landslide, with 60% of voters in favor of keeping the right to an abortion in the Kansas constitution. If such a referendum was held in South Carolina, polling suggests it would also result in a landslide defeat for eliminating the state constitutional right to abortion.
Here’s some more insight from Kansas…
“My advice to the women of America is to raise more hell and fewer dahlias.”
– William Allen White, (February 10, 1868 – January 29, 1944) Kansan, newspaper editor, politician, author, and leader of the Progressive movement.
It is clear what is going on: an attack on our basic civil liberties and human rights has begun. It is also an authoritarian attack on the remaining democratic mechanisms in our government, and an attack on the hope of multiculturalism that strengthens and liberates we the people. It is the start of a stealth and illegal offensive via the courts, starting with reproductive justice. This pattern of authoritarian rule will not stop at abortion. Neither Dobbs nor H. 5399 originated from the will of the citizenry, the citizenry has not been asked to participate in the resulting process, and we the people have been actively blocked from pursuing democratic avenues of expression and dissent that are, in theory, legally guaranteed.
We need to stand up and raise some hell.
When the S.C. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee advanced H. 5399, as Judiciary Committee members debated the many consequences of the proposed legislation, many insisted that they are only at the beginning of this process and need to hear from their constituents in advance of the next vote on the House floor.
I join a growing coalition of organizers and urge every single person in S.C. to take them up on this invitation: call and email your House member immediately and tell them to vote NO on H. 5399 before the bill is debated on the House floor on Tuesday, August 30th.
I know that many fellow activists will scoff at my suggestion that to call your representative is a worthy method of action. Well, I’ll also tell folks to get out and vote. Cynicism must not cloud strategy. Local and state level officials are much more accessible than national officials via phone and in-person meetings, and dedicated advocacy campaigns do yield results. However, I agree that we can’t stop there, just as we can’t stop at voting every 4 years, or even every 2 years, and call it a day, or a democracy.
On Tuesday, August 30th, there is a planned in-person day of action to pack the Statehouse in Columbia during the debate, for which I will share details at the end of this article. This rally will not just be a protest to let off steam and generate photo-ops, but an opportunity for community building, consciousness raising, and intersectional solidarity. It will be attended by WREN, Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic, ACLU of SC, SC United for Justice and Equality Coalition, and other organizations and people from all around the state who stand together not just for reproductive justice, but beyond single issues for a better world. This protest is a place to be heard and to dream big.
No Strategy, No Victory
The skeptics will still sigh and remind me that we can call and protest all we want – ‘they’ are not listening. Perhaps. That has certainly been the case these past months. I waited outside the Statehouse for 8 hours at the previous rally and was denied even the opportunity to enter and give testimony. However, strategists will know that this sounds like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The issue of abortion is what the mainstream media calls a hot button issue – and unlike many other issues that social and economic justice movements fight for, the media is giving it intense coverage. We must leverage this media coverage to simultaneously spread awareness and increase pressure on our government officials until the social cost of ignoring us and denying us is greater than giving in to our demands.
We should also take notice and learn from our neighbors in Latin America, who have shown, and continue to show, an unbelievable sticking power in each of their national social movements over recent years. Just look at the movements in Chile and Colombia, and now in Panama and Guatemala, with rumblings again coming from Brazil and elsewhere. A protest, occupation, or rally is not something that happens once and then everyone can go home and expect to have won. We must come back again and again. We must stay and leverage all opportunities until we can no longer be ignored. To the argument that “a protest won’t do anything”, I say that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t protest, it means we must keep protesting, bigger and better, with more community, more solidarity, more mutual aid, more voices, and more determination. And we must seek further creative tactics to further our strategy.
We have an immediate and urgent need to fight for our reproductive rights, and in doing so, to defend further rights that have been not so subtly summoned to the executioner’s block, such as gay marriage, rights to contraception, interracial marriage, and other hard won civil liberties. We also have an opportunity to escalate this fight to realms beyond abortion access. Yes, we want abortion access, but truly what we want is a vision called reproductive justice. We want feminist and gender justice. Why stop there? We want justice, full stop. We want a better world built on equity, solidarity, participation, self-management, diversity, and sustainability, for all.
The networks of solidarity and outreach that are forming around the issue of abortion could be solidified beyond a single issue coalition into a progressive power bloc. This bloc could be non-hierarchical and intersectional. It could take leadership from the specialized areas of expertise of each of its members, in combination with a commitment to preserving a diversity of thought and practice. In this way, a progressive bloc would be equipped to take on climate justice, labor issues, institutionalized racism, debt issues, money in politics, healthcare, education, and beyond from a position of power.
Dum spiro spero – While I Breathe, I Hope
In South Carolina, deep problems persist, but deep changes have truly occurred. We must not allow this to be obfuscated. The tired divide and conquer method that has kept down, out, and divided our various communities, from white-working class people, to women, to Black people, to Indigenous people, to LatinX people, to immigrants, to Muslims, Jews, Atheists, to LGBTQ people, to mixed families like mine, to everybody – divide and conquer cannot be allowed a resurgence. We must rise up above these “wedge issues” which are divisive by design. To rise up is to come together in solidarity and community to stand up for justice for all, rather than to be dragged back down that dusty old road of intolerance and decay. At the end of that road, there is no one left.
As those occupying the seats of power have already made clear, it will not be easy. We need to be strategic and let a wider positive vision guide us towards worthy alternatives in community with each other. We must be in a frame of mind fitted to run towards something that we want, rather than merely running away from all we don’t want. We need to take care of each other while we carve this path.
To start, come on out this Tuesday and get to know your fellow people as we demand to be heard at the Statehouse. Reach out to any of the groups listed below if you need assistance with transport, etc. WREN can help you call and email your reps, if you’d like support. Share this info with others. Vote. Talk to your neighbors and workmates. Organize your neighbors and workmates. Seek and engage with vision for a better world to help guide your efforts, spark social innovation, and keep you motivated. The imaginary is powerful. Community is powerful. The people are powerful.
Call to action from SC reproductive justice movement:
On August 30, the South Carolina House of Representatives will debate H. 5399, a bill that would totally ban abortions in the state of South Carolina. The only exception the bill includes for abortion is that it may be performed to prevent the death of a pregnant person. This means that a pregnant person must be at the brink of death in order to access an abortion!
This bill endangers the lives of pregnant people and could have lasting negative impacts on their mental and physical health.
Once again we are asking you to TURN UP and TURN OUT at the Statehouse!
Join WREN, Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic, ACLU of SC, SC United for Justice and Equality Coalition, and people from all around the state in showing our legislators that we will not stand for abortion bans!
Rally on the North Stairs of the Statehouse
Tuesday, August 30 at 12pm
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