By Holly Gatling
Columbia, S.C. — On January 5, the South Carolina supreme court, in a 3–2 decision, overturned the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, generally abbreviated as the Fetal Heartbeat Act. The elephant in the room is the unborn baby: especially black babies, who are aborted at an alarmingly disproportionate rate.
Signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster in early February 2021, the act, which protected most unborn children from the time a heartbeat can be detected, was immediately enjoined in U.S. District Court upon the petition of Planned Parenthood. No surprise there. Roe was still in force.
But fast-forward to June 24 of last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and sent the issue back to the states. That was a Friday. On the following Monday, the injunction was lifted, and the Fetal Heartbeat Act was finally enforced in South Carolina. Many babies’ lives were saved.
On August 17, however, the South Carolina supreme court took up Planned Parenthood’s challenge to the heartbeat law again, on the grounds that it violated the right-to-privacy clause of the state constitution.
During that six-week reprieve for the tiny members of our human family, sidewalk counselors — who faithfully stand by offering free medical, financial, and social support for women entering the three freestanding abortion clinics in the Palmetto State — reported that abortions declined by 50 percent. With the heartbeat law now enjoined, the counselors observe that abortions are increasing by as much as 50 percent. That means we are losing 115 babies every week to death by abortion.
If 115 innocent children were dying every week from any other single cause, the South Carolina supreme court would not condone it and enable it.
“We are beyond disappointed in the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision,” said Lisa Van Riper, president of South Carolina Citizens for Life (SCCL), in a recent press release. “The effect of the court ruling will be to favor the economic interest of the abortion industry over the lives of unborn children.
“We disagree with the majority opinion that the right to privacy was intended to relate to abortion,” Van Riper continued. The state constitution’s right-to-privacy amendment was passed in 1970, three years before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1970 the law in South Carolina prohibited abortion except in the rarest of circumstances.
Van Riper also noted the danger to our black population. “We are especially concerned for the disproportional number of black children who die in South Carolina’s abortion business. According to the State Department of Health and Environmental Control [DHEC], black people make up 28 percent of South Carolina’s population, yet nearly 45 percent of all abortions occurring in our state are black babies. This is genocide. This is the worst form of racism.”
National Right to Life president Carol Tobias called the court’s decision “an insult” to the people of South Carolina. SCCL is an affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, the nation’s oldest and largest single-issue right-to-life organization, with more than 3,000 chapters nationwide.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision gives states the ability to listen to the people and pass laws that protect unborn children,” Tobias said. “The South Carolina Supreme Court decision is an insult to the citizens of South Carolina who voted for pro-life legislators to pass pro-life laws.”
Governor McMaster also disagreed with the majority opinion. “Our State Supreme Court has found a right in our Constitution which was never intended by the people of South Carolina,” he said. “With this opinion, the court has clearly exceeded its authority. The people have spoken through their elected representatives multiple times on this issue. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to correct the error.” For his part, South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson said his office will be working with Governor McMaster and the general assembly to “review all available options moving forward.”
Van Riper also noted that one of the dissenting judges in the 3–2 decision recognized that the state legislature does, in fact, have the right to regulate abortion and has for the past 32 years. Since 1990, SCCL has lobbied successfully for 16 lifesaving laws. As a result, abortions have declined by more than 50 percent in South Carolina, saving more than 200,000 unborn babies’ lives.
So, where do we go from here? According to Van Riper, SCCL “will continue to advocate for a woman’s right to hear her baby’s heartbeat before an abortion and to have access to information about reversing the so-called abortion pill.” In South Carolina today, more than 70 percent of all abortions occur through chemical abortion, according to DHEC.
Before Dobbs, our strategy was to pass every law we could in order to save as many unborn babies’ lives as possible. After Dobbs, our strategy has not changed. We will still pass every lifesaving law that we can pass to save as many unborn babies’ lives we can save until the South Carolina supreme court restores legal protection to preborn children at every stage of development.
With strong pro-life leadership in the general assembly, the attorney general’s office, and the governor’s office, and with the determined and strong pro-life grassroots movement in South Carolina, the unborn baby will no longer be overlooked.
Editor’s note. This first appeared at National Review Online.