Nearly 1,000 more abortions reported in S.C. in 2022 than 2021

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Published: Jul. 3, 2023 at 4:34 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The question of abortion access in South Carolina remains in the hands of the state’s all-male Supreme Court.

Newly released data provides more insight into what impact the five justices’ pending decision — concerning the legality of a ban on most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy — could have on South Carolinians and residents of other states.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s 2022 abortion report details 7,276 abortions were performed in South Carolina last year, up nearly a thousand from the year before (6,279) and nearly 2,000 from 2020 (5,468).

State law mandates all abortions performed in South Carolina be reported to DHEC.

The 2022 numbers include a seven-week period between late June and mid-August when most abortions in South Carolina were illegal after about six weeks of pregnancy under a law that was later struck down by the state Supreme Court.

But after August, when that former law was blocked and abortion became legal again through about 20 weeks into a pregnancy, the number of out-of-state residents seeking abortions in South Carolina climbed up. They rose from 11 in July to 414 by December and continued to increase into 2023.

That’s because nearby states imposed tighter restrictions on abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade in late June, and South Carolina’s 20-week limit became one of the least restrictive limits in the southeast as Republican lawmakers failed to put more restrictive measures into effect until May of this year.

Data shows slightly more than half of all abortions performed in the state last year, 51.5%, were at or before six weeks post-fertilization, a flip from the two years before that when more than half of all abortions were performed between seven and 13 weeks (51.3% performed in this period in 2021; 55% in 2020).

Only a few dozen abortions are reported each year at 14 weeks or later when state law requires the procedure to be performed in a hospital and not at the state’s three clinics.

Nearly 60% of those undergoing abortions in South Carolina in 2022 were in their twenties, which is in line with earlier years.

This new report comes as the state Supreme Court is weighing whether a new law that bans most abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy is constitutional.

It allows for limited exceptions to save the mother’s life and health, in pregnancies involving fatal fetal anomalies, and for sexual assault survivors, though their exception only extends through 12 weeks into a pregnancy and includes a reporting requirement to law enforcement.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law in May, and one day later, a circuit court judge blocked its enforcement until the Supreme Court or another state court rules otherwise.

The high court struck down similar legislation in January, ruling in a 3-2 vote that it violated the state’s constitutional right to privacy.

Abortion providers argued before justices during oral arguments on the new law in Columbia last week that this legislation should be found unconstitutional as well, saying many women do not know they are pregnant by the time abortion becomes illegal.

However, attorneys for the state claimed Republican lawmakers had changed enough from the previous law to the new one to warrant a different outcome this time.

As the data shows, the court’s decision will have a significant impact on whether legal abortions in South Carolina could be slashed in half if they uphold the law, or whether South Carolina will remain an option for residents of other states seeking abortions if they strike it down.

There is no deadline by which justices must deliver their decision in that challenge, and until then, abortion remains legal through about 20 weeks.

Meanwhile, most of North Carolina’s new 12-week ban on abortion went into effect over the weekend, while South Carolina’s other neighbor, Georgia, has a six-week ban in place.

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