In the grueling months since the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, South Carolinians have been living in a volatile landscape of uncertainty and fear. On Election Day, voters have the ability to position our state for a stronger future in which access to care and patient autonomy is protected.
As health care professionals, we have held our breaths as a Court’s block of our state’s existing six-week abortion ban hangs by a thread. During this time, we have also gone to Columbia with our colleagues again and again to speak out as anti-abortion South Carolina legislators doggedly proposed new, even more stringent, restrictions on reproductive care. There are moments of temporary relief: in the summer the House and Senate could not agree on just how extreme to make the legislation, and when the two chambers are unable to concur on a version of a bill, this usually guarantees that it vanishes into oblivion.
But our state’s anti-abortion politicians have been relentless. Unable to pass new restrictions by traditional legislative mechanisms, this week they convened a ‘Special Conference Committee,’ once again proposing a complete abortion ban, this time from conception.
We have already had a glimpse into the deep harm that abortion bans cause our patients. For a short time this summer, our six-week abortion ban was in effect, before it was temporarily blocked by the South Carolina Supreme Court. This was a time of fear and chaos for patients and physicians across the state – and seeded mistrust in patient-physician interactions that have persisted even after relief. This time cast a dark shadow on our health care system, a trauma that is exacerbated by the uncertainty that the legal climate might revert back at any moment.
For months, legislators have jockeyed different permutations of abortion bans, each with a different lineup of cruel so called “exceptions.” Exceptions for rape and incest are unworkable—they are limited to 12 weeks of pregnancy and require doctors to report patients to law enforcement and collect a sample of fetal tissue – regardless of the patient’s consent. There has been no consensus on exceptions for fetal anomalies or concerns for the life of the patient. Rape, incest, unplanned pregnancy, fetal anomalies, and pregnancy complications are some of the most difficult situations that women face. These proposals in our legislature increase the hardships during this time and result in the policing of health care professionals and pregnant people.
Our anti-abortion legislators will stop at nothing to punish physicians and deny women objective, compassionate and evidence-based counseling and options. South Carolina has become an inhospitable place to practice medicine with legislators ignoring standard of care medical options and inserting themselves in the most private circumstances of patients’ lives. It will most certainly impede our ability to retain residents here for training and will deter all types of physicians from remaining or coming to practice in our state.
The ‘Special Conference Committee’ will be meeting again next Wednesday, after Election Day, avoiding the scrutiny of voters weighing a very tight South Carolina Governor’s race. To be clear, next Wednesday at 10am we could see a total abortion ban move to the legislature. We will continue fighting, but we need systemic change—we need elected representatives who will stand up for science and compassion.
Our health is on the ballot on November 8. It is imperative that we vote for representatives who will protect our rights to practice evidence-based, lifesaving medicine, and respect South Carolinians’ rights to make autonomous health care decisions with their providers. Health care professionals in South Carolina ask you to vote for politicians who will stand up for us and our patients. We must all GO VOTE for South Carolina leaders who will support women’s health and will stay out of the medical decisions that rightly belong in the hands of South Carolina physicians and their patients.
Dawn Bingham, MD, MPH, FACOG
Chair, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, South Carolina Section