May 27, 2016


A new law in South Carolina chips away at Roe v Wade (The Economist, May 27th 2016)

EVER since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled that women have a limited constitutional right to end their pregnancies, states have imposed restrictions designed to curtail that right or make it more difficult to exercise. Two recent examples illustrate the varying levels of intensity with which pro-life activists are trying to chip away at Roe v Wade.

Last week in Oklahoma, lawmakers passed a bill that undermines the very basis of Roe. By a vote of 33-12 in the Senate and 59-9 in the House of Representatives, Senate Bill 1552--which would have made it a felony for doctors to perform abortion unless the procedure is necessary to save the woman's life--sailed through the Oklahoma legislature. But the governor, who is pro-life, Mary Fallin, vetoed the bill on the grounds that it was clearly unconstitutional. "The bill is so ambiguous and so vague", she wrote, "that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered 'necessary to preserve the life of the mother.'" So while she "continue[s] to support a re-examination of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v Wade, this legislation cannot accomplish that re-examination". A more "direct path to a re-examination" of Roe "is the appointment of a conservative, pro-life justice to the United States Supreme Court".

Most states have used a slightly more subtle strategy to undermine abortion rights. On May 25th, South Carolina became the 17th state to ban abortion at the 20th week of pregnancy when Governor Nikki Haley signed House Bill 3114, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, into law. The legislation is based on the highly disputed claim that a fetus begins to feel pain halfway through pregnancy; in 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study finding that fetal awareness of pain "probably does not exist before 29 or 30 weeks". The ban permits few exceptions: even standard loopholes for rape and incest are not available. Doctors may only perform abortions after 19 weeks if the fetus has an abnormality that would cause it to die outside the womb or if the procedure is necessary "to avert [the] death" of the pregnant woman or to prevent "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function". The latter exception, the bill's authors were careful to note, does not include "psychological or emotional conditions".

Posted by at May 27, 2016 3:49 PM