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GOP Assault on Women’s Right to Choose Accelerates

By Bill O’Connor, MD

The Republican assault on a woman’s constitutional right to choose found new momentum Sept. 1 when Texas passed Senate Bill 8, allowing anyone to sue physicians or any other person helping a woman terminate her pregnancy after six weeks.

And South Carolina won’t be far behind.

Signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the bill represents an attempted end-run around a woman’s constitutional right to make decisions about her reproductive health. It places a $10,000 bounty on women, clinicians, doctors, even cab drivers who in any way help a woman in Texas terminate her pregnancy, no matter the cause. The U.S. Supreme Court, now dominated by conservatives including three justices appointed by Donald Trump, refused to prevent it from taking effect.

The Texas law was enacted “in open defiance of the Constitution,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland at a news conference Sept. 9. “This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans, whatever their politics or party, should fear.”

Garland made the statement when he announced the U.S Justice Department is suing Texas to block the new state law. The law was drafted in a novel manner that makes it difficult for pro-choice advocates to challenge in court. It states that a pregnancy in Texas cannot be terminated if there “a detectable fetal heartbeat,” including embryonic cardiac activity that is present about six weeks into pregnancy, according reporting by the Wall Street Journal.

The Texas law clearly conflicts with current Supreme Court precedent. The law was allowed to go into effect when the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision led by Donald Trump-appointed justices, found no basis for the court to intervene, the WSJ said. The decision still recognized there are serious questions about the law’s constitutionality.

According to Slate Magazine, at least seven other Republican led states – including South Carolina – are looking to pass similar laws.

“If the Texas legislation stands a greater chance of being upheld by the Supreme Court, certainly we would move to pass legislation that would mirror what Texas did, “S.C. State Senator Larry Grooms (R) told The Washington Post.

Grooms’ own fetal heartbeat bill in the fall of 2020 was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court, as were other states’ similar laws. The Texas law differs in that takes enforcement out of the state’s hands and gives it to citizens.

Vicki Ringer, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic, told The State Newspaper in Columbia that, since she warned of an attempt by S.C. legislators to replicate the Texas law in an op-ed in The State, her phone had been “ringing off the hook.”

“People are terrified,” she said. Such a law would most effect Black women and poorer women in South Carolina, where maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the nation.

“Please speak up,” Ringer imposed. “You don’t have to be a woman, you don’t have to be a mother. You just have to know that healthcare decisions should be left to those impacted, and politicians have no place in the doctor’s office.”

On the “Lean to the Left” podcast produced by Bob Gatty, chair of the HCDP Communications Committee, Ringer called on women – and men – to rise up and fight such efforts in state legislatures wherever they occur. She also encouraged participation in Women’s March events scheduled in communities across the nation on October 2. (Grand Strand Action Together (GSAT) will sponsor such a rally in Myrtle Beach. Check the GSAT or HCDP Facebook pages for more information as details were being developed at press time.)

“Men need to speak up,” Ringer said. “They are harmed, too, when abortion rights are taken away from people. “It’s not just a women’s issue. It is a total family issue.”

Kristin Ford, acting vice-president of communications and research at NARAL Pro-Choice America, told The Guardian, “This is the most acute and urgent threat to legal abortion since Roe was decided half a century ago,” referencing the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to choose, typically up to 22-24 weeks of pregnancy, before a fetus can survive outside the womb.

What can you do:

  • If you believe in a woman’s right to choose – as do nearly 80% of Americans – contact Sen. Lindsay Graham, Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Tom Rice to voice your opposition to this and any attack on a woman’s right to choose.

The attack on women’s reproductive rights is in high gear and gaining momentum. Supporters of this right need to rise up – and speak up – NOW!

Dr. Bill O’Connor, a family physician, is a member of the HCDP Communications Committee.
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