As NC abortion clinics report seeing more SC patients, NC governor taking steps to protect them

Published: Jul. 8, 2022 at 6:26 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 8, 2022 at 9:09 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - North Carolina’s governor is taking steps to protect doctors who provide abortions and patients seeking them, and his action is aimed at nearby states like South Carolina, which will almost certainly soon restrict or completely cut off abortion access.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed an executive order Wednesday that he said will protect doctors and nurses in his state, along with their patients, from other states’ “cruel, right-wing, criminal laws.”

The action comes as some abortion clinics in North Carolina report seeing an uptick in patients from other states, including South Carolina.

The Palmetto State’s “Fetal Heartbeat Law,” which bans most abortions after around six weeks, has been in effect for almost two weeks, as the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade opened the door for a federal court to lift a year-plus-long block on the legislation.

“In the days since the harmful Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic has referred more than a dozen South Carolina residents on average every day from our South Carolina health centers to our clients in North Carolina,” Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic President and CEO Jenny Black said at a news conference Thursday in Columbia. “This week, more than a third of patients seeking an abortion in one of our North Carolina health centers are from out of state, the vast majority of whom are from Tennessee and South Carolina, and we know this is only the beginning.”

Even with its six-week ban in place, South Carolina will almost certainly tighten up restrictions or totally ban abortions soon, and neighboring Georgia is trying to see a court’s block on its own six-week ban lifted as quickly as possible.

So for pregnant South Carolinians, the closest access to abortion services would be in North Carolina, especially at clinics closest to the border in Asheville, Charlotte, Fayetteville, and Wilmington.

Among other measures, Cooper’s executive order protects out-of-state abortion patients from extradition and prohibits some North Carolina state agencies from cooperating in other states’ investigations and prosecutions of patients who travel there for abortions or help someone do so.

“It is showing support for women who are crossing the border to exercise that right,” South Carolina Rep. Beth Bernstein, D – Richland, said.

Bernstein, who also works as a lawyer, views the executive order as more of a gesture than a practical legal action, saying South Carolina’s attorney general and prosecutors could probably still obtain certain information from North Carolina.

“But it creates more difficulty,” Bernstein said. “I think it would probably be a deterrent though, and so maybe the extra effort that would have to be made to prosecute an individual may be thwarted by this executive order.”

For now, the actions Cooper’s executive order aim to stymie are not illegal in South Carolina, and lawmakers are just getting the process started to change state law on abortion. A House committee tasked with laying the groundwork on this change met and heard public testimony on the matter for the first time Thursday.

But some Republican lawmakers have already signaled they would support such a measure.

A bill recently filed by Sen. Richard Cash, R – Anderson, and based on model legislation proposed by the National Right to Life Committee, would ban almost all abortions, allow doctors who perform the procedure in South Carolina to be imprisoned for up to 25 years, and criminalize transporting a pregnant minor across state lines for the purpose of getting an abortion, among other prohibitions.

Cash’s legislation has picked up two Senate Republican co-sponsors, including Sen. Danny Verdin of Laurens County, who heads the chamber’s Medical Affairs Committee.

Bernstein said she would not be surprised if the final legislation that reaches Republican Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk does criminalize acts like helping someone access an abortion in another state.

“I think they want women to understand there are going to be consequences to actions that you take to use abortion or reproductive health and autonomy,” Bernstein said. “They want to make sure that the seriousness of that is felt by these women who are already in a vulnerable state, and that’s what makes this so sad.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for McMaster said they did not have comment on Cooper’s characterization of other states’ abortion restrictions as “cruel, right-wing, criminal laws.”

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