How SC sheriffs will handle reporting requirement in abortion ban

While most abortions are prohibited after 6 weeks, the state does allow for exceptions for rape and incest survivors up to 12 weeks into their pregnancies.
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 6:02 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2023 at 6:56 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - While most abortions in South Carolina are now prohibited after six weeks, the state’s law does allow for exceptions for rape and incest survivors up to 12 weeks into their pregnancies.

But the law also requires patients who undergo abortions for this reason have their names and contact information reported to law enforcement.

“We find it pretty troubling because we think it violates the confidentiality of sexual assault survivors who have just experienced, for the most part, a very violent, intimate assault,” Sara Barber, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said.

In these situations, doctors are mandated to report rape and incest allegations to the sheriff’s office in the county where the abortion was performed within 24 hours of the procedure. Physicians must notify patients of this requirement before they perform the abortion and note it in their medical records.

Three clinics in South Carolina provide abortions, located in Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston, so it is up to the sheriffs in Greenville County, Richland County, and Charleston County to determine what they do when they receive these reports.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano is the state’s only female sheriff.

Her department said it has resumed receiving these reports as it did last year, under the state’s previous abortion law, which the South Carolina Supreme Court struck down in January.

And like it did under that law, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said it will follow the victim’s wishes on whether they want to pursue this investigation further or not.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department encourages all crime victims to report offenses, saying it will continue to investigate sexual assault cases “with the utmost care and concern for the dignity of victims.”

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department also noted it would not pursue these investigations further if the survivor did not want that.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement, “We conduct thorough and timely investigations into any incidence of crime, including allegations of sexual assault, regardless of when the report is made in relation to when the crime occurred. Our commitment to investigating these complaints aligns with our standard procedure for handling all criminal complaints.”

“I would hope we could use this to get more rapists off the street,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said.

Massey defended the reporting requirement, saying he believes law enforcement will honor victims’ wishes if they don’t want to pursue an investigation.

“Rape is a crime. Incest is a crime. Those are crimes that I think all of us, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, that those are crimes that we would all want to be punished and we want to see them not happen at all,” he said.

But Barber does not think this requirement accomplishes that, mentioning the reporting requirement is in the county where the abortion occurred and not the assault itself.

“If we’re focused on reducing the rate of sexual assault in this state, which we need to, we need to do a much better job of investing in prevention from an early age, both in schools and in other places where communities gather,” she said.

Massey also noted the law requires the physician, not the survivor, report the allegation to law enforcement.

But Barber said regardless of who is required to report the assault, this still takes away the survivor’s choice in determining when and to whom their very personal experience is disclosed.