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Here's how abortion laws in North and South Carolina could change if Roe is overturned


It could soon become more difficult to get an abortion in the Carolinas.

The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case, according to a leaked draft of a majority court opinion in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization obtained by Politico. The Supreme Court Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of the leaked document but stressed it was “not the court’s final position,” NPR reported.

Abortion is currently legal in both North and South Carolina — albeit with some restrictions. In North Carolina, a patient seeking an abortion must receive an ultrasound and consult with a medical professional 72 hours beforehand. Anyone under 18 who wishes to receive the procedure is required to get permission from a parent or guardian.

In South Carolina, an abortion can’t be performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless there are serious health concerns or the pregnancy is placing the patient in danger. The patient must also get an ultrasound and consult with a medical care provider 24 hours ahead of time.

If Roe is overturned, abortions would not immediately be banned in the Carolinas. Neither state has what’s referred to as a “trigger law,” or a law that would take effect right away if Roe is overturned, which roughly a dozen states have enacted, according to NPR.

Molly Rivera, communications director with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, called the leaked draft opinion "the absolute worst case scenario" that her organization has prepared for. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic provides reproductive care services, including abortions, at 14 clinics across North and South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Stricter laws on the way?

If Roe is overturned, at least two existing laws that restrict abortions in the Carolinas but have been put on hold could take effect.

In 2021, South Carolina lawmakers passed and Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law a “heartbeat bill.” The measure bans abortions, with a few exceptions, once a heartbeat is detectable, effectively prohibiting abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The heartbeat bill has not been enforced because it has been blocked by courts. If Roe is overturned, the legal underpinnings of that block could be lifted.

Rivera worries that will push patients seeking abortions into South Carolina's neighboring states.

“We’ve always known that banning or restricting abortion doesn’t mean people don’t get abortions. It just makes it harder for them to do it," she said.

Rivera added: "We know other neighboring states, including Tennessee and West Virginia, will (like South Carolina) similarly move quickly to ban abortions. And that leaves North Carolina as an access point not only for people who live here—but for a large portion of the South."

In North Carolina, a state law passed in 1973 bans abortions after 20 weeks, except in certain medical emergencies, but is not enforceable because of Roe v. Wade. A federal court in 2021 upheld a lower court ruling that the measure was unconstitutional, though that could change if Roe is overturned. It’s not clear how quickly the laws would take effect following a Supreme Court ruling.

Republican state lawmakers in North Carolina are unlikely to pass a more restrictive abortion law that could escape Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. Though Republican lawmakers have a majority, it’s not a supermajority that would enable them to override a veto, though that could change if the Republicans win additional seats in the statehouse in November.

"This is the first election—certainly, in my lifetime—where abortion is on the ballot," said Jason Williams, who opposes abortion rights and works as executive director of the North Carolina Faith and Freedom Coalition. "Voters have to go to the ballot box knowing that their vote will directly impact the future of life in North Carolina. For us (the coalition), we would support any legislation that supports women and results in fewer abortions.”

“Now more than ever, governors and state legislatures must stand up for women’s healthcare,” Cooper tweeted Monday. “We know the stakes and must stand firm to protect a woman’s choice and access to medical care.” As of early Tuesday afternoon, McMaster had not commented publicly.

Copyright 2022 WFAE. To see more, visit WFAE.

Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.
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