South Carolina Abortion Fight

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Over the past decade or so, abortion opponents have been extraordinarily shrewd in picking their fights. By waging the abortion debate around issues like parental consent, where public opinion is on their side, they have managed to enact scores of new restrictions in just about every state in the country. I wrote about this at length last year in dead-tree TIME, using Missouri as a case study.

Some of the most popular of these relatively new laws are those that require “informed consent.” For instance, South Carolina’s current law, passed in 1994, requires abortion providers to tell women the likely age of their fetus and provide information about fetal development and abortion alternatives–all of which probably strikes most people as reasonable. But there’s a new abortion fight going on in South Carolina that is worth watching. Under a bill that has passed the House and is supported by Governor Mark Sanford, women seeking an abortion would be required to see a sonogram of the fetus before getting the procedure. While many states insist that this be an option, South Carolina would be the first to make it a mandate. The state’s Republican Attorney General, Henry McMaster, warned that this could be unconstitutional. In a letter to legislators, McMaster wrote:

”In my opinion, it would be illegal and improper for the state to force a person seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound image against her will,”

Beyond the civil liberties issue is the question of cost–to wit, whether women seeking an abortion (many of whom are poor) should be required to pay for an additional procedure for which there is no medical necessity. The abortion issue is not one we have heard much about in the presidential campaign thus far. It will be interesting to hear what the presidential candidates of both parties have to say about this bill, as they stump for votes in a crucial early primary state.