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South Carolina Abortion Laws

Few topics are as controversial as abortion. Many people hold strong beliefs on both the pro-life and pro-choice sides of the argument. No matter what your view is, abortion is legal in the United States and has been for over 40 years. If you or a sexual partner are considering abortion in South Carolina, it’s important to understand the law.

The following table outlines the abortion laws you need to know in South Carolina. Note that in 2021, South Carolina passed a law that would prohibit most abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected (about six weeks). A federal court enjoined enforcement of the act, which ruling was upheld on appeal in February 2022.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether the Constitution grants a right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health. A decision is expected in June 2022.

Code Section South Carolina Code Title 44: Health, Chapter 41: Abortions
Statutory Definition of Legal Abortion Abortions defined as using instrument or medication with the intent to terminate a pregnancy (other than birth, to preserve a the baby’s live or remove dead fetus) are legal in South Carolina only under the following three circumstances:
  1. In the first trimester with the pregnant woman’s consent
  2. In the second trimester with the pregnant woman’s consent in a certified hospital or clinic
  3. In the third trimester when necessary to preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman on the written recommendation of two doctors, and if the basis is mental health then both the two doctors and a consulting psychiatrist must agree in writing the abortion is necessary
    • Note this law says the husband’s consent is required in the third trimester, but spousal consent was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 and that can’t be enforced
Penalty for Unlawful Abortion If a doctor performs an unlawful abortion, including prescribing any medication or substance for a woman to use to abort her fetus, it’ll be deemed a felony punished by 2 to 5 years in prison and a fine not more than $5,000.

If a woman solicits any person for an abortion, administers any substance (self-abortion), or submits to an unlawful abortion procedure, she’s guilty of a misdemeanor and can be punished by not more than 2 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000.

Partial-birth abortions (vaginal deliveries with live fetuses) are also illegal, if a fetus is killed in the process it’s a felony with a penalty of not less than 5 years in prison and not less than a $5,000 fine. However, this doesn’t apply to partial-birth abortions necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life. The father or maternal grandparents of the fetus can sue the doctor in civil court and potentially receive triple the actual damages, punitive damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees. The woman who has the partial-birth abortion can’t be prosecuted for violating this law.

Failing to obtain parental consent is prima facie (establishes the case unless disproved) evidence of interference with family relations in civil actions and the parents can assert the common law rights of parents. If an abortion is intentionally performed without conforming to consent standards for minors, it’s a misdemeanor with fine of $2,000 to 10,000 and up to 3 years imprisonment penalty for the first or second offense. For a third or subsequent offense, the minimum jail time is 60 days and the maximum is still 3 years.
Consent Requirements The pregnant woman’s written consent is required for an abortion to be performed in South Carolina. However, if she’s under 17 years and unmarried, the consent of at least one parent, grandparent, or guardian is required, except in medical emergencies or if the pregnancy is the result of incest.

South Carolina has a judicial bypass where the minor can petition the court for the right to an abortion without parental notification. She has the right to court-appointed counsel for this hearing and a guardian ad litem will be appointed. The abortion is to be granted if it’s in the best interest of the child. If the court finds the minor is too immature and the abortion wouldn’t be in her best interest, it’ll be denied. She has a right to appeal in this case.

If denied, the father is identified, he will be ordered to share in the costs of delivery and raising the child. The state may pay for counseling, prenatal care, delivery, and post-natal care.

Either a spouse, parent, or legal guardian will have to consent to abortion for a woman found mentally incompetent.
Counseling and Waiting Period Women are required to receive state-directed counseling with information designed to discourage abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure can be performed.
Penalty for Counseling and Waiting Period Violations When a doctor knows or should know the counseling or waiting period requirements haven’t been complied with is guilty of a misdemeanor and can be fined not more than $1,000 for a first or second offense. For a third or subsequent offense, the doctor can be fined not more than $5,000 and be imprisoned not more than three years.
Physician and Facility Licensing Requirements Abortions can only be performed in certain settings during each trimester in South Carolina.
  1. In the first trimester with the advice of a licensed doctor
  2. In the second trimester the abortion must be preformed by a licensed doctor in a licensed clinic or hospital
  3. In the third trimester all of the above must be in place, plus the written recommendation of two doctors stating the facts and reasons for the abortion

If you need assistance asserting your right to abortion or defending yourself as an abortion provider in South Carolina, you should consult with an experienced South Carolina health care attorney.

Note: As you may know, state laws change regularly. Therefore, you should conduct your own legal research to confirm any state laws you’re reviewing.

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