South Carolina Wants to Ban People From Even Talking About Abortion Pills

Republicans introduced model legislation from an anti-abortion group that would make it a felony to explain how to get abortion pills, even privately.

South Carolina Wants to Ban People From Even Talking About Abortion Pills
Photo:Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

Abortion is currently banned after six weeks of pregnancy in South Carolina after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, but lawmakers want to go even further: They’re considering a bill that would totally ban abortion, criminalize providers, and make it a felony just to tell people—in public or in private—how to get abortion pills.

You’re reading that correctly: The South Carolina bill would criminalize simply sharing information about self-managed abortion. It flatly violates the First Amendment right to free speech, but, if passed, legal challenges would land before the very same Supreme Court that overturned Roe.

The measure, Senate Bill 1373, is based on model legislation from the National Right to Life Committee, the oldest and biggest anti abortion group in the country. The legislature is having a special summer session, and the bill hasn’t yet come up for a vote, but advocates are sounding the alarm early, as more states will likely to try to restrict communication on abortion when their legislative sessions resume next year.

Michele Goodwin, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California at Irvine Law School, told the Washington Post that this kind of bill won’t be a one-off. “These are going to be laws that spread like wildfire through states that have shown hostility to abortion,” she said.

The bill says that “aiding and abetting” an abortion in the state—which, again, would be a felony—includes sharing information about self-managed abortion by phone, internet, or “or any other mode of communication.” It also criminalizes hosting a web site with information on how to get abortion. The text reads in part:

(B) The prohibition against aiding and abetting a violation of Section 44-41-830 includes, but is not limited to knowingly and intentionally:
(1) providing information to a pregnant woman, or someone seeking information on behalf of a pregnant woman, by telephone, internet, or any other mode of communication regarding self-administered abortions or the means to obtain an abortion, knowing that the information will be used, or is reasonably likely to be used, for an abortion;
(2) hosting or maintaining an internet website, providing access to an internet website, or providing an internet service purposefully directed to a pregnant woman who is a resident of this State that provides information on how to obtain an abortion, knowing that the information will be used, or is reasonably likely to be used for an abortion;

The anti-abortion movement has focused on over-regulating clinics and getting states to ban abortion earlier and earlier in pregnancy all while swearing up and down that it won’t go after women and pregnant people (though states criminalized them even before Roe fell). Abortion pills bought online and shipped from overseas are a threat to their crusade, so it’s no surprise that the movement is aggressively targeting self-managed abortion. But to (nominally) not go after pregnant people, they’re now roping in people who talk about how to get the pills, whether that person is a friend, family member, activist, or even a journalist.

Abortion pills were a big focus at the NRLC convention held the weekend after Roe fell. Jennifer Popik, the group’s federal legislation director, told attendees that “chemical abortion is the fight we’re going to be having for the next decade, probably longer.” She added that no matter “how many of your wonderful states will now ban abortion either six weeks or almost completely…these pills will still be coming into your state.”

NRLC general counsel James Bopp, who wrote the model legislation, compared the group’s efforts to fighting organized crime, as if abortion providers were some sort of mob. “The whole criminal enterprise needs to be dealt with to effectively prevent criminal activity,” Bopp told the Washington Post. The Post reporter wrote that Bopp said the aiding and abetting provision “was intended to limit the trafficking of abortion-inducing drugs, which throughout the interview he compared to the trafficking of fentanyl.”

So, yes, we’re absolutely going to see more bills like the one in South Carolina and more references to “chemical” abortion, which is what antis call medication abortion to make it sound scary and unsafe, when it’s actually a protocol approved by the FDA more than 20 years ago that now makes up more than half of all abortions in the U.S.

As Congress flounders trying to pass an abortion rights bill, someone who could do something about all of this is Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said on the day Roe was overturned that states cannot ban FDA-approved medications. Please have the DOJ get on that, sir.

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