The six-week abortion ban is a stunt. Lawmakers who support it know it. The special interest groups who support it know it. To be fair, the governor might not know it.
Do South Carolina voters know it?
While they stood there clapping and congratulating one another on signing the 6-week abortion ban into law, they resembled stage-make-up-costumed-pretenders. It’s a stunt.
The bill will be challenged as unconstitutional and legal battles will begin. Each level of federal court gets the bill closer to the Supreme Court where, supporters hope, the most conservative set of judges we’ve had in a while will revisit Roe vs. Wade.
Two problems: 1) the Supreme Court has already rendered an opinion on abortion in Roe v. Wade and has only once heard a major case on the topic, last summer, in which it decided that the state of Louisiana’s restriction of abortion procedure to doctors with an admitting privilege to the nearest hospital was unconstitutional (link); 2) since Roe, states have enacted over 1200 legislative acts to limit or restrict abortion (read further) and the Supreme Court heard one case. The Supreme Court is unlikely to question its own judgment in an overturn of Roe.
Where does that leave the South Carolina legislature in its rush to meet Governor McMaster’s State of the State challenge to put together a six-week abortion ban that he will sign into law?
As bad actors in political theater.
This law is not about protecting the 4,646 women who had abortions in 2018 (according to DHEC) or the 5,120 who had them the year before (according to the Guttmacher Institute). It’s about the data from those two years which suggests that 55% of abortions happen between 7 and 13 weeks. This law would, presumably, prevent 55% of future abortions from occurring. Less than 2,600 women, many of whom are not even South Carolina citizens, are being targeted by this legislation.
This law and those like it, are about moral superiority.
The exceptions prove that: rape and incest are circumstances the woman cannot control but any other pregnancy is 100% her fault and she must bear responsibility. This law punishes women for conceiving children.
If this was about families, the law would provide for prenatal care, paid maternity leave, and childcare expenses. It would include requirements for the father to provide care for the child. It would fund rural clinics, pay for counseling and support during adoption proceedings, and job placement assistance for after the child is born.
The six-week abortion ban is evidence of several damaging truths in our state politics. First, that we believe we can legislate 2,600 women into being responsible adults. Second, that we are willing to spend millions of dollars on legal proceedings for a guaranteed court battle in pursuit of a national moral crusade. Third, that we are willing to let our legislators off the hook for doing the real work of government to instead use the State House for their own ambition.
In a recent episode of The Political Orphanage, Andrew Heaton interviewed Yuval Levin, author of A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream (link). In the interview, Levin describes how our politics have become less about governance and more about theater. Our lawmakers are playacting, eschewing the work of government for the social media and reputation-building activities that earn them soundbites and campaign slogans.
They aren’t doing the actual work of governance.
The six-week abortion ban is a perfect example of political theater. Rather than take up the work of government which is providing resources to meet peoples’ needs, our entire state house scrambled to enact legislation that targets 2,600 women with a single and specific outcome: to be heard by the Supreme Court.
South Carolina has real problems. The pandemic brought into stark relief all that is not functioning in state government. From lockdowns bankrupting businesses to school closures putting more children at risk in abusive home situations, South Carolinians are struggling. This obsession with banning abortion is the worst kind of theater in that it distracts from the work that legislators should be doing. But then, that may be exactly what they want.
Learn more about where the Libertarian Party stands on abortion here.
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