In the words of South Carolina reproductive health champion, Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers, “It’s been an emotionally difficult year.” It feels like we’ve been trying to sip water from a fire hydrant. We have endured one attack after another on health care, equality, freedom, justice, and safety.
South Carolina legislative sessions last for two years. This year was the first of the two-year session, meaning any bills that were introduced this year are eligible to be considered in 2022. Here’s a rundown of some of the most significant bills related to reproductive health and freedom from the first year of this legislative session:
Senate Bill 1 (6-week abortion ban): Defeated
The first bill introduced and debated in the General Assembly was Senate Bill 1, which bans abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — before most people even know that they are pregnant. Despite strong opposition from a majority of South Carolinians, including by doctors and medical associations, legislators pushed this bill through with little debate. The bill was quickly introduced in the Senate on January 12 and signed by Gov. Henry McMaster on February 18. The only other legislation I can recall that passed as quickly as the 6-week abortion ban was the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds following the murder of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015.
Immediately after the legislature passed the bill, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the law from going into effect. In fewer than 24 hours after the governor signed the bill into law, a federal court blocked it, protecting access to abortion for South Carolinians.
Today, abortion remains safe and legal in South Carolina. But there are 11 other bills pending which would ban or severely restrict abortion in the state. Because our legislature operates on a two-year session, these bills can be considered once lawmakers reconvene in January.
Reproductive Health Care
Senate Bill 628 (birth control access): Passed one chamber
Senate Bill 628, sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis, would allow pharmacists to dispense hormonal birth control. This bill would expand access to the pill by eliminating the need for all patients to first get a prescription from a doctor before going to have it filled at a pharmacy, making it easier for folks to get the birth control method of their choice. This would especially help people who live in rural areas or otherwise do not have immediate access to a physician. The bill has already passed the Senate and can be taken up by the House in January. An identical bill was introduced in the House, House Bill 3175, sponsored by reproductive rights champions Rep. Todd Rutherford and Rep. Jermaine Johnson. We are hopeful that this bill will continue to have bipartisan support and be signed by the governor next year.
House Bill 3225 (maternal mortality): Passed one chamber
South Carolina has the 8th highest rate of maternal mortality in the nation, and Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. This is a crisis across our nation, particularly in the South. Rep. Kambrell Garvin, a reproductive rights champion, introduced House Bill 3225, which would create a study committee to make recommendations for reducing maternal mortality in our state. This bill passed the House and has moved to the Senate, and we will work to pass it in January.
House Bill 3560 (Paid Family Leave): Passed one chamber
The House passed House Bill 3560, a bill that would provide state employees 12 weeks of parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child. This bill will be considered by the Senate in January. Paid family leave is a critical priority for Planned Parenthood. Providing this time off for state employees is a good first step, and we’ll work to expand this to all workers in the state and to also cover care for sick family members.
House Bill 3518/Senate Bill 811 (medical refusals): Introduced and heard in committee
Republicans in both the House and Senate introduced identical bills (House Bill 3518 and Senate Bill 811) that would allow almost anyone who works at a health care facility to refuse to provide any type of health care service. This would give medical providers wide authority to turn away patients, likely impacting people who are LGBTQ or seeking reproductive health care. Medical staff would not be required to find another provider to treat the patient or to refer the patient elsewhere for needed care. Patients could be sent home with no information or diagnosis because the medical worker objects to something about the patient. Spartanburg Sen. Josh Kimbrell, the primary sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, said his bill was in response to the city of Columbia passing a citywide ordinance banning conversion therapy, but we should note that his bill was introduced before the city passed their ordinance and the identical bill in the House was introduced in December 2020. The Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee held its first hearing on the bill in June – after the legislature had adjourned. This bill was given priority over many other critical bills pending before this committee, and it’s a shame to see our state leaders putting bigotry and politics before the health and livelihood of their constituents. We are likely to hear more about the bill in the coming months, so be sure you are following our Twitter for up-to-the-minute information.
House Bill 3747/Senate Bill 574 (period equity): Introduced and heard in committee
Bills in both the House (House Bill 3747) and Senate (Senate Bill 574) were introduced to remove the sales tax on period products. This is the second session that reproductive rights champion Rep. Krystle Matthews has sponsored this legislation. A subcommittee hearing was held but no vote was taken to move the bill forward. Period products are necessities, not luxuries. State lawmakers can and should make period products more affordable by removing the sales tax on them — just as they have done for food and other basic necessities.
Special shout out for expanded Medicaid coverage: Thanks to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, Medicaid funding was made available to states to provide women with 12 months of continuing postpartum health care after they have been pregnant. Through the state budget, this plan will now go into effect in South Carolina — a tremendous step forward in expanding health care for people who give birth. Currently, Medicaid pays for 60% of all births in South Carolina and only covers 60 days of postpartum care. If this new plan is properly implemented and promoted in our state, it could have a significant impact toward reducing the number of women who die during or shortly after childbirth. For more information, read this Kaiser Family Foundation’s explanation of this promising improvement in maternal healthcare.
House Bill 3477/House Bill 4153/Senate Bill 531 (Discrimination against people who are transgender): Defeated, for now
The attacks on transgender people in South Carolina came fast and furious this legislative session. Three bills (House Bill 3477, House Bill 4153, and Senate Bill 531) were introduced to ban transgender students from participating in sports teams that align with their gender identity. These bills received three subcommittee hearings, two full committee debates, and two budget considerations. All efforts failed, but we expect this to rear its ugly head again in January. Another bill, House Bill 4047, would prohibit transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming health care, including hormone therapy, counseling or surgery — even with parental permission. It would also require teachers to “out” children to their parents if the students display any tendencies that the teacher deems outside gender norms. We will continue to fight all these bills which deny children and people who are transgender the health care they need or attempt to discriminate or punish them for who they are.
House Bill 3620 (hate crimes): Passed one chamber
South Carolina is one of three states with no hate crimes laws in place. After years of fighting with no success, the House finally passed House Bill 3620 – the Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act – named for a state senator and pastor who was killed in 2015 at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The bill provides an additional penalty for crimes committed because of that person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, age, political opinion, or the exercise of a person's political rights and privileges.
While we did not make the kind of progress we would have liked this legislative session, it gave me a lot of hope to witness our champions in both chambers fight back against egregious attacks. I want to thank all of our legislative champions for their outspoken support of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and the patients who rely on them every day.
For now, we rest and prepare to fight again in January. If anything comes up between now and then, we will be sure to update you on Twitter and Instagram, so be sure you are following us there. Onward!