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COLUMBIA, SC — Today, a South Carolina woman who was denied an abortion in her home state as a result of South Carolina’s early, draconian abortion ban joined abortion providers in filing a lawsuit challenging the scope of the ban. Today’s filing asks a trial court to clarify the ambiguity of the definition of “fetal heartbeat” first raised by the state Supreme Court in its August decision upholding the state’s abortion ban. Absent clarity from the courts, abortion providers have had no choice but to assume that the ban applies at six weeks of pregnancy—before most people even know they are pregnant. Since the South Carolina Supreme Court’s August ruling, the vast majority of South Carolinians seeking abortions have been forced to travel out of state for care, and those who have been unable to travel have been forced to carry their pregnancies to term or seek care outside the medical system.

Taylor Shelton, a South Carolina resident, sought an abortion after her method of birth control failed. Although Taylor recognized her pregnancy two days after her missed period, she was unable to obtain an abortion with one of the providers in South Carolina before six weeks of pregnancy. As a result, Taylor was forced to make multiple trips to North Carolina to obtain care.

Shelton is the first named individual to file a lawsuit directly challenging abortion restrictions outside of the context of medical exceptions since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

Statement from Taylor Shelton, named plaintiff:

"I am suing the State of South Carolina because of the difficult experience I had trying to get a legal abortion here. I found out that I was pregnant at four weeks with an IUD in place, and knew immediately that an abortion was the right decision for me. Although I was well under the six week mark, I was unable to access the care I needed in the state of South Carolina, and this unwarranted hardship made me feel unbelievably frustrated and terribly confused. 

I was forced to jump through so many unnecessary hoops in order to receive the care I deserved. Ultimately, I had to make several trips out of state and spend 20+ hours driving to get the care I needed. The entire experience left me angry and quite frankly, traumatized. I want everyone to understand the impact South Carolina’s abortion restrictions and unfair treatment are having on real people, and I hope my story shows how punitive and cruel these abortion bans actually are."

Statement from Jenny Black, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic:

“South Carolina’s ban on abortion is harming people like Taylor every day while also sowing chaos and confusion among health care providers across the state. No one should have to overcome barrier after barrier or travel across state lines for basic, essential health care. We’re relieved Taylor was ultimately able to get the care she wanted and needed, but too many South Carolinians are unable to do so and must carry pregnancies against their will. People are tired of being told they can’t make deeply personal decisions about their own health and medical care. We are grateful to people like Taylor who are coming forward to tell their stories and to challenge these harmful and unnecessary restrictions on care.”

The lawsuit is based on the ambiguity of the definition of “fetal heartbeat” raised by the South Carolina Supreme Court at oral argument and in their August decision. The majority opinion said that it was “leav[ing] for another day” the critical question of the meaning of “fetal heartbeat’” and whether or not its definition refers to the point at which a fetal heart has actually been formed, which occurs later in pregnancy than the point at which the State claims the law bans abortion.

As Chief Justice Beatty noted in his dissent to the August ruling, so-called fetal heartbeat bans, like South Carolina’s, are “quintessential example[s] of political gaslighting,” because they use “medically and scientifically inaccurate” terminology. Without clarification from the court, the point in pregnancy at which the ban prohibits abortions remains ambiguous.  

North Carolina bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy in addition to imposing multiple other restrictions on abortion across the board, including requiring two in-person visits before a patient may obtain care.

The plaintiffs in the case are Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, Dr. Katherine Farris, and Taylor Shelton. They are represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the South Carolina law firm Burnette Shutt & McDaniel.

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