On Friday, the South Carolina Senate introduced legislation that would make it illegal to “aid, abet, or conspire with someone” to obtain an abortion. This includes providing information on how to obtain an abortion online, over the phone, or in private conversations.
You’re reading correctly. The South Carolina Senate introduced a bill that would outlaw even providing the information on how to obtain an abortion in a state with severe restrictions on the medical procedure. And as conservative lawmakers continue to strip away reproductive rights, experts warn that South Carolina is only the first of many states that will try to pass this legislation that infringes the First Amendment.
“These are not going to be one-offs,” Michele Goodwin, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California at Irvine Law School, told The Washington Post. “These are going to be laws that spread like wildfire through states that have shown hostility to abortion.”
SB 1373, aka the “Equal Protection at Conception – No Exceptions – Act,” was set into motion by antiabortion group National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) just days before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to Prism. The model legislation would impact anyone in the state who runs a website “that encourages or facilitates efforts to obtain an illegal abortion” or provides “referrals to an illegal abortion provider.”
Jim Bopp, NRLC’s general counsel, went as far as to compare the spread of information about obtaining legal and safe abortions and abortion pills to that of organized crime and fentanyl. “The whole criminal enterprise needs to be dealt with to effectively prevent criminal activity,” he wrote in a July 4 memo, according to The Washington Post.
Bopp also told WaPo that the group “tried to be very careful in vetting this so it doesn’t impinge on First Amendment rights,” but legal advocates and journalists aren’t as convinced. The vague notion of a website that “encourages” abortion, as outlined in the legislation, makes it difficult to determine what type of information would be considered “aiding and abetting” or simply presenting information about abortion. The lack of guidance on how to enforce this legislation leaves interpretations up to individuals.
It also puts tech companies in a strange predicament of having to either wade through individual state laws, or simply ban abortion content altogether. History warns of the latter.
The infamous Craigslist Personals and other personal ad spaces many sex workers used to stay safe and vet potential clients simply disappeared after FOSTA-SESTA introduced a stipulation to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which frees internet platforms from being liable for their users’ posts. The stipulation made platforms responsible for any ads or content related to selling sex work, ostensibly to eradicate sex trafficking. Many platforms opted to get rid of these pages altogether instead of parse through complex legalese state-by-state and hire moderators, which put many sex workers at increased risk. The same could happen with any content related to abortion and people seeking the procedure.
“This is tremendously concerning for us,” Jessica Mason Pieklo, senior vice president of nonprofit, independent newsroom Rewire News Group, an independent newsroom focused on reproductive justice, told Prism. “It is a target for folks who tell the stories of patients who need to access care, explain how care is access, and the stories of providers and advocates who are helping make sure that happens.”
As of last month, abortion is outlaws in the state of South Carolina after six weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of life endangerment, or in cases of rape or incest, according to the Guttmacher Institute.