South Carolina Republican politicians distanced themselves from a widely criticized plan to outlaw offering abortion guidance online — a proposal that raised fears about internet censorship after the end of Roe v. Wade.
Lawmakers introduced the proposed abortion ban in June, basing it on model legislation from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). Among other provisions, the proposal would have banned “hosting or maintaining an internet website, providing access to an internet website, or providing an internet service” that told people from the state how to obtain an abortion. Groups like the Knight First Amendment Institute argued that the model legislation raised serious First Amendment questions, and its introduction in South Carolina suggested states were interested in taking it up.
But as reported by The State and The Post and Courier earlier this month and referenced by the Electronic Frontier Foundation late last week, even lawmakers who support outlawing abortion asserted that they didn’t support the measure. “There’s no support for doing something like that,” South Carolina Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, a Republican, told The Post and Courier.
Massey declared that “even people who are supportive of” abortion restrictions didn’t like the bill. Similarly, Republican Governor Henry McMaster said that “everyone has a constitutional right of the First Amendment to say things, to speak,” and “such a restriction, I think, I’m confident would not pass the House or the Senate.” And yesterday, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed HB 5399, an abortion ban that’s restrictive but doesn’t include the language about websites and service providers.
This is no guarantee that the law won’t crop up elsewhere. But it’s a mildly encouraging data point in the fight over speech and abortion — even if that’s a small part of the larger public health issue.