Earlier this week, Republican lawmakers in South Carolina took the first in a series of steps toward making their already draconian abortion law—which currently prohibits the medical procedure after just six weeks, with exceptions for rape and incest—even worse: a total ban, except in cases where the mother’s life is in jeopardy. But stripping countless women of the right to make decisions over their own bodies—including women who’ve been victims of violent assault and abuse—apparently isn’t enough for the state’s conservatives. No, they won’t be happy until you can basically throw a person in jail for simply uttering the word abortion.
The Washington Post reports the insane, fully dystopian news that following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, South Carolina state senators introduced a bill that would make it illegal to provide “information [about how to get an abortion] to a pregnant woman, or someone seeking information on behalf of a pregnant woman, by telephone, internet, or any other mode of communication.” It would also be illegal to host or maintain a website, or provide access to a website, that includes such information. And just for good measure, the legislation would make it illegal to merely provide a referral to an abortion provider. The proposal was based on a blueprint designed by the National Right to Life Committee, and it’s expected to be replicated by other red states across the country.
“These are not going to be one-offs,” Michelle Goodwin, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California at Irvine Law School, told the Post. “These are going to be laws that spread like wildfire through states that have shown hostility to abortion.” While arguing that the South Carolina bill was clearly unconstitutional, Goodwin expressed skepticism that the courts would do anything about it after “turning a blind eye” to recent antiabortion laws—even ahead of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe.
As the Post notes, “tech companies could soon be navigating a disparate patchwork of state laws, caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war between red states and blue states”—which was no doubt by design. Given that it’s not clear how the courts might respond to such bills, tech companies could choose to err on the side of caution for fear of lawsuits. “The legal ambiguity works in favor of regulators,” Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, told reporter Cat Zakrzewski. “They can suppress a lot of constitutionally protected speech just because of fear of liability.” And even if tech companies are shielded from liability, Goldman said, individuals could be held accountable for sending messages about how to obtain an abortion. Which, yes, is completely outrageous and terrifying. And exactly the kind of hellscape conservatives want us to live in.
Anyway, enjoy being able to utter the word abortion while you still can!