South Carolina bill would censor online abortion information

South Carolina lawmakers have proposed a bill called the Equal Protection at Conception—No Exceptions—Act that would block websites from posting abortion-related information.

State made abortion illegal after Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June. This new bill(Opens in a new window) also seeks to prohibit “the hosting or maintenance of an Internet site, the provision of access to an Internet site or the provision of an Internet service intended for the purpose of a pregnant woman residing in this State and providing information on how to obtain an abortion, knowing that the information will be used or is reasonably likely to be used for an abortion.”

The bill also prohibits “providing information to a pregnant woman, or a person seeking information on behalf of a pregnant woman, by telephone, Internet, or any other mode of communication regarding self-administered abortions or to obtain an abortion knowing that the information will be used, or is reasonably likely to be used, for an abortion,” as well as providing information about abortion doula services or referring visitors to providers of abortion.

The decision to reverse Roe vs. Wade demonstrated how abortion rights are intertwined with privacy rights – something President Joe Biden recognized with the executive order protecting access to reproductive health care services – across the United States. Notes from Ars Technica(Opens in a new window) that this bill (and others like it) shows that state efforts to limit access to information about obtaining or performing abortions could also threaten the First Amendment right to free speech.

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On a practical level, even if the bill passes, it is unlikely to prevent anyone from accessing abortion information. Location-based restrictions are relatively easy to circumvent. The problem is accessing this information without leaving evidence that could then be used by prosecutors. It seems more likely that the law on equal protection at conception – without exception – will be punitive rather than preventive.

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