The uncivil war between the states that allow abortion and those that criminalize it is expanding to the online front as South Carolina Republicans want to outlaw any medical information about abortions online.
Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling that overturned the right to abortion in June, South Carolina state senators introduced legislation that would make it illegal to “aid, abet or conspire with someone” to obtain an abortion.
The bill aims to block more than abortion: Provisions would outlaw providing information over the internet or phone about how to obtain an abortion. It would also make it illegal to host a website or “[provide] an internet service” with information that is “reasonably likely to be used for an abortion” and directed at pregnant people in the state.
Legal scholars say the proposal is likely a harbinger of other state measures, which may restrict communication and speech as they seek to curtail abortion. The June proposal, S. 1373, is modeled off a blueprint created by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), an antiabortion group, and designed to be replicated by lawmakers across the country.
As the fall of Roe v. Wade triggers a flood of new legislation, an adjacent battleground is emerging over the future of internet freedoms and privacy in states across the country — one, experts say, that could have a chilling impact on First Amendment-protected speech.
“These are not going to be one-offs,” said Michele Goodwin, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California at Irvine Law School. “These are going to be laws that spread like wildfire through states that have shown hostility to abortion.”
Goodwin called the South Carolina bill “unconstitutional.” But she warned it’s unclear how courts might respond after “turning a blind eye” to antiabortion laws even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
Many conservative states’ legislative sessions ended before the Supreme Court’s decision, and won’t resume until next year, making South Carolina’s bill an anomaly. But some tech lobbyists say the industry needs to be proactive and prepared to fight bills with communications restrictions that may have complicated ramifications for companies.
“If tech sits out this debate, services are going to be held liable for providing basic reproductive health care for women,” said Adam Kovacevich, the founder and CEO of Chamber of Progress, which receives funding from companies including Google and Facebook.