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South Carolina just banned almost all abortions after 20 weeks

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) signed a bill Wednesday to ban abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, roughly the halfway point of a typical 40-week pregnancy, unless a pregnant woman's life is in jeopardy or a doctor determines the fetus can't survive outside the womb.

The bill has no exceptions for rape or incest. It also has very limited exceptions for maternal or fetal health, which contradicts the Supreme Court's requirement in Roe v. Wade that any abortion ban must have a broad health exception.

These kinds of bills are increasingly common

Twelve other states have 20-week abortion bans in effect. Utah recently passed a law requiring women to undergo medically unnecessary anesthesia after 20 weeks, which doctors say could amount to a 20-week ban in practice.

In three other states, 20-week bans have been blocked by courts on constitutional grounds. That's because Roe v. Wade also says you can't ban abortion before a fetus is viable, and the medical consensus is that 20-week fetuses are not viable.

So if the Supreme Court ever decided to rule on 20-week bans, it could mean a new challenge to Roe — which is also why these bans are very popular among anti-abortion lawmakers who hope to see Roe overturned one day.

It's not likely that the Court will overturn Roe anytime soon, even if an anti-abortion justice were to replace the late Antonin Scalia. But it is possible that a split in the appellate courts — some ruling to block the bans, some ruling to uphold them — could force the Court to take up the issue .

This is one reason pro-choice advocates haven't yet challenged the bans in every state that has passed one. An unfavorable ruling from a more conservative appeals court could force the Supreme Court's hand, and the ruling might not necessarily be favorable to reproductive rights.

Supporters of 20-week bans say they're necessary because fetuses can feel pain by then. But the medical consensus doesn't support that view either, and doctors note that many serious fetal anomalies can't be diagnosed until the 20-week ultrasound.

Twenty-week abortion bans can have serious emotional and physical consequences for women. Texas's 20-week ban recently forced one woman to wait for her child to die inside her so she could deliver a stillborn, instead of having the abortion her doctor would have recommended.

Americans don't know much about abortion