COLUMBIA, S.C. – A leading anti-abortion group has picked South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster as its first gubernatorial endorsement in next year's elections, part of a broader strategy to seed top state jobs with abortion opponents as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to give states more power over the issue.
On Wednesday, officials from the Susan B. Anthony List will travel to Greenville to give their endorsement to McMaster, now in his second full term. Their early backing of the Republican even before he draws a primary challenger who is actively raising money could be intended as a prophylactic to deter anyone from challenging him from the right.
In an interview ahead of the event, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the organization's president, told The Associated Press that McMaster's key roles in defending both Mississippi's abortion law and South Carolina's new restrictions on abortion make him “a hero in defending life.”
Mississippi's 2018 law would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state's sole abortion clinic is challenging the measure's legality, arguing that it unconstitutionally restricts access to abortion. Mississippi’s Republican attorney general, in turn, has asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The high court is expected to hear the case this fall, with a decision next year.
Last month, McMaster led a coalition of a dozen Republican governors submitting an amicus brief supporting Mississippi's law. Arguing that the issue of abortion is best left to the states, McMaster's attorneys wrote that citizens can vote out state lawmakers with whom they disagree over abortion policies, but are less able to make federal entities comply with the people's will.
The high court’s landmark abortion decisions have “upended the careful balance that the Constitution strikes between the Federal Government and the States," they wrote, in arguments similar to the ones made by Mississippi’s attorney general.
McMaster has also had to contend with related litigation in his own state, although it's been put on hold pending the Mississippi decision. Earlier this year, the governor signed the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” which requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for cardiac activity, which can now be detected about six weeks after conception. If it’s found, the abortion can be performed only if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or the mother’s life was in danger.
Planned Parenthood attorneys sued immediately, and the entire law has been blocked from taking effect during the lawsuit.
“The right to life is the most precious of rights and the most fragile,” McMaster said then, in a statement. “We must protect life at every opportunity, regardless of cost or inconvenience.”
About a dozen other states have passed similar or more restrictive abortion bans, which could take effect if the justices use Mississippi's Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Footing on the abortion issue may start to shift very dramatically to the state level depending on the Dobbs decision,” Dannenfelser told AP.
Although McMaster is the first governor to get the group’s backing for next year’s election cycle, Dannenfelser said more such endorsements will come now that groups like hers have successfully campaigned to confirm “justices who would hear a case that could relax the control that the court has, in making abortion law in the states.”
“Endorsing a governor like Gov. McMaster is part of the culminating point of the whole movement,” she added.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.