‘I Feel Like We’re Backing Up, Instead of Moving Forward’
On Jan. 5, South Carolina became the first state to uphold a constitutional right to abortion since Roe v. Wade was overturned. Justice Kaye Hearn, the only woman on the state’s Supreme Court, wrote the majority opinion in the case, arguing that South Carolina’s constitution includes a right to privacy and “few decisions in life are more private than the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy.” The 3-2 decision struck down a 2021 ban on abortions after cardiac activity is detected — roughly six weeks into pregnancy. The ruling made national headlines for the rebuke it appeared to deliver to a Republican legislature in a deeply conservative state.
Conservatives vowed to fight back, introducing two new bills: one that’s similar to the measure the court struck down, and another that would ban abortion after conception, with exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomaly and the mother’s life and health. Republican Gov. Henry McMaster decried the court ruling; “results-oriented reasoning threatens to disrupt our constitutional separation of powers,” he said. Then he announced he would file a petition for a rehearing in the case. On Feb. 8, the Supreme Court denied that request.
Meanwhile, Hearn, 72, has reached the court’s mandatory retirement age and is poised to step down as soon as she wraps up her remaining cases. The only candidate who won enough votes in the General Assembly to replace her is male. That means that South Carolina will become the only state in the country without a woman on its highest court.
On one of her last days in her chambers in Columbia, Hearn sat down with POLITICO Magazine to discuss her career and her legacy. She attended law school in the early ’70s, served as a family court and appellate judge, and became the second woman elected to the state Supreme Court in 2009. Petite, like the ballerina she once aspired to be, she wore gold earrings and dainty black heels. Her pink fingernails wrapped around a coffee mug that read, “Never underestimate the power of a woman who graduated from Bethany College.” Hearn fired back at McMaster, saying he is the one who misunderstands the nature of checks and balances. She lamented the fact that the judiciary doesn’t reflect the makeup of the state bar, much less the general population, in terms of sex and race. And she explained why playing the peppery Texas governor Ann Richards in a one-woman show was a surprisingly satisfying role.