Washington: In the first reversal of its kind, South Carolina's Supreme Court overturned a law banning abortion after six weeks on Thursday - inflicting a major setback for abortion opponents in the conservative, southern state.
The decision marked the first time a state top court has struck down such a law since the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in June.
"We hold that our state constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion," the state court ruled.
The US Supreme Court used similar reasoning in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that protected the right of American women to have an abortion for nearly half a century.
But in a historic turnabout, the highest court ruled in June that the 1973 decision was wrong and returned to the states the right to legislate as they saw fit.
Since then, the country has been riven between states that have enacted restrictions or bans, mainly in the South and the Midwest, and those that have buttressed access to abortion, largely on the coasts.
"This is the first state supreme court decision that supports abortion rights" since the Supreme Court's June ruling, the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights, told AFP.
In an ever-changing legal landscape, it is the state courts that are now tackling the issue.
Since June, restrictive measures have been blocked on an emergency basis in several states pending higher-level decisions. The South Carolina Supreme Court is the first to issue a final ruling.
"This is a monumental victory in the movement to protect legal abortion in the South," said Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that operates many health clinics that offer abortions.
"We are encouraged by South Carolina's Supreme Court ruling today on the state's extreme and dangerous abortion ban," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted.
The decision opens up new opportunities for women in nearby states such as Alabama and Tennessee who have no access to abortion and can now travel to South Carolina for the procedure.
This is not necessarily the end of the legal battle, however. In its decision, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy can be "limited" as long as it is done in a "reasonable" manner.
This could allow state legislators to introduce new restrictions.