McMaster signs fetal heartbeat bill; Lawsuit already filed

VIDEO: McMaster signs fetal heartbeat bill; Lawsuit already filed

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill designed to ban most abortions in the state into law at a Thursday afternoon ceremony.

Moments before the signing, Sen. Larry Grooms, the primary sponsor of the bill, reflected on the effort to pass it.

“Every year we’ve learned more and more about the humanity of the unborn. Every year, more and more, South Carolina citizens have gone to the polls and said we want pro-life legislators because we believe that every, every person born and unborn has a right to live,” Grooms said. “Today, in just a few moments, we’re about to do something that I spent a quarter of a century to do and that is to shut down the abortion industry in this state.”

McMaster first thanked everyone who gathered for the event for their patience after its late start. But he called it “a great day, a happy day.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, this step we take today was long in coming and monumental in consequence,” McMaster said. “But our battles are not over yet.”

But the governor said he believes “the dawn of victory is upon us.”

“I asked the citizens and I asked the General Assembly to send me a bill, to send me the heartbeat bill, and I would sign it,” he said to the crowd that had gathered inside the Statehouse. “And you have. And now, I will.”

With that, as the crowd cheered, he signed the bill.

After the signing, McMaster posted a message on Twitter saying, “Today, we made history.” He said the heartbeat bill is now South Carolina law and pledged to “defend it with everything in us because there is northing more important than protecting the sanctity of life.”

Planned Parenthood sues to stop law from taking effect

Planned Parenthood is suing the state to stop the measure from going into effect. The nonprofit organization announced its lawsuit Thursday about an hour before McMaster was scheduled to sign the bill.

Planned Parenthood says South Carolina’s ban is unconstitutional, and cites its previous challenges to similar abortion bans in about a dozen other states.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said Thursday before the signing that his office has already been named by plaintiffs in a legal action to block this law from taking effect.

“My office will vigorously defend this law in court because there is nothing more important than protecting life,” Wilson said in a statement.

The law is unlikely to immediately take effect because of expected legal challenges it will face.

A dozen states passed similar measures before South Carolina. All of them are tied up in lawsuits. Groups including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are expected to file suits challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, McMaster said there are always legal challenges to “a big step forward” like this.

“Whether somebody challenges or not is up to them,” he said. “That’s what the court’s for.”

Final vote Thursday sent bill to McMaster for signature

McMaster long pledged to sign the bill when it comes to his desk. The South Carolina House passed its second reading of the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” on a 79-35 vote Wednesday. A final procedural vote was still required on Thursday before McMaster could sign the bill.

The state Senate passed their version of the bill in January.

As written, the bill is said to prevent most abortions in the state. It would block doctors from performing an abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which normally happens as early as about six weeks into a pregnancy. Doctors or healthcare providers who perform an abortion in violation of the law could face a felony charge with a $10,000 fine, two years in jail or both.

Critics of the measure argued that six weeks is about the time some women learn they are pregnant.

The bill includes exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomalies and threats to the health of the mother. The bill also stipulates that doctors must give the sheriff the patient’s contact info within 24 hours if an abortion is performed on a woman who was pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

Copyright 2021 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.