COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A judge granted a motion to temporarily halt a bill designed to ban most abortions in South Carolina from taking effect.
Immediately after the ruling, which blocks the bill for 14 days, Jenny Black, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, one of two organizations that sued the state to block the law, released the following statement:
Today, abortion remains safe and legal in South Carolina, and politicians’ plan to restrict access to health care has failed. Gov. McMaster: South Carolinians need a COVID-19 plan, not an abortion ban. Our patients deserve more from their elected leaders. As a leading provider of reproductive health care in the state, including abortion, our doors are open to the South Carolinians who depend on us every day. We will never stop fighting on behalf of our patients.
The court order came Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Gov. Henry McMaster signed the “Fetal Heartbeat” into law at the Statehouse, fulfilling a promise he and other Republican lawmakers made to their constituents.
“Like I said - we will defend this law every step of the way,” McMaster tweeted on Friday afternoon. “No lawsuit can weaken our resolve to fight for life.”
McMaster warned at the signing on Thursday that “our battles are not over yet.”
In fact, a few hours before the bill was signed, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic filed a lawsuit in the South Carolina District Court to block the bill.
Judge Mary Geiger Lewis, a federal judge who was nominated to the bench in 2011 by then-President Barack Obama, was set to hear the motion for the restraining order Friday afternoon.
“SB 1 will cause immediate, irreparable harm, and the balance of equities and public interest weigh in favor of enjoining this blatantly unconstitutional law,” wrote the plaintiffs in their motion for a temporary restraining order on the abortion ban being enforced.
In the suit, Planned Parenthood and others argue that the law runs against the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe V Wade.
Republicans and Democrats spoke about the potential legal challenges leading up to the bill’s passage and both parties said they were confident their side would win in the courts.
After the lawsuit was announced, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson put out a statement saying, “my office will vigorously defend this law in court because there is nothing more important than protecting life,” Wilson said.
The bill, also known as SB 1, makes it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which supporters of the bill say is about six to eight weeks after conception. The bill includes exceptions including in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomalies, or if the mother’s life is in danger.
If a healthcare provider were to perform an abortion outside of these situations, they could face a felony charge, up to two years in jail, and or a $10,000 fine. The legislation also requires doctors to give a patient’s contact information to local law enforcement officials if they perform an abortion on a woman who says they were a victim of rape or incest.
The law will likely be deemed unconstitutional in the District Court, which happened to states that passed similar laws, according to Professor Mary Ziegler, author of “Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v Wade to Present”, said. Then the case can be appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and if it is still ruled as unconstitutional and the state of South Carolina wants to appeal again, the state can try to have the case heard before the Supreme Court.
According to Ziegler, it seems unlikely the high court will choose to hear South Carolina’s case over states that passed similar bills previously.
In the past, McMaster has said he believes constitutional and is confident he will prevail in the courts.
Legal experts say the other states with similar “heartbeat” laws in the books have faced lengthy and costly court battles.
“Lawmakers in the past, as much as 10 years ago, estimate that taking a case to the U.S. Supreme Court can cost between one and four million dollars. We’ve seen lawmakers in states like North Dakota, which passed a heartbeat bill, end up with a bill around $490,000 and that was a bargain,” Ziegler said.
When asked about the potential cost of the legal battles, Wilson said all of the work on this case will be handled, “in-house.”
Ziegler said it is still possible for legal costs to come from hiring outside experts to assist with the trial and any legal fees that may need to be paid to the opposing side if the Attorney General were to lose in court.
A spokesperson for Wilson said while things may change as the case progresses, it is not their plan to charge leave the taxpayers with a bill at the end of this battle.
When asked how he feels taking up the fight on this bill, Wilson said standing next looking at McMaster during the signing ceremony he was aware of the fight ahead.
“I felt like a quarterback looking at his running back before he hands him the ball,” he said.