Federal Appeals Court upholds ban of SC six-week abortion ban

Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 5:51 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2022 at 8:30 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/WIS) - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Tuesday a lower court decision to block a South Carolina law that bans abortions at six weeks.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act into law on Feb. 18, 2021. That same day, three abortion providers, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the Greenville Women’s Clinic and Terry Buffkin MD filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

A federal district court in South Carolina immediately issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signs the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, aimed at banned most...
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signs the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, aimed at banned most abortions in the state, into law on Feb. 18, 2021.

Then in March 2021, U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis filed an injunction to prevent the law from being enforced while the litigation continued.

The Fourth Circuit reviewed the lower court’s decision to block the entire law rather than to just sever the “six-week ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion ban component” of the law.

The lower court reasoned “it was appropriate to enjoin the act in its entirety because it determined that the remaining portions of the act were ‘mutually dependent on’ the six-week abortion ban,” court documents state.

“The district court reasonably determined that, notwithstanding the Act’s severability clause, its provisions were not severable,” the appeals court’s ruling states. “A straightforward review of the function of each of the provisions remaining in the Act after the removal of the six-week abortion ban reveals that the entirety of the statute was designed to carry out the ban.”

Because the provisions serve “to carry out the six-week abortion ban,” they make “little sense without the ban,” the order states, adding that the lower court did not abuse its discretion by declining to sever the remaining portions of the act.

Malissa Burnette of Burnette Shutt & McDaniel told WIS-TV they will continue to fight against attempts denying access to health care.

“We are thrilled that the Court of Appeals has again blocked South Carolina from moving law backward for people in our state,” Burnette said.

McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said the governor will take this case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

“As the governor has said before, there is no more worthy investment of our time and energy than fighting to protect the right to life,” Symmes said.

As written, the bill was 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.

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