SC’s fetal heartbeat bill now in effect, judge rules

Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 5:51 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 27, 2022 at 8:33 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A federal judge has lifted a block on South Carolina’s so-called “fetal heartbeat bill” in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

The South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat Protection From Abortion Act, which Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law in February 2021, had been blocked from being enforced since right after McMaster signed it.

That changed on Monday, when a federal judge stayed the injunction that was blocking it, Attorney General Alan Wilson said.

“The Heartbeat Law is now in effect. Once Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, the decision on legally protecting the lives of unborn babies was returned to the states, so there was no longer any basis for blocking South Carolina’s Heartbeat Law,” Wilson said. “Our state is now carrying out a government’s most sacred and fundamental duty, protecting life.”

South Carolina’s Republican leaders, including McMaster, Wilson, and Speaker of the House Murrell Smith of Sumter, filed an emergency motion Friday, following the high court’s decision, to allow South Carolina to start enforcing the Fetal Heartbeat Law as soon as possible.

A judge gave the plaintiffs in that case, including Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, until Monday at 9 a.m. to respond.

Jenny Black, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, released a statement late Monday in response to the judge’s ruling:

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic’s doors are open in Charleston and Columbia. We are providing abortion care in full compliance with Senate Bill 1, and we encourage anyone seeking an abortion to contact our office as soon as possible.

After last week’s harmful Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, it’s clear that the best path to protect abortion access in South Carolina after around six weeks of pregnancy does not run through our existing federal court case. But this fight is far from over. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and our partners are dedicated to protecting reproductive freedom for all.

The US Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday stripping the constitutionally guaranteed right to access abortions nationwide opened the door for state legislatures to impose tighter restrictions and even total bans on the procedure, with South Carolina’s among them.

In a 6-3 vote in a case known as the Dobbs ruling, the justices overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which had protected abortion access for nearly 50 years. While bans on abortion immediately went into effect upon the decision in some states, with more prohibitions coming soon in others, South Carolina’s General Assembly is expected to return to Columbia in the coming months for a special session to change state law.

The law limits abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, requires abortion providers to give the mother the opportunity to see an ultrasound, hear her baby’s heartbeat, and receive information about her child’s development.

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.

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.

But McMaster has previously voiced support for a statewide ban on abortion without exceptions for rape or incest. He said in a statement following the Dobbs decision that he would “immediately begin working with members of the General Assembly to determine the best solution for protecting the lives of unborn South Carolinians.”

While the South Carolina General Assembly ended its 2022 regular legislative session in mid-May, it passed a resolution before adjourning that outlines the reasons for which lawmakers could return to Columbia. Among them, members could be called back to the State House to respond to a Dobbs ruling.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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