Governor signs six-week abortion ban into effect in SC; lawsuit immediately filed

As of Thursday morning, most abortions in South Carolina are now prohibited before the time many women know they are pregnant.
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 11:03 AM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2023 at 7:46 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - As of Thursday morning, most abortions in South Carolina are now prohibited before the time many women know they are pregnant.

But for how long this restriction is in effect will soon be in a judge’s hands.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed the “Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” into law Thursday morning.

It bans most abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is typically around six weeks into a pregnancy. That’s why supporters often refer to this as a “heartbeat bill,” and it imposes the same restriction that is currently in place in Georgia. South Carolina’s other neighbor, North Carolina, recently passed a ban on the procedure after 12 weeks.

South Carolina’s legislation allows limited exceptions to save the mother’s life when the fetus has a fatal anomaly that would prevent it from surviving outside the womb, and for victims of rape and incest.

The exception for sexual assault survivors only applies before 12 weeks into a pregnancy, and it requires the doctor who performed the abortion to report the crime to the local sheriff within 24 hours of the procedure.

Two years ago, when Gov. Henry McMaster signed South Carolina’s previous six-week abortion ban into law, the second-floor lobby of the State House was packed full of lawmakers, supporters of the bill, and reporters.

That law was later struck down.

A much different scene played out Thursday, when the governor signed South Carolina’s new six-week ban in a private ceremony in his office, joined by just a handful of legislators and with no press invited.

After the signing, McMaster issued a statement, saying in part, “This is a great day for life in South Carolina, but the fight is not over. We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed. The right to life must be preserved, and we will do everything we can to protect it.”

Just an hour after the governor signed the legislation, South Carolina abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, filed a lawsuit in Richland County, asking a court to temporarily block the legislation’s enforcement and ultimately strike it down.

The plaintiffs argue the new law is “nearly identical” to the one the state Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional in January and “an unreasonable invasion of privacy.”

“We believe that they will respect the precedent set forth by this court just this year and strike this law down,” Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network CEO Ann Warner said.

The high court’s ruling came in a 3-2 decision four months ago.

Since then, the author of the majority opinion and the state’s only female justice, Kaye Hearn, retired and was replaced by Justice Gary Hill, forming an all-male Supreme Court bench.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield and a sponsor of the act, said they tweaked the language of the new legislation to respond to justices’ opinions when they struck down the former law.

“I feel good about where we are,” Massey told reporters Tuesday. “We haven’t targeted this at all based on the new makeup of the court. The idea of changing the legislation was done to address the concerns that were raised, and I think we’ve done that.”

Rep. John McCravy, R – Greenwood and one of the House of Representatives’ chief advocates for a total abortion ban, said he too believes they are in a good spot because of both the new bill’s language and because of the new court.

“Hopefully we’ll prevail this time,” McCravy told reporters Thursday, after the governor signed the bill. “I believe that the new justice, Gary Hill, from my conversations with him when he was running for this seat, he is a strict constructionist with the constitution in mind, so I think if he applies that, we’ll be in good shape.”

A hearing on the abortion provider plaintiffs’ motion seeking a temporary block on the law has been scheduled for Friday morning in Columbia.