Judge delays decision on injunction against SC abortion law, law is still temporarily blocked

Updated: Mar. 8, 2021 at 8:01 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A federal judge said she will rule soon on whether to impose an injunction to block a newly passed law designed to ban most abortions in South Carolina.

Judge Mary Geiger Lewis held a hearing at 2 p.m. Monday to hear arguments over whether an injunction was necessary.

But she said she first wants to decide whether Gov. Henry McMaster and State House Speaker Jay Lucas will be able to intervene or allowed to join the legal fight.

It’s not clear when either decision will come.

RELATED STORY Ι New SC abortion law remains on hold under judge’s order

Last week, Lewis extended a temporary restraining order that prevented the law from being enforced through March 19. Imposing an injunction would be a more long-term action to block the law from being enforced indefinitely.

During Monday’s hearing, Lewis heard arguments from both parties but questioned the Attorney General’s team more than the lawyer with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

Julie Murray who is representing Planned Parenthood argued the ban is, “plainly unconstitutional.” Murray said most women don’t even know they are pregnant during the first six weeks of pregnancy.

However, the attorney representing the Attorney General’s Office disagreed. “We believe under current case law that this law is sustainable,” Emory Smith said. Smith’s team has been arguing a fetal heartbeat is a sign the fetus will survive and be born.

Smith said the two to five-week period before the ban would go into effect allows a woman time to seek an abortion. Lewis questioned that argument saying a woman would have to be “clairvoyant” to have an abortion in that time.

“I’m no doctor, but I have a hard time buying into that,” Lewis said.

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.

Lawmakers praised the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act when Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law on Feb. 18.

The law’s primary sponsor, Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, said shortly before McMaster held a ceremonial signing of the bill that South Carolina was about to “shut down the abortion industry in this state.”

But even as McMaster was about to sit down and sign the bill, which he called a step that was “long in coming and monumental in consequence,” he warned, “our battles are not over yet.”

That’s because a lawsuit had already been filed against the state before the signature happened. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic are legally challenging the new law, according to a release for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“We have known from the beginning that this would harm people in South Carolina and we are hopeful courts agree that this law is plainly and blatantly unconstitutional,” Planned Parenthood South Atlantic spokesperson Molly Rivera said in a statement on Feb. 19.

Attorney General Alan Wilson released a statement on Feb. 19, the day the restraining order was initially imposed:

We believe the Heartbeat Law is constitutional and deserves a vigorous defense to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. Every generation has a right and a duty to revisit issues as important as this one. The Heartbeat Law protects life. Nothing is more important or fundamental. Today’s temporary restraining order is only a first step, but the legal fight has just begun. We look forward to further arguing why this law should be valid.

A dozen states have passed similar measures before South Carolina. All of them are tied up in lawsuits.

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