SC’s six-week abortion ban to remain in place as lawsuit moves to state Supreme Court

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Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 7:20 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The law that bans most abortions in South Carolina after around six weeks will remain in effect for now.

On Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning denied abortion providers’ request to block the law’s enforcement for the time being, but he did grant a request from the defendants, including South Carolina’s attorney general, to move the case to the state Supreme Court.

“I’ve been on the bench for over a quarter of a century,” Manning said in explaining his ruling in a Columbia courtroom. “This is the most fundamentally important constitutional issue that I can remember ever being raised by anyone at any time, and I don’t make my decision without a great deal of thought.”

The Supreme Court will next have to decide if it will take up the case, and if so, when.

The state defendants requested the transfer, arguing it will allow for the fastest resolution and that the issue is of “vital and significant public importance.”

“From the state’s perspective, we can think of few issues that are more important than the protection of human life,” Assistant Deputy Solicitor General Thomas Hydrick said in court.

Hydrick also argued the Supreme Court should have original jurisdiction, the right to first hear what the state described as an unprecedented case.

“Quite literally, there is not direct legal or historical support for the claims that they raised here. Given that reality, we think it really is only fair the state Supreme Court have the first bite of the apple here,” he said.

The law, formally titled the “Fetal Heartbeat Act,” prohibits most abortions after around six weeks, the time opponents argue many women do not yet know they are pregnant. It does allow exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, life and health of the mother, and fetal anomalies.

Lawyers for the abortion provider plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood and Greenville Women’s Clinic, contend this law violates the guaranteed rights in the state constitution to privacy and equal protection, though the state defendants have responded that does not cover abortions.

Planned Parenthood called Tuesday’s decision to keep the law in place “a failure to act to protect women.”

“I don’t think there’s any way to describe it except utter disappointment,” Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Public Affairs Director Vicki Ringer said following the hearing. “Every day that goes by without an injunction or a restraining order, there are harms to women in this state.”

The law had been blocked in federal court for more than a year, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade last month allowed for its enforcement to begin.

Just over two weeks later, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in SC, Greenville Women’s Clinic, and two physician plaintiffs filed the new lawsuit in state court.

“We need protection right now. We need the constitution to do what it says it does: protect our right to privacy,” Ringer said. “Privacy begins with our bodies. If we can’t decide, can’t be private in our own bodies, we have no privacy anywhere.”

Shortly after Tuesday’s hearing, South Carolina Republican Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters he believed Manning’s transfer of the case to the Supreme Court was “a good decision.”

“That’s the way it would’ve ended up anyway, and you don’t need all the discovery and other such things as you’d have had at the trial level, so I think that’s a good development,” McMaster said. “I think the Supreme Court, when they rule, I believe they will uphold our heartbeat law.”

“This is a monumental case and we argued to Judge Manning that it should be moved to the South Carolina Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction,” the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office added in a statement.

As this is happening, the state legislature is likely to further restrict South Carolina’s abortion law in the coming months, with a panel of lawmakers recently recommending nearly banning the procedure except in very limited circumstances, not including in cases of sexual assault.

A ruling on the legality of the six-week ban could have implications on a new law as well.

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