SC Supreme Court temporarily blocks abortion law

South Carolina's Supreme Court
South Carolina's Supreme Court(WIS News 10, Mary Green)
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 3:32 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Supreme Court issued a unanimous order Wednesday temporarily blocking South Carolina’s six-week ban on abortions from being enforced.

The order comes in response to a lawsuit filed in state court by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and the Greenville Women’s Clinic, challenging the state’s “Fetal Heartbeat Law,” which prohibits most abortions once cardiac activity has been detected, typically around six weeks. Opponents of the legislation have argued many women do not know they are pregnant at that point.

After Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed the law in Feb. 2022, it had been blocked for more than a year in federal courts but went into effect on June 27 after the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe V. Wade.

The lawsuit asked the courts to consider if the bill violated the South Carolina constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection. It argues that the law does not provide adequate protections for women’s health and conditions sexual assault survivors’ access to healthcare on providing personal information to law enforcement.

State defendants, including McMaster and Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson, have maintained their stance the law is constitutional.

Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning transferred the lawsuit to the South Carolina Supreme Court on July 26 at the request of the defendants, who argued it would allow for the fastest resolution and that the issue is of “vital and significant public importance.” Manning had also denied abortion providers’ request to block the law’s enforcement for the time being.

A separate motion was filed July 27 to block the law while litigation continues, resulting in the Supreme Court granting the temporary injunction Wednesday.

Jenny Black, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said,

“We applaud the court’s decision to protect the people of South Carolina from this cruel law that interferes with a person’s private medical decision. For more than six weeks, patients have been forced to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion or suffer the life-altering consequences of forced pregnancy. Today the court has granted our patients a welcome reprieve, but the fight to restore bodily autonomy to the people of South Carolina is far from over. No matter what happens, we will never stop fighting for our patients’ right to make their own decisions about their bodies and futures.”

The temporary injunction extends the period during which abortions are legal in South Carolina to before 20 weeks, where the law had been prior to the six-week ban taking effect in late June. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said it will restart providing post-six-week abortions as soon as possible, as early as this week.

Wilson’s office said of Wednesday’s injunction, “While we are disappointed, it’s important to point out this is a temporary injunction. The court didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the Fetal Heartbeat law. We will continue to defend the law.”

McMaster’s spokesman, Brian Symmes, responded to the injunction, “We always knew that we would need to fight to defend the Fetal Heartbeat Act. We successfully did so in the federal court system and we’re confident that we will prevail in state court.”

McMaster’s Democratic challenger on the ballot this November, former Lowcountry Congressman Joe Cunningham, called the decision “great news for the people of South Carolina,” saying in a statement, “This blatant government invasion of privacy should have never become law and I am relieved to see the Court put it on hold. This draconian law is not based in science and strips women of their fundamental freedoms. This law is bad for South Carolina families, doctors, and businesses. Our fight is far from over but today’s ruling is another sign that the people of South Carolina want more freedoms - not less.”

The injunction comes as the South Carolina legislature is in the process of further restricting abortion access in the state.

On Tuesday, a House of Representatives committee advanced a bill that would impose a near-ban on abortion in the state, allowing the procedure only in extremely limited circumstances in which the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy. The legislation would not allow pregnancies to be terminated if they result from rape or incest, though House members from both parties are just about certain to propose adding those exceptions into the bill when debate on it begins in two weeks.

South Carolina House Speaker Murrell Smith, R - Sumter, said in a statement, “I am extremely disappointed in the Court’s decision to temporarily halt South Carolina’s Fetal Heartbeat law. The law is the overwhelming will of the South Carolina Legislature, and therefore a reflection of the will of the people of this state. However disappointing this decision may be, I remain confident of the law’s constitutionality and look forward to it being the law of our state once again.”

We have embedded the temporary injunction below.

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