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The exterior of the South Carolina State House is seen on January 29, 2023 in Columbia.
A South Carolina judge has temporarily blocked the state’s new abortion restrictions from taking effect, just one day after Gov. Henry McMaster signed them into law.
The law, which restricted most abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, was signed by McMaster, a Republican, on Thursday and took effect immediately. Moments later, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, along with the Greenville Women’s Clinic and two medical plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit in state court to try to stop it.
Superior Court Judge Clifton Newman made the decision Friday in Richland County, South Carolina, to put the new law on hold until the state Supreme Court can review the case to determine whether it violates the state constitution.
For now, abortions in the state remain legal until about 20 weeks, until the Supreme Court makes a decision or takes other measures to allow implementation of the law.
“Today, the court has given our patients a welcome reprieve from this dangerous abortion ban,” said Planned Parenthood South Atlantic President and CEO Jenny Black. “Our doors remain open and we are here to provide compassionate and nonjudgmental health care to all South Carolinians. Although we have a long fight ahead of us, we will not stop until our patients are once again free to make their own decisions about their bodies and future.”
McMaster said he looked forward to the state Supreme Court taking up the case, and Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said his office is “considering all of our options” in response.
“We have defended the right to life in court before, and we are prepared to do so again,” Wilson said.
South Carolina passed a similar six-week abortion ban in 2021, but the state Supreme Court struck it down earlier this year, concluding that the state constitution’s privacy protections require that women be given sufficient time to determine they are pregnant and terminate a pregnancy.
Republican sponsors of the new legislation said they felt changes in the language of the new legislation addressed the Supreme Court’s concerns about the previous law.
The author of the January decision, Justice Kaye Hearn, was the only woman on the state Supreme Court bench at the time. She has since retired. There are currently no women on the South Carolina State Supreme Court bench.
Senate Bill 474, known as the “Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” bans most abortions after early heart activity can be detected in a fetus or embryo, usually as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are are pregnant. Any physician who knowingly violates the law will have their license to practice in the state revoked by the State Board of Medical Examiners and may face felony charges, fines and imprisonment.
The law includes exemptions to save the patient’s life and for fatal fetal anomalies, as well as limited exemptions of up to 12 weeks for victims of rape and incest, with medical reporting requirements to local law enforcement. It also includes an amendment added by Parliament that would require a “biological father” to pay child support from conception.