Court Blocks Newly Signed South Carolina Abortion Law on Planned Parenthood’s Behest

February 19, 2021 Updated: February 20, 2021

A federal judge on Friday blocked a newly signed law in South Carolina that bans abortions after a heartbeat is detected in the unborn baby.

U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis, an Obama appointee, ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, which filed the suit around the time the bill was signed into law.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, signed the bill into law on Thursday after both state chambers passed it.

“Today, we made history. The Heartbeat Bill is now the law of South Carolina and we will defend it with everything in us because there is nothing more important than protecting the sanctity of life!,” he wrote in a statement.

But Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that pushes against any laws limiting abortions, sued, arguing lawmakers were trying “to prevent patients from exercising their constitutional right to abortion.”

If the judge didn’t block the law from going into effect, plaintiffs and their patients would suffer imminent harm, the suit argued.

Plaintiffs are Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the Greenville Women’s Clinic, and Dr. Terry Buffkin.

Plaintiffs asked for a temporary restraining order, which the judge granted.

“The Court finds that Plaintiffs have established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the Act violates the substantive due process rights of Plaintiffs’ patients to previability abortion, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment,” she wrote, adding, “The Supreme Court has held that a state may not ‘prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.'”

South Carolina code establishes viability no sooner than the 24th week of pregnancy.

Epoch Times Photo
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks to a crowd in Columbia, S.C., on Nov. 3, 2020. (Sam Wolfe/Reuters)

“Yet the Act expressly bars the provision of nearly all abortions in South Carolina upon detection of embryonic or fetal ‘cardiac activity,’ which may occur as early as six weeks of pregnancy, or even sooner,” Geiger said. “Because the Act bans abortion months before any fetus could be viable, Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that the Act is unconstitutional.”

In an emailed statement, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, told The Epoch Times: “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.”

Lawyers for Wilson and other state officials who were named as defendants said in a previous motion that the court shouldn’t grant the temporary order. They asked the court “to defer issuing a preliminary injunction until such time as these Defendants can present a fully developed memorandum, with possible exhibits, supporting the denial of a preliminary injunction.”

Lawyers also said that a heartbeat “is a key indicator of human life” and that the General Assembly found “the presence of a heartbeat is a sign that the fetus is highly likely to survive until live birth.”

“Given that the Supreme Court has not yet addressed a fetal heartbeat bill, and the composition of the Court has changed, Plaintiffs cannot show now a likelihood of success. The Act contains exceptions which also would limit harm. Moreover, the balance of equities and the public interest favors the State given the strong interest it has in the protection of the unborn especially those possessing that most important sign of life, a heartbeat,” the lawyers wrote.

Many similar state bills have been challenged in court. Lawmakers in the states have said they hope the cases end up at the Supreme Court, which would rule on whether they’re constitutional.

In 2017, 5,120 abortions were performed in South Carolina, although not all of the abortions were provided to residents of the state, according to the Guttmacher Institute. South Carolina abortions represent o.6 percent of all abortions in the United States.

Janita Kan contributed to this report.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
Follow Zachary on Parler: @zackstieber