A judge on Friday temporarily blocked an abortion ban in South Carolina, pending a review by the state’s Supreme Court.
The move by Judge Clifton Newman comes just a day after Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, signed the measure into law, which came into effect immediately.
The law, S. 474 or the “Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” banned most abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks of gestation.
There were exceptions for rape or incest during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy; as well as medical emergencies, or fatal fetal anomalies. Doctors found guilty of violating the law would face potential felony charges and up to two years in prison, as well as a $10,000 fine.
The latest decision on Friday means South Carolina is subject to the previous abortion restrictions that allow abortions through 22 weeks of gestation.
Planned Parenthood Sued
After McMaster signed the legislation, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, a South Carolina abortion clinic, and two doctors, immediately filed the lawsuit that prompted Newman’s decision.
“Today the court has granted our patients a welcome reprieve from this dangerous abortion ban,” Jenny Black, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement.
“While we have a long fight ahead, we will not stop until our patients are again free to make their own decisions about their bodies and futures,” she said.
The abortion provider operates two of South Carolina’s three abortion clinics.
State Files Emergency Motion
The governor responded to the decision on Twitter, writing: “We will continue fighting to protect the lives of the unborn in South Carolina and the constitutional law that protects them. I hope that the Supreme Court will take this matter up without delay.”
Later, McMaster said his administration filed an emergency motion (pdf) before 5 p.m. local time to request the state Supreme Court to “resolve this issue quickly.”
“The life of every South Carolinian – born or unborn – is precious and it’s His gift to us,” the governor said of the move.
Lawyers for the state asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to either cancel Newman’s order or hear the case as quickly as possible to “protect the lives of countless unborn children.”
The latest abortion ban had passed the South Carolina legislature on May 23, with the Senate voting 27-19 for the measure. Three GOP state senators, all women, joined all Democrats in voting against the ban. The House had passed the measure a week prior in a vote of 82-33.
State Supreme Court Previously Struck Down Similar Ban
In January 2023, the South Carolina Supreme Court struck down a similar heartbeat abortion ban, saying it violated the state constitution.
The 3-2 decision came nearly two years after McMaster signed into law in 2021 a separate, almost similar Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act.
The majority opinion in January 2023 was written by the court’s only female justice—Kaye Hearn—who retired shortly after the decision, in the same month, because she reached the mandatory retirement age of 72.
The state high court’s decision, which made abortion legal up through 22 weeks, turned South Carolina into a key destination for people seeking abortions, according to provisional state Health Department data, which showed larger numbers of out-of-state patients following the ruling.
Hearn wrote in the opinion that, although lawmakers have the authority to protect life, the privacy clause in the state constitution provides women with time to decide if they want to get an abortion, and most women don’t know they are pregnant six weeks after conception.
Judge Gary Hill replaced Hearn in February. He has the support of the South Carolina House Freedom Caucus, a conservative wing of the state’s House Republicans. Now South Carolina’s Supreme Court is the only state high court in the country without a woman on the bench.
GOP lawmakers say they are confident they crafted legislation that will stand up to the state Supreme Court’s scrutiny this time.
“While I respect Judge Newman’s decision, I remain convinced that the heartbeat bill is constitutional and that the Supreme Court will agree,” Republican state Senate President Thomas Alexander said in a statement.
Abortion is severely restricted in much of the South, including bans throughout pregnancy in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. In Georgia, it’s allowed only in the first six weeks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.