South Carolina became the latest US state to ban most abortions on Thursday, setting up another legal fight that could end up in the US Supreme Court.
“There’s a lot of happy hearts beating across South Carolina right now,” Republican Governor Henry McMaster proclaimed during a ceremony at the statehouse attended by legislators who made the bill a reality.
— Jamie Lovegrove (@jslovegrove) February 18, 2021
The “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” is similar to abortion restriction laws that have passed in a dozen states including neighbouring Georgia, as well as Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio.
In 2019, Missouri approved a ban on abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy and Alabama outright outlawed all abortions. All of those states’ bans are tied up in court. Federal law, which takes precedence over state law, currently allows abortion.
After the South Carolina House overwhelmingly passed its bill on Thursday morning, Planned Parenthood announced that it was filing a lawsuit. The “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” like other similar laws currently being challenged, is “blatantly unconstitutional”, said Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, The Associated Press reported.
At a time when millions are struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, this reckless and irresponsible governing must not stand. South Carolinians deserve better. pic.twitter.com/OcwqziHKTO
— Planned Parenthood Action (@PPact) February 18, 2021
Supporters of restrictive abortion laws are trying to get the issue before the US Supreme Court in the hopes that — with three conservative justices appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump — the court could overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 decision supporting abortion rights. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that abortion is legal until a fetus is viable outside the womb — months after a heartbeat can be detected, Black noted.
State bills to restrict or ban abortion “are plainly absurd”, Black said. “There is no other way around it.”
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson issued a statement Thursday saying that his office “will vigorously defend this law in court because there is nothing more important than protecting life.”
Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit argues that South Carolina’s new law “is in flagrant violation of nearly five decades of settled Supreme Court precedent”. The suit says a high rate of women, especially African Americans, die during or immediately after childbirth in South Carolina. The abortion ban would fall hardest on low-income women, who would not be able to travel to a nearby state where abortion is still permitted, the suit said.
South Carolina’s bill requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus. If one is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or the mother’s life is in danger.
The measure would not punish a pregnant woman for getting an illegal abortion, but the person who performed the abortion could be charged with a felony, sentenced up to two years and fined $10,000 if found guilty.