Federal Court Blocks South Carolina Law Banning Abortions When Unborn Baby’s Heart Starts Beating

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Feb 22, 2022   |   6:16PM   |   Columbia, South Carolina

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to allow South Carolina to enforce its heartbeat law Tuesday in response to a lawsuit from the Planned Parenthood abortion chain.

WIS News 10 reports the Fourth Circuit upheld a judge’s preliminary injunction blocking the 2021 abortion ban, which could save thousands of unborn babies every year.

Lawyers for the state said the law “advances South Carolina’s ‘legitimate interests from the outset of pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the’ unborn.”

But lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the Greenville Women’s Clinic argued that the law is unconstitutional. Currently, under Roe v. Wade, states are prohibited from protecting unborn babies from abortion before viability.

“We are thrilled that the Court of Appeals has again blocked South Carolina from moving law backward for people in our state,” lawyer Malissa Burnette, who represents the abortion facilities, responded to the ruling Tuesday.

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But Brian Symmes, a spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster, said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if they have to, News 10 reports.

“As the governor has said before, there is no more worthy investment of our time and energy than fighting to protect the right to life,” Symmes said.

The South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act prohibits abortions once an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable, about six weeks of pregnancy. Exceptions are allowed in cases of rape, incest or risks to the mother’s life. Abortionists who violate the law could face a $10,000 fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

If enforced, the law would save thousands of unborn babies from abortions every year. The state reported 5,468 abortions in 2020, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

The law also requires the abortionist to provide the woman with an opportunity to see the ultrasound and to hear the fetal heartbeat if she so chooses. Informed consent laws have been consistently upheld by the courts.

“Planned Parenthood is suing South Carolina over the measure, which requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for fetal heartbeat,” said Holly Gatling, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life. “If a heartbeat is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger.”

Planned Parenthood and the Greenville Women’s Clinic filed a lawsuit immediately after the law passed, and federal Judge Mary Lewis blocked the state from enforcing the law last year. The abortion facilities also asked for a summary judgment, arguing that “the other party’s case has so little factual or legal basis that it should be thrown out,” according to The State.

However, McMaster has expressed hope that states will be allowed to protect unborn babies from abortion again soon. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on a major abortion case from Mississippi later this year.

“While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case related to Mississippi’s law offers great hope and promise for protecting the lives of the unborn, we must defend South Carolina’s Fetal Heartbeat Act against every challenge at every level,” McMaster said.

Pro-life advocates are hopeful, especially after the high court refused twice to block a similar law in Texas. However, the Texas heartbeat law is unique because it has a private enforcement mechanism that allows individuals to sue abortionists who abort unborn babies with beating hearts. It is because of that private mechanism that the law has been allowed to remain in effect. However, the law still is being challenged in court.

A number of states have passed heartbeat laws in recent years, but, with the exception of Texas, all have been banned from enforcing them due to legal challenges by abortion activist groups. Other states with heartbeat laws include Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.

Polls suggest Americans support strong limits on abortion. A 2019 Hill-HarrisX survey found that 55 percent of voters said they do not think laws banning abortions after six weeks – when an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable – are too restrictive. Gallup polls also consistently have found that a majority of Americans think all or most abortions should be illegal.

In 1973, the Supreme Court took away the states’ ability to protect unborn babies from abortion under Roe v. Wade, and instead forced states to legalize abortion on demand. As a result, more than 63.5 million unborn babies have been killed in abortions.