Courts Uphold South Carolina’s 6-Week Abortion Ban

In a 5-4 decision with one dissenting opinion, the South Carolina Supreme Court lifted a temporary injunction against the state’s abortion restrictions. The “Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” prohibits most abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, at which fetal or embryonic heart activity may be detected.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and other medical professionals have filed a lawsuit to overturn the legislation, which Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed in May. The state has asked the Supreme Court to hear the issue immediately by filing an emergency petition.

There are limited exceptions up to 12 weeks for victims of rape and incest, and the law provides exceptions to preserve the life of the pregnant mother and for fatal fetal deformities. The State Board of Medical Examiners has the authority to cancel a physician’s license to operate in the state and to prosecute them criminally for any violations of state law. The state legislature reached a policy conclusion that a woman’s interest in autonomy and privacy does not trump the need of the unborn child to survive, notwithstanding Justice John Kittredge’s claims that the 2023 Act violates these rights.

Justice John Few submitted a separate judgment advocating “active family planning” but concurred with overturning the restriction. According to him, the expanded access to contraceptives made possible by the 2023 Act allows couples who do not want to bring a pregnancy to term and have a baby to make that choice before a pregnancy. Teams are encouraged through early pregnancy testing not to exceed the fetal heartbeat laws’ deadline if contraceptive measures are ineffective.

Chief Justice Donald Beatty argued against the majority opinion, saying a court without judicial independence is useless. He also implied that women have complete responsibility for an unplanned pregnancy by saying that women bear more of the legal obligation for such pregnancies.
The Supreme Court’s decision was slammed by Planned Parenthood, which said it would do irreparable damage to the people of South Carolina.