COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s governor on Thursday signed a law banning most abortions, one of his top priorities since he took office more than four years ago. Planned Parenthood immediately sued, effectively preventing the measure from taking effect.
The “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” is similar to abortion restriction laws that a dozen states have previously passed. All are tied up in court. Federal law, which takes precedence over state law, currently allows abortion.
Something McMaster seemingly acknowledged during his signing conference.
“Our battles are not over, yet I believe the dawn of victory is upon us,” McMaster said.
The House passed its bill by a 79-35 vote Wednesday after hours of emotional testimony from both supporters and opponents, and gave the measure final approval on Thursday. Moments after the second vote Thursday, 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.
Jay Lucas, speaker of the South Carolina House, acknowledged S.1, was the primary goal of the South Carolina House this session.
“Pro-life is not a partisan effort, it is a bi-partisan effort and I think we showed that yesterday.,” he said.
Darlington County Representative, Robert Williams, says he and many of his Democratic colleagues disagree.
“We felt that women in South Carolina should be able to make their own decision about their own body instead of having the government determine and dictate a woman and her decision,” Rep. Williams said.
Representative Williams was one of many who walked out of House chambers Wednesday when deliberations on the bill began.
One Democrat who didn’t share that sentiment, is Representative Lucas Atkinson of Dillon, Horry and Marion Counties. Atkinson voted in favor of the heartbeat bill and was one of only two Democrats in the state to do so.
Supporters of stronger abortion laws are trying to get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes that — with three 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.”
A position reinforced by South Carolina Citizens for Life president, Lisa Van Riper.
“He [Attorney General Wilson] is ready to defend this bill if those who defend the right to life for children dare to bring a charge against it,” she said.
Another criticism the bill faced; it’s priority over other indicatives during the pandemic.
“We are still in the midst of a crisis as it relates to the pandemic and I don’t think we need to steal focus from that. We need to stay laser focused,” Representative Williams said.
Representative Williams continued to say the fact that the fetal heartbeat bill is the first piece of legislation to pass this session shows, “that the priorities of South Carolina are not in the right place when we’ve got people dying constantly of COVID-19.”
Lawmakers who supported the bill celebrated their long-awaited victory Thursday.
“We’re about to do what I’ve been trying to do for 25 years: shut down the abortion industry in South Carolina,” said Republican Sen. Larry Grooms. He continued, “500,000 little boys and girls have lost their lives in South Carolina since 1970; 500,000. 500,000 that cry out and sing, “Hallelujah!,” that that will never have to happen again.”
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 wouldn’t be able to travel to a nearby state where abortion is still permitted, the suit says.
Black said the focus on abortion wastes taxpayer money and ignores a host of other important issues such as health care, unequal treatment of women, and education, Black said.
“If lawmakers are really interested in making lives better, we have a long list of priorities they can focus on,” Black 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.