COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — 2020 had the lowest number of abortion procedures performed in at least the last four years, according to recently published data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

There were 4,549 abortions performed in South Carolina in 2020, according to the data. That is down from 5,101 in 2019, 4,646 in 2018 and 5,112 in 2017. Data for prior years was not immediately available. 

A little more than half of all abortions performed in 2020 were at six weeks or less postfertilization, and 49.3% were between seven and 13 weeks. There has been one abortion total performed at 24 or more weeks over the last three years. 

The most common method was medical abortion, which accounted for 3,090 of procedures in 2020. About 57% of abortions were performed on those between the ages of 20 to 29.

The data was published amidst an ongoing legal battle over the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, which opponents said would essentially ban a majority of abortions in the state, as heartbeats can be detected at about six weeks postfertilization, before many people know that they’re pregnant.  

The bill was passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Henry McMaster in February, and immediately faced a legal challenge from pro-abortion rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina. The legal challenge currently remains in federal court, which has filed a preliminary injunction blocking the law.

On Wednesday, McMaster asked for the order to be reversed and for the case to be dismissed, arguing that the plaintiffs “lack both third-party constitutional standing and statutory standing necessary to bring suit against the law,” and that “the federal district court erred in enjoining the entirety of the Federal Heartbeat Bill by disregarding the Act’s severability clause and erroneously imposing its own views of the Act’s purposes,” according to a press release from the governor’s office. 

“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 in an announcement. “As I’ve said before, the right to life is the most precious of rights and the most fragile. We must never let it be taken for granted or taken away. And we must protect life at every opportunity, regardless of cost or inconvenience.”

News13 reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina for comment, but did not hear back before deadline. 

South Carolina Citizens for Life, an anti-abortion organization, is pleased with the lower abortion numbers this year, according to Holly Gatling, the group’s executive director.

“We are always gratified to see the numbers going down,” she said. “It means that girls and women are making other choices than abortion, which is not good for either the mother or the baby. The baby always dies and the mother suffers from many kinds of medical and emotional complications.”

Gatling said there are both free private and public resources across the state to provide care and assistance as an alternative for abortion. She said those resources include aid to help continue education, search for job opportunities and provide provisions for up to two years after a baby is born. 

Gatling said the group kept services open during the pandemic, which included providing a drive-thru program to provide diapers, formula and clothing.

“No one was denied any care or treatment,” she said.

Gatling said she was concerned that abortion procedures were considered essential services and remained available during shutdowns, when hospitals delayed non-essential care.

She wants to see abortion numbers continue to decrease.

“I think it is going to be very gratifying that these numbers have declined again, and we will keep doing what we need to do,” she said.