COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s new six-week abortion ban is on hold, after a judge on Friday temporarily blocked the law from taking effect and punted the case back to the state Supreme Court to decide for the second time whether the it’s constitutional.
Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman made the decision Friday from the bench at the Richland County Courthouse.
”They (Supreme Court) may change their view,” said Newman, whose official order was still being written and signed.
The decision keeps the state’s 20-week abortion law in place.
“My view is the status quo should be maintained and the matter be reviewed by Supreme Court as expeditiously they want to review it,” Newman said.
Gov. Henry McMaster signed the “fetal heartbeat” ban into law Thursday, triggering an immediate lawsuit by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the Greenville Women’s Clinic and two doctors who perform abortions in South Carolina, asking for an immediate temporary restraining order that bars the ban from taking effect.
The governor held the signing with his wife, Peggy, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and five Republican lawmakers. The media was not invited to attend.
The law bans abortions at about six weeks of pregnancy, or after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, before most people know that they’re pregnant. It includes exceptions for rape and incest at 12 weeks, fatal fetal anomaly and the mother’s life.
However, given the number of abortion clinics in South Carolina — there’s only three in Charleston, Columbia and Greenville — plus an appointment backlog and a new requirement to get an abortion, the ban’s critics say lawmakers have essentially passed a near-total ban.
“Many women, including many of my patients, have no reason to suspect they maybe pregnant as early as 6 weeks LMP (last menstrual cycle. For a woman with an average menstrual cycle of a period every 28 days, 6 weeks LMP is just two weeks past a missed period,” Dr. Terry Buffkin, a board-certified OBGYN who is licensed to practice in South Carolina and is the co-owner of the Greenville Women’s Clinic, said in the lawsuit.
Buffkin continued, “Many women also do not have any of the physical indicators of pregnancy, including a missed period, during early pregnancy. Many women do not menstruate at regular intervals and/or sometimes go beyond 6 weeks without experiencing a menstrual period, and therefore may not realize they are pregnant when they miss a period for that reason.”
Thomas Hydrick, assistant deputy solicitor general for the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, argues for the state over South Carolina’s six-week abortion ban on Friday, May 26, 2023, in the Richland County Courthouse in Columbia, S.C.
Thomas Hydrick, assistant deputy solicitor general for the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, argues for the state over South Carolina’s six-week abortion ban on Friday, May 26, 2023, in the Richland County Courthouse in Columbia, S.C. Joshua Boucher firstname.lastname@example.org
The South Carolina Supreme Court has already reviewed and ruled on a similar six-week ban.
In January, state Supreme Court struck down the 2021 six-week ban, also signed by McMaster, ruling 3-2 that the law violated the state Constitution’s right to privacy.
After months of Republican infighting over abortion restrictions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision, overturning the landmark case Roe v. Wade, lawmakers passed S. 474 that they say should be upheld by the high court.
Since the court’s decision — which kept abortions illegal past about 20 weeks — Justice Kaye Hearn, who wrote in the majority and was the only woman on the court, has retired because of the state’s 72-year age limit for judges.
In her place, the Republican-controlled Legislature elected now-Justice Gary Hill, resulting in an all-male court.
In a statement late Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “South Carolina’s ban will cut off access to abortion for women in the state and those across the entire region for whom South Carolina is their closest option for care.”