South Carolina court blocks abortion law as Senate considers new one

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The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily blocked the state’s “fetal heartbeat” law banning abortion around six weeks as lawmakers across the street were considering new restrictions.

The restrictions, previously blocked by federal courts, took effect shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. With federal abortion protections gone, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic sued under the state constitution’s privacy protections. For the time being, abortion is once again legal from 20 weeks of pregnancy in the state.

RELATED: Abortion ban goes to S. Carolina House floor for big fight

“At this preliminary stage, we are unable to determine with finality the constitutionality of the Act under our state’s constitutional prohibition against unreasonable invasions of privacy,” the Court wrote in its order granting a preliminary injunction.

Meanwhile, the South Carolina Senate had just started taking its first steps toward further abortion restrictions. The Medical Affairs Committee began taking invited testimony and public comment Wednesday as they consider language for another abortion bill. On Tuesday, the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee advanced a near-total abortion ban with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Jenny Black, the President of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said the fight was “far from over.”

“We applaud the court’s decision to protect the people of South Carolina from this cruel law that interferes with a person’s private medical decision,” Black said. “For more than six weeks, patients have been forced to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion or suffer the life-altering consequences of forced pregnancy.”

The justices noted that the legislature held the authority to make public policy decisions within the restraints of the U.S. and South Carolina constitutions. On the Senate side, committee members emphasized they were not considering any specific measures at the moment.

The hearing came also about two months after the Supreme Court opened the door for measures previously considered not politically feasible by leading drafters of the upper chamber’s abortion bill.

During January 2021 debates over the “Fetal Heartbeat” Act, Republican Sen. Larry Grooms said that proposal posed “the greatest chance for life for unborn children.” Grooms said then that exceptions in cases of rape or incest would be necessary to garner enough support for the measure’s passage.

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Protesters also descended on the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia Wednesday to fight for abortion rights in the state.

“I think the government needs to get out of our own personal decisions about our body,” protestor Amber Pesce said.

Pesce and other protesters sat outside the state house and listened to this Senate’s public hearing on abortion.

“We don’t stand for what they’re doing, and we want them to vote no on new stricter abortion legislation,” Pesce said.

The new bill, expected to head to the full House in a matter of weeks would ban all abortions except when the life of the mother is in danger.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-7 to approve the ban with all yes votes coming from Republicans and all votes against the bill from Democrats.

“It gets into things that I believe are unconstitutional, like restricting women from being able to travel across state lines to receive an abortion, or receive access,” said Rep. Brandon Newton, R-Lancaster.

Three Republicans abstained from the vote.

The proposal is more restrictive than the current law on the books in South Carolina. Right now, the state prohibits an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, but it does make exceptions in some cases including rape, and incest, to prevent death or injury to the pregnant woman and when there is a fetal anomaly.

In July, people on both sides of the debate shared their views on abortion access with the committee.

“The decision to have a child is a private and personal conversation between the mother and father,” one person said.

“Please advocate for the lives of the unborn because they don’t have a voice,” another speaker countered.

Some state lawmakers are pointing to a recent vote in Kansas preventing lawmakers from seeking more restrictions as a reason to pause the current efforts in South Carolina. Voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that has some similarities to the local proposal.

“The Kansas vote affirms what most of us know,” Republican state Senator Sandy Senn said last month. “It’s the people in my party, most all of them men, yelling the loudest that women should have zero choice from the moment of conception.”

Senn was the only Republican that voted against the state’s current law that bans most abortions after six weeks.

The newly proposed legislation still has a long way to go before it could reach Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he wants to see no abortions in the state.

Pesce said it goes too far and hopes her vote in November’s election will get the attention of the lawmakers in South Carolina.

“I am optimistic about the upcoming election in November, that people will show up to the polls and vote these lawmakers out,” Pesce said.

(WATCH BELOW: Biden to sign executive order to protect travel for abortion)