South Carolina High Court Will Not Reconsider Abortion Ban Decision

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
August 31, 2023US News
South Carolina High Court Will Not Reconsider Abortion Ban Decision
A 3D ultrasound image showing a baby inside the womb. (Fotopress/Getty Images)

South Carolina’s highest court on Tuesday declined to reconsider a recent ruling upholding the state’s ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected—a signal that can be observed approximately six weeks into a pregnancy.

In a 4-to-1 vote, the South Carolina Supreme Court rejected a request by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers to reconsider its Aug. 23 ruling.

Planned Parenthood argued that the Republican-backed law uses “medically and scientifically inaccurate” terminology that renders its interpretation ambiguous.

Specifically, the abortion provider said the court had left unspecified whether fetal cardiac activity refers to the first regular contractions of heart tissue, which usually occurs around six weeks of pregnancy, or whether it requires the four chambers of the heart to be fully formed—which is usually not until 17 to 20 weeks.

Planned Parenthood’s main objection was that if the court’s ruling is interpreted in its literal sense, abortions would be banned six weeks after conception—which the organization states is before many women realize they are pregnant.

Planned Parenthood said it was therefore urging the court to adopt the definition of a fetal heartbeat as it would relate to a four-chambered heart.

In a joint statement, Planned Parenthood, abortion provider Greenville Women’s Clinic, and two physician plaintiffs involved in the case, expressed their disappointment with the court’s decision and said they will “continue to fight to restore abortion access for all South Carolinians.”

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson issued a statement welcoming the decision. “As we have always argued and maintained, the constitutional right to privacy does not apply to abortion. The right to life is foremost and absolutely must be protected and prioritized,” he said.

A statement from Planned Parenthood, in contrast, suggested the decision had implications for abortion access in the entire region.

“South Carolina has been a critical access point for abortion in the South, as surrounding states have banned or severely restricted abortion,” Planned Parenthood stated before filing for a rehearing on Aug. 24, fearing pregnant women would “seek abortion outside the health care system, or continue pregnancies against their will.”

The U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion nationwide, prompting several Republican-led states to introduce abortion bans or limitations.

Since then, 15 states have banned abortion altogether, either with or without exceptions for rape or incest.

South Carolina’s neighboring state of Georgia has an abortion ban after six weeks of pregnancy, while North Carolina has set the limit at 12 weeks.

The new South Carolina law came after the state Supreme Court in January struck down a similar abortion law by a 3-2 vote. Justice Kaye Hearn, who was the court’s only female judge and who voted against the law, has since retired.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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