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Six-week abortion ban reignites legal battle in South Carolina

Planned Parenthood's South Atlantic office filed an emergency motion asking a state judge to temporarily block a new abortion law from being enforced.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — The South Carolina governor’s signature on a new abortion bill hardly dried before Planned Parenthood filed a challenge to its constitutionality.

The nonprofit’s South Atlantic office filed the lawsuit in state court late Thursday morning with three other health care providers. The challenge came less than an hour after Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed Senate Bill 474 in a closed-door ceremony with key supporters.

“This is a great day for life in South Carolina, but the fight is not over,” the governor said in a statement. “We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed.”

The law bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, or about six weeks into a pregnancy, with exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies, rape, incest and to protect the mother’s life.

The law went into effect immediately, but the health care providers filed an emergency motion asking the court to block it from being enforced while the suit is pending.

The providers argue the immediate implementation of the ban will harm pregnant women with scheduled appointments who are already past the six-week mark.

“Unless S.B. 474 is enjoined, these patients will be forced to travel out of state and wait days or weeks for an abortion, if they can obtain an abortion at all, and endure financial, physical, and emotional costs of forced pregnancy,” the motion states.

A hearing on the temporary restraining order is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday in Richland County's Common Pleas Court.

The new law mirrors one that was struck down by the South Carolina Supreme Court in January. In a narrow 3-2 decision, the high court determined a six-week abortion ban that was passed in 2021 violated privacy protections guaranteed by the state constitution.

Thursday's lawsuit states that the new law "blatantly disregards" the court's prior decision, while also harming women as they make one of the most personal decisions of their lives.

"In particular, the Act is an attack on families with low incomes, South Carolinians of color, and rural South Carolinians, who already face inequities in access to medical care and who will bear the brunt of the Act’s cruelties," the complaint states.

Justice Kaye Hearn retired shortly after she wrote the majority opinion in the prior case. After a contentious legislative election, lawmakers chose to replace Hearn with Judge Gary Hill. As a result, South Carolina is the only state in the country with an all-male supreme court.

Democrats have claimed Hill’s election was an attempt by Republicans to swing the court’s abortion opinion in their favor.

State Senator Tom Davis, a Republican who opposes an absolute ban on abortions, argued during debates on the bill Tuesday his colleagues should have done more to address the concerns raised by the justices in Planned Parenthood v. South Carolina.

“I don’t want the constitutionality of an abortion bill decided because a man replaced a woman on the state Supreme Court,” he said. “I think that would be a horrible look for this state."

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