CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — A South Carolina law banning most abortions after about six weeks was in effect for only a day before a judge temporarily halted its enforcement.
The South Carolina Supreme Court will determine if the state's so-called "fetal heartbeat" law is constitutional before the injunction is lifted, Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman ruled after an emergency motion hearing in Richland County.
The judge's decision from the bench Friday morning means women can continue to obtain abortions through 22 weeks of pregnancy in the Palmetto State, though other regulations largely block access after the first trimester.
Doctors at Planned Parenthood clinics in Columbia and Charleston waited for news from the courthouse Friday afternoon that Newman had signed an official order blocking the law. Molly Rivera, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said 77 women were scheduled to obtain abortions that day and the majority had been pregnant for more than six weeks.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic filed the emergency motion Thursday with the state's three other outpatient abortion providers. The motion was filed less than an hour after Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed Senate Bill 474 into law, banning abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity, or about six weeks into a pregnancy. The law allows limited exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities, rape, incest or to protect the mother's life.
"We will continue fighting to protect the lives of the unborn in South Carolina and the constitutional law that protects them," McMaster said on social media Friday. "I hope that the Supreme Court will take this matter up without delay."
The providers argued the law's immediate enforcement would irreparably harm their patients. The clinics would have to cancel procedures for women whose pregnancies had advanced beyond six weeks, forcing them to travel out of state for an abortion — if they were able to obtain the procedure at all.
Some women would be forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will. Others would turn to self-managed abortion by buying pills or other items online that may be unsafe or expose them to criminal risk, providers argued in the motion.
More than 1,000 women were denied abortions at Planned Parenthood’s two clinics in Charleston and Columbia after an abortion ban went into effect last summer following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
That law, which largely mirrors the one signed Thursday, was struck down by the South Carolina Supreme Court earlier this year for violating women’s right to privacy under the state constitution.
The new ban has the same flaws that made the high court nix the old one, according to the providers. Pregnancies often go undetected for more than six weeks, thus foreclosing the opportunity for most women to obtain an abortion.
“By banning abortion upon identification of embryonic or fetal cardiac activity, the Act prevents pregnant people from exercising autonomy over their bodies, and in turn, the course of their lives,” the motion states.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office argued in a response that the plaintiffs misread the court’s earlier decision.
Based on the Supreme Court's prior ruling, the providers also asked Newman to find the new law unconstitutional.
Circuit judges do not rule on the constitutionality of statutes except in "extreme circumstances," Newman said. Instead, he ordered for the case to be sent directly to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The abortion law was passed during a special legislative session this month amid contentious debate.
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