South Carolina governor signs 'heartbeat' bill banning abortion, Planned Parenthood sues

Wednesday the South Carolina House passed a bill intended to ban abortions after the point of development when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That happens around six weeks, well before most abortions take place.

The “ South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act ” requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus. If one is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or the mother’s life is in danger.

The bill would not punish a pregnant woman for getting an illegal abortion, but the person who performed the abortion could be charged with a felony, sentenced up to two years and fined $10,000 if found guilty.

The bill was passed by a vote of 79-35 and today, Governor Henry McMaster signed it into law.

“There’s a lot of happy hearts beating across South Carolina right now,” Republican Gov. Henry McMaster proclaimed during a ceremony at the statehouse attended by lawmakers who made the bill a reality.

Immediately after he signed the bill, a group of lawmakers and members of the public, standing shoulder to shoulder and wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus, began singing the words “Praise God” to the tune of “Amazing Grace.”

Planned Parenthood immediately sued, citing decades of Supreme Court precedent:

Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit argues that South Carolina’s new law “is in flagrant violation of nearly five decades of settled Supreme Court precedent.” The suit says a high rate of women, especially African Americans, die during or immediately after childbirth in South Carolina. The abortion ban would fall hardest on low-income women, who wouldn’t be able to travel to a nearby state where abortion is still permitted, the suit says.

Demanding that this bill be taken up by the courts may be exactly what supporters want. If these laws are eventually appealed to the Supreme Court by one side or the other, that would give the court a chance to weigh in on precedent related to this issue.

Just a few years ago there were clearly at least five votes that would support Roe v. Wade and related decisions, but after President Trump’s appointment of three conservative justices, including Amy Coney Barrett to replaced liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the votes to uphold Roe may not be there.

It’s a common misconception that overturning Roe would automatically end abortion nationwide. That might be true or nearly so in South Carolina and other states that have passed heartbeat bills in the past several years, but all repeal would really do is send the matter back to the states. In states like California and New York, removing Roe would likely result in even more permissive laws regarding abortion.

Here’s the Governor’s statement moments before he signed the bill: