Judge suspends tougher new abortion law in South Carolina until state Supreme Court review

Judge suspends tougher new abortion law in South Carolina until state Supreme Court review
  • South Carolina’s six-week abortion ban has been suspended by a judge, offering temporary relief to providers as the state’s Supreme Court reviews the law, reflecting a broader trend of restrictive measures on abortion across the country since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
  • Friday’s decision by Judge Clifton Newman came 24 hours after Governor Henry McMaster signed the bill into law.
  • The new law is similar to a ban on abortion once heart activity can be detected that lawmakers passed in 2021.

A judge on Friday suspended South Carolina’s new law banning most abortions around six weeks pregnant until the state Supreme Court can review the measure, giving providers a temporary reprieve in a region that decreed strict limits to the procedure.

Judge Clifton Newman’s decision that reduced the state’s abortion law to about 20 weeks came about 24 hours after Governor Henry McMaster signed the bill into law without notice, leaving dozens of people seeking abortions in limbo and created the potential for legal abortion to become illegal because performed by a doctor.

“It’s extremely difficult not just for the women themselves, but for their doctors — not just Planned Parenthood doctors — but hospitals across the state who need to figure out what to do in an emergency,” said Vicki Ringer, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood in South Carolina.

The developments in South Carolina are a microcosm of what has happened across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade a year ago, allowing states to decide their abortion laws and leaving patients scrambling to find care wherever they can in situations where weeks or even days can make a huge difference.

South Carolina’s measure joins pending rigid limitations in North Carolina and Florida, states that had been recalcitrant in the South, offering wider access to the procedure, threatening to further delay abortions as appointments you are piling up in the area.


The state has seen abortion numbers soar as other Southern states have passed near-total bans. Before Roe’s overthrow, less than 1 in 10 abortions in South Carolina were performed on people who lived out of state. Now that figure is close to 50%, and the number of abortions each month has at least tripled, according to state health data.

The law passed by the General Assembly on Tuesday is similar to a ban on abortion once heart activity can be detected that lawmakers passed in 2021. The state Supreme Court ruled in a 3- 2 that the 2021 law violated the state constitution’s right to privacy.

Legislative leaders said the new law makes technical changes that should cause at least one judge to change his mind.

But Newman said it was not his role to determine whether it would succeed.

“The status quo should be maintained until the Supreme Court reviews its decision,” Newman said. “It will end there.”

South Carolina Assistant Attorney General Thomas Hydrick argues a judge shouldn’t suspend enforcement of the state’s new law banning abortion when heart activity is detected during a hearing on 26 May 2023 in Columbia, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

Planned Parenthood immediately sued after the law went into effect Thursday, saying South Carolina abortion clinics were inundated with canceled appointments from patients further along in their pregnancies and doctors were being forced to examine carefully the new regulations on the fly.

The abortion rights group said the new law was so similar to the old one that clinics and women seeking treatment would be harmed if it was allowed to remain in effect until a full judicial review .

Almost all of the 75 women scheduled for abortions over the next few days appeared to be past six weeks, Planned Parenthood attorney Kathleen McDaniel said.

“There’s irrefutable harm. It’s happening. It’s happened before,” McDaniel said.

The majority opinion in the South Carolina Supreme Court decision striking down the 2021 law said that while lawmakers have the power to protect lives, the state constitution’s secrecy clause ultimately gives women time to figure out if they want an abortion and most women don’t. ‘t know they are pregnant six weeks after conception.


Judge Kaye Hearn wrote the opinion. She has since had to retire as she turned 72 and was replaced by a man, making South Carolina the only high court in the nation without a woman on the bench.

“I would say nothing in the law has changed,” McDaniel said. “The only thing that has changed is that there are no longer any women on the Supreme Court.”

The changes to the new law are directed at another majority judge, John Few, who wrote his own opinion saying the 2021 law was poorly drafted because lawmakers failed to show it had did some work to determine if six weeks was enough for a woman to know she was pregnant.

Few have suggested that he would have found an even stricter outright ban on abortion constitutional, saying that if a fetus had all the rights of a person, then a ban would be like child abuse laws or rape that does not violate the right to privacy.

State attorneys relied on the hope that few will alter his vote.


“We strongly encourage the court to consider this decision very carefully, to understand that it focuses on one law, the 2021 law,” said Assistant State Attorney General Thomas Hydrick. But, he said, the new law is a good faith attempt to fix flaws lawmakers have found in the way judges have interpreted the 2021 law.

Newman said that was outside of his role as a lower court judge. “Am I being asked to reverse the Supreme Court decision?” He asked.

Lawmakers continued to say they were confident they had crafted a bill that will stand up to High Court scrutiny this time around.

“While I respect Justice Newman’s ruling, I remain confident that the heartbeat bill is constitutional and that the Supreme Court will agree,” Republican Senate Speaker Thomas Alexander said in a statement. communicated.


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