District Court declares South Carolina Republicans’ anti-abortion bill unconstitutional
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster shows off the bill had just signed into law banning almost all abortions in the state, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. On the same day, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to stop the measure from going into effect. The state House approved the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” on a 79-35 vote Wednesday and gave it a final procedural vote Thursday before sending it to McMaster. By Friday, a U.S. District Court judge had ruled it unconstitutional and placed an injunction on the law while it goes through the legal system. | Jeffrey Collins / AP

South Carolina’s draconian Senate Bill 1, the “Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” hit its first legal snag on Friday when U.S. District Court Judge Mary Geiger Lewis issued a two-week temporary restraining order while the case works its way through the courts.

Issued just a day after Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law, the six-page order referred to the bill as “plainly unconstitutional” and thus no longer in effect while the lengthier court processes begin, something legal scholars say could take years.

The next hearing on a more extensive preliminary injunction will be held on March 9.

Local activist and 2022 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gary Votour responded, “Well, now. That was a pretty short victory lap for [Gov.] Henry McMaster. It won’t stop him from using it to raise campaign funds. I suspect that was why he signed it. He is a lawyer after all and had to know it was unconstitutional.”

The bill sought to prohibit abortion as soon as cardiac activity could be detected via ultrasound. This would leave a five- to six-week window to legally terminate a pregnancy, which is often before a patient is even aware they are pregnant. According to 2019 DHEC data, about 55% of the abortions performed in South Carolina occurred after six weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who perform the procedure after this time would face felony charges. The only exceptions allowed were in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger, but those would require patients’ names to be given to local law enforcement. Planned Parenthood of the South Atlantic called this “an egregious violation of a survivor’s rights.”

Opponents have accused the South Carolina GOP of using this bill as a diversionary tactic. Planned Parenthood said in a statement:

“SB1 was the first bill put forward by legislative leadership this year. At a time when thousands of South Carolinians are unemployed, without health insurance, and more than 8,000 have died from COVID-19, anti-abortion lawmakers, including Governor McMaster, decided that their top priority was to insert the government into private medical decisions and control a person’s body.”

Votour echoed this sentiment.

“Pregnancy-related death rates are 2.6 times higher for Black women in S.C. Instead of doing anything about that, like expanding Medicaid or creating rural health centers, the South Carolina GOP focused on an unconstitutional ban on abortions instead. Already being challenged by Planned Parenthood, the legal battle will be funded by our tax dollars and likely last for years.”

Supporters of the bill are resting their hopes on the changed makeup of the Supreme Court. South Carolina Deputy Solicitor General Emory Smith argued that the law is in “a state of flux” and that a new Supreme Court could overturn the historic Roe v. Wade decision.

Three of the current justices are Trump appointees.


Harold Geddings III
Harold Geddings III

Harold Geddings, local activist, union sheet metal worker (SMART Local 399), and visual artist from Saint Matthews, South Carolina.