First legal battle on bill banning most abortions in SC set for Friday

First legal battle on bill banning most abortions in SC set for Friday
Protesters gathered outside the South Carolina State House on the day the House passed the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, banning most abortions in the state. (Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (GRAY) - The Fetal Heartbeat Bill, aimed at banning most abortions in South Carolina, was signed into law Thursday, fulfilling a promise Gov. Henry McMaster and other Republican lawmakers made to their constituents.

However, the governor’s signature was not the last chapter for this piece of legislation.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this step we take today was long in coming and monumental in consequence,” McMaster said after congratulating his Republican colleagues on this bill’s passage. “But our battles are not over yet.”

The bill, also known as SB 1, makes it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which supporters of the bill say is about six to eight weeks after conception. It includes exceptions in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomalies, or if the mother’s life is in danger.

If a health care provider performs an abortion outside of these situations, the doctor could face a felony charge, up to two years in jail, and or a $10,000 fine. The legislation also requires doctors to give a patient’s contact information to local law enforcement officials if they perform an abortion on a woman who says they were a victim of rape or incest.

A few hours before the bill was signed, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic filed a lawsuit in the South Carolina District Court to block the bill.

“SB 1 will cause immediate, irreparable harm, and the balance of equities and public interest weigh in favor of enjoining this blatantly unconstitutional law,” wrote the plaintiffs in their motion for a temporary restraining order on the abortion ban being enforced.

In the suit, Planned Parenthood and others argue that the law runs against the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade. Read the complaint in full (story continues below):

The hearing on the temporary restraining order is scheduled for Friday at 1 p.m. It is set to be heard by Judge Mary Geiger Lewis, a federal judge who was nominated to the bench in 2011 by then-President Barack Obama.

Republicans and Democrats spoke about the potential legal challenges leading up to the bill’s passage and both parties said they were confident their side would win in the courts.

After the lawsuit was announced, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson put out a statement saying, “my office will vigorously defend this law in court because there is nothing more important than protecting life,” Wilson said.

The law will likely be deemed unconstitutional in the District Court, as has happened in other states that passed similar laws, Professor Mary Ziegler, author of “Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v Wade to Present,” said.

Then the case can be appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. If it is still ruled as unconstitutional and the state of South Carolina wants to appeal again, the state can try to have the case heard before the Supreme Court.

According to Ziegler, it seems unlikely the high court will choose to hear South Carolina’s case over other states that previously passed similar bills.

In the past, McMaster has said he believes the bill is constitutional and he’s confident he will prevail in the courts.

Legal experts say the other states with similar “heartbeat” laws in the books have faced lengthy and costly court battles.

“Lawmakers in the past, as much as 10 years ago, estimate that taking a case to the U.S. Supreme Court can cost between one and four million dollars. We’ve seen lawmakers in states like North Dakota, which passed a heartbeat bill, end up with a bill around $490,000 and that was a bargain,” Ziegler said.

When asked about the potential cost of the legal battles, Wilson said all of the work on this case will be handled “in-house.”

Ziegler said it is still possible for legal costs to come from hiring outside experts to assist with the trial and any legal fees that may need to be paid to the opposing side if the attorney general were to lose in court.

A spokesperson for Wilson said while things may change as the case progresses, it is not their plan to charge the taxpayers with a bill at the end of this battle.

When asked how he feels taking up the fight on this bill, Wilson said he was aware of the fight ahead.

“I felt like a quarterback looking at his running back before he hands him the ball,” he said, while standing next to McMaster during the bill’s signing.

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