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

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A judge on Friday suspended South Carolina’s new law banning most abortions around six weeks pregnant until the state Supreme Court can reconsider the measure, granting providers a temporary reprieve in a region that has adopted strict limits on the procedure.

Judge Clifton Newman’s decision came about 24 hours after Governor Henry McMaster signed the bill into law. The decision means South Carolina reverts to a ban about 20 weeks after fertilization.

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 decision that the 2021 law violated the state constitution’s right to privacy. Legislative leaders said the new law made technical changes that should cause at least one judge to change his mind and the author of the January decision has since retired.

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.”

The law went into effect as soon as it was signed, and Planned Parenthood immediately sued, saying it was putting South Carolina abortion clinics in limbo with canceled appointments for patients further along in their pregnancies and that physicians needed to carefully consider the new regulations.

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

Most southern states in the US have passed tougher abortion laws in the past year and abortion opponents say that’s why South Carolina has seen a surge the number of abortions and out-of-state patients.

South Carolina’s measure joins stiff limitations pending in North Carolina and Florida, states that had been reluctant to offer wider access to the procedure, threatening to further delay abortions as appointments slump. accumulate in the region.

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.

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 lawyers weighed in on hope Few will change 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.

The new law provides exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies, life and health of the patient, and rape or incest up to 12 weeks. The doctors could face felony charges of up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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