Judge blocks SC abortion ban while court fights continue; Groups who sued respond

Judge blocks SC abortion ban while court fights continue; Groups who sued respond
Gov. Henry McMaster signed the state's Fetal Heartbeat Bill into law at the Statehouse last month. (Source: Live 5)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The two groups that filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction against South Carolina’s newly-passed abortion ban are reacting to a judge’s decision to grant it.

The statements came the same morning after U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis filed an injunction Friday morning to prevent the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act from being enforced, saying Gov. Henry McMaster’s arguments for enacting the law “without merit.”

“Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that the act is unconstitutional,” Lewis wrote in the order, adding “plaintiffs’ patients are likely to suffer irreparable injury absent a preliminary injunction.”

Gov. Henry McMaster did not respond directly to Friday morning’s earlier, but spokesman Brian Symmes referred requests for comments to McMaster’s statement last week on Twitter.

“That’s a fight worth having right there. The right to life is very important,” McMaster said on his Twitter account. “This state is overwhelmingly in favor of that bill, and we will do whatever it takes – however long it takes – to see that the right to life is protected in South Carolina.”

Plaintiffs who sued state release statements on injunction

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic President and CEO Jenny Black released the following statement Friday morning:

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic will never stop fighting to keep abortion safe and legal. Today we celebrate the court’s decision on behalf of our patients who can continue to come to us, their trusted health care provider, to access abortion and other essential health services. We urge Gov. McMaster to take heed of the court’s decision and focus on improving health outcomes for people in South Carolina rather than attempting to ban abortion or restrict access to health care.

The Greenville Women’s Clinic released this statement:

It’s hard to believe our elected officials would choose to make banning abortion their first priority while South Carolinians are suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic. We are relieved the court has kept this law blocked. For now, we can continue providing time-sensitive, essential abortion care for pregnant people in our state.

As written, the law is said to prevent most abortions in the state. It would block doctors from performing an abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which normally happens as early as about six weeks into a pregnancy. Doctors or healthcare providers who perform an abortion in violation of the law could face a felony charge with a $10,000 fine, two years in jail or both.

The bill includes exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomalies and threats to the health of the mother. The bill also stipulates that doctors must give the sheriff the patient’s contact info within 24 hours if an abortion is performed on a woman who was pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

Judge addresses political concerns in order

President Barack Obama appointed Lewis as a judge for the South Carolina District, something she addressed in the 22-page ruling.

“The Court is well aware some may think the politics of the President who appointed it, and not the law, not the Court’s sleepless nights, and not its herculean efforts to get it right, is a consideration and serves as a barometer as to how this Court would rule upon the abortion question presented here,” she wrote. “And, unwittingly or not, the media tends to feed this narrative by often noting the name of the President who appointed the federal judge assigned to a particular politically divisive matter such as this. But, such a suggestion is misinformed at best, and highly offensive at worst. We judges are not politicians in robes.”

Lewis wrote the case does not “present a close call” over the question of whether an injunction is appropriate.

“In fact, based on the law, the Court is unable to fathom how another court could decide this issue differently than how this Court has decided it,” she wrote. “As such, it is confident no reviewing court will conclude the Court has abused its discretion in granting Plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction to stay the enforcement of the unconstitutional Act.”

“When the history of the District of South Carolina Court is written, it will show that we were neither liberals nor conservatives, Democrats nor Republicans. It will instead establish that we did our level best to follow the law. That is certainly what the Court has done here,” Lewis concluded before granting the injunction.

Lawsuit filed before bill’s ceremonial signing last month

McMaster signed the bill into law at the Statehouse in Columbia on Feb. 18. By the time he sat down for the bill’s ceremonial signing, two groups, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, had already filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction.

The following day, Lewis filed a temporary restraining order, and then filed an extension of that order on March 5. That extension was set to expire Friday, the same day she filed the injunction.

South Carolina’s law, nicknamed the “fetal heartbeat law,” is similar to abortion restriction laws that a dozen states have previously passed. All were stopped from taking effect and currently are tied up in court. Federal law, which takes precedence over state law, currently allows abortion.

Critics have argued that some mothers don’t learn they are pregnant until around the same time a fetal heartbeat could first be detected.

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