Coalition of 20 states files brief supporting South Carolina’s blocked ‘heartbeat law’

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Twenty states, led by Alabama, are standing with South Carolina after a federal judge blocked the state’s ‘heartbeat law’ from taking effect. Together, they have filed an amicus brief supporting South Carolina’s appeal of the ruling, arguing that the judge’s decision was “an error-filled district court opinion.” 

In February, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act into law. The law requires abortionists to provide an ultrasound for the mother, and if the preborn child’s heartbeat is detected, abortion is prohibited. The human heart begins to beat between 16 and 22 days post-fertilization. A doctor who commits abortions after the preborn child’s heartbeat is detectable could face a felony charge, fines, and jail time. The law includes an exception for cases of a medical emergency, though the intentional killing of a preborn child is never medically necessary, and also has additional exceptions for rape, incest, and fetal diagnoses. 

Commenting on the law earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey (R) stated, “If this gets upheld by the courts, we will have saved thousands of lives in South Carolina every year.” 

Just one day after the governor signed the bill, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and several other pro-abortion groups filed suit against it. U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis then granted a preliminary injunction against the law, which means that it can’t be put into effect until a court reaches a decision.  

The lawsuit came as no surprise to pro-life advocates. When the House passed the bill in February, pro-abortion House members walked out in protest during the debate. One of those House members referred to the bill as a “farce of a vote about pretend life”—despite the indisputable fact that preborn children are living human beings from the moment of fertilization. 



South Carolina filed an appeal of the injunction last week, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked the legal standing to bring a lawsuit and that only the “heartbeat” provision being challenged in court — not the entire measure — should be allowed to be blocked. They are arguing against the judge’s ruling that the ultrasound requirement of the law is not severable from the “heartbeat” portion of the law.

“South Carolina’s fetal heartbeat law was struck down in an error-filled district court opinion,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall in a press release. “Although Planned Parenthood and the other plaintiffs challenged only the law’s regulation of abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, the district court enjoined the law in its entirety — including portions of the law that dozens of other states already have and regularly enforce.”

On July 13, Marshall filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of Alabama and 19 other states in support of South Carolina’s defense of the law.

Marshall was quick to note that at least 24 states require an abortion provider to offer to display the image from an ultrasound to the pregnant mother, at least 16 states require abortion providers to make fetal heartbeat audible if the mother would like to hear it, and at least 12 other states require an ultrasound to be performed before an abortion can be conducted.

Joining Marshall in signing the amicus brief are attorneys general from Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

READ: The science is clear: At 22 days, a baby’s heart begins to beat

“The district court tread on South Carolina’s sovereign ability to decide for itself the purposes of its legislation, completely ignoring the General Assembly’s clear intent, written in the text of the law, that if any part of the law were held unconstitutional then the remainder would not be invalidated,” Marshall stated. 

Planned Parenthood lawyers have not responded in court.

The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to soon hear litigation from Mississippi addressing the question of at what point during pregnancy a state can restrict abortion. In the meantime, South Carolina Gov. McMaster notes that it remains critical to continue to face legal challenges from pro-abortion groups and providers regarding the South Carolina fetal heartbeat law.

“While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case related to Mississippi’s law offers great hope and promise for protecting the lives of the unborn, we must defend South Carolina’s Fetal Heartbeat Act against every challenge at every level,” McMaster said in a statement announcing the filing of his appeal.

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