South Carolina governor signs bill banning abortion of fetus after heartbeat is detected

GREENVILLE, S.C. – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed the Fetal Heartbeat Bill into law Thursday afternoon, banning the abortion of a fetus with a detectable and audible heartbeat.

“If there’s not a right to life, then what rights is there,” McMaster said before signing the bill. “What rights exists, if not the elementary, fundamental, profound right to life.”

The bill will be challenged in court by abortion rights groups.

“The Attorney General’s office has already been named by plaintiffs in a legal action to block this law from taking effect,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in an emailed statement. “My office will vigorously defend this law in court because there is nothing more important than protecting life.”

The bill passed with 30 votes in the state Senate and 79 votes in the House.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signs into law a bill banning almost all abortions in the state Thursday, 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.

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What the Fetal Heartbeat Bill does

The bill, S.1, took effect as soon as McMaster signed it into law just before 2 p.m. Thursday. It requires an ultrasound test for a detectable fetal heartbeat before an abortion is performed and it prohibits performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

A person found guilty of performing an abortion that violated this bill would receive a prison sentence of up to two years or a $10,000 fine, or both.

A woman who had an abortion performed against these new rules would be able to sue for $10,000 in damages and court and attorney fees.

An abortion after an ultrasound test did not detect an audible fetal heartbeat would not be a violation. There must also be an hour between the ultrasound and the abortion.

There are exceptions in certain medical emergencies that “necessitates the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death without first determining whether there is a detectable fetal heartbeat” or if testing for a fetal heartbeat would create a delay that puts the mother at serious risk of “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions.”

A physician would have to keep a record of their medical rationale to support the conclusion that an abortion was necessary. Physicians are required to keep records for at least seven years.

Other exceptions include pregnancies resulting in either rape or incest and if the fetus was under 20 weeks old from conception – in these situations, the physician would be required to report the woman’s case to law enforcement.

Abortion rights groups plan to challenge the bill

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood intend to challenge the bill in federal court and said they will file a lawsuit by the end of Thursday.

“By banning abortion at just six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant, the law targets South Carolinians who already struggle to access health care,” the Center for Reproductive Rights said in a press release.

The lawsuit includes Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and the Greenville Women’s Clinic.

Abortions in South Carolina

There were 5,101 abortions performed in the state in 2019, according to the Department of Health and Environment Control.

Most abortions were performed under 14 weeks from conception – 45.5% were under six weeks and 53.9% were between seven to 13 weeks. Every abortion performed in 2018 and 2019 used ultrasound to determine the age of the fetus.

Over half of the women who had abortions in 2019 were in their 20’s – 56.9%, or 2,903 women. About 10% were under 20 years old – 10 were under 15, 58 were 15 or 16, and 441 were 17 to 19-years-old.

There were three abortions past 20 weeks of conception performed because of a medical emergency and two were due to fetal anomaly – conditions that would make the unborn fetus unable to sustain life after birth.

Follow reporter Marcus Navarro on Twitter: @MarcusQ_Navarro

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