South Carolina Supreme Court upholds decision to let the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection From Abortion Act take effect

The Supreme Court of South Carolina upheld its decision to let the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection From Abortion Act take effect in a court order on August 29, 2023. The court denied a rehearing request by Planned Parenthood and the other plaintiffs from the original case.

“After careful consideration of the petition for rehearing, the court is unable to discover that any material fact or principle of law has been either overlooked or disregarded.” The court’s order states, “The petition for rehearing is therefore denied.”

Justices John Kittredge, John Cannon Few, and George C. James signed the order. Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty dissented, writing that because of his dissent in the original case, he would have granted a rehearing.

Court Finds that the South Carolina Constitution contains no right to abortion 

The Supreme Court upheld the Fetal Heartbeat Act in another one-to-four ruling on August 23, 2023. The court’s ruling allowed the Act to take effect immediately.  

The majority opinion found that the South Carolina state constitution contains no legal right to an abortion. The majority decision cites the Dobbs v. Jackson decision in addressing the controversy around abortion. The majority emphasized their intention of judging the Act based on objective legal standards rather than partisan opinions.  

“Respectful of separation of powers principles and the limited (non-policy) role of the Court, we approach our solemn duty in this case with a single commitment: to honor the rule of law.” Justice John W. Kittredge wrote in the ruling, “In our constitutional framework, the rule of law does not bend to satisfy personal preferences.”

The majority also cited differences between the Fetal Heartbeat Act and a similar 2021 heartbeat bill. The court found that the 2023 Act better demonstrates compelling interest for the state to prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.  

Chief Justice Beatty was the lone dissenter in the case. Beatty cited similarities to the 2021 bill, court precedent, and a broad interpretation of South Carolina’s constitutional privacy clause as his reasons for dissenting.  

Fetal Heartbeat Act takes effect

Human Defense Initiative spoke by phone with South Carolina Citizens for Life Executive Director Holly Gatlin about the court’s decisions on August 29, 2023.

“We were very pleased with the life-affirming decision the court made on August 23.” Gatling said, “We are equally pleased that they rejected Planned Parenthood’s request for a rehearing.” 

Gatling told HDI that the day after the August 23 decision, abortions at Planned Parenthood in Columbia declined 70%, according to observations made by the sidewalk counseling organization A Moment of Hope. There is no official data for the other two abortion clinics in South Carolina, but Gatling said the situation is most likely similar in those locations. 

Planned Parenthood clinics in South Carolina began turning patients away on August 23, according to Fox Carolina. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic runs two of the three abortion clinics in the state. Greenville Women’s Clinic runs a third abortion clinic.

Fetal Heartbeat Act bans abortions after the detection of a heartbeat with exceptions

The text of the Act states that “abortions may not be performed in this state after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, with exceptions for medical emergencies, rape, incest, or fetal anomalies.” Physicians who perform illegal abortions can be imprisoned for two to five years or fined up to $5,000 and have their medical license revoked.  

The Act also includes provisions that require documentation of abortions in medical records, require physicians to report allegations of rape or incest to law enforcement, and prohibit prosecution of women for seeking abortions. Other provisions deal with prohibiting state funding of abortion, requiring child support from conception, and requiring health insurance and public employee benefits programs to cover contraception.

The exceptions in the Act do not provide complete protection to all preborn children and incorrectly refer to abortion as a treatment for medical emergencies. OBGYNs have pointed out that abortion is never medically necessary. However, heartbeat bills like the Fetal Heartbeat Act can save many lives. A recent study of Texas’ heartbeat bill found that it saved nearly 10,000 lives since it passed in September 2021. 

Governor Henry McMaster originally signed The Fetal Heartbeat Act on May 25, 2023. The Act was blocked on May 26, 2023, by State Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman after Planned Parenthood, Greenville Women’s Clinic, and two physicians requested an injunction. McMaster responded with an emergency petition asking the state Supreme Court to prioritize the case. But thanks to the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decisions, The Fetal Heartbeat Act is now in effect across the state. 

Photo by Christin Noelle on Unsplash

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Kate Roberson is a freelance writer and undergraduate history major. She believes that life is the first right and should be protected at all stages.

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.